Monday, January 23, 2006

Have Passport, Will Travel

In the mail on Saturday, I found a pleasant surprise . . . a little, black book arrived that will allow me to go anywhere in the world, anytime I want.

Most people will think this is no big deal. Most people I know have traveled all sorts of places in the world – been to different countries, just hoped on a plane and gone wherever, maybe even got to study abroad and live in a different country in a while.

But for me, this is an entirely new and scary thing. You see, when I was growing up, traveling meant going to an aunt and uncle’s house somewhere else in Philly. It meant occasionally going to Atlantic City for a weekend during the summer with my family, all of us crowded into a dank motel room, “Ocean View” – which meant that the motel was actually several blocks away from the beach. My parents were not big into traveling – they were broke and working and trying to go to school at night and raise two little girls – so most of our fun was found at home. My dad had been stationed in Germany when he was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam years, and once upon a time my mom and grandmom went to Montreal to see the World’s Fair, but otherwise they had not traveled much beyond the Jersey shore either.

This was OK, though. There was so much to see at home, just by taking the bus and the subway. Philadelphia has more museums and historical sights than you can shake a stick at. I was spoiled by the embarrassment of riches of things to see. I practically lived in the Franklin Institute, the Museum of Art, the local libraries . . . a trip downtown or to the Gallery or to walk around Chestnut Hill or Germantown was exciting enough for me. Besides, I had a million cousins to keep me entertained. Who needed to leave the city?

When my family moved down to Virginia, our horizons widened a little bit. We got to go to Myrtle Beach and stay for a week for a couple of summers. We drove back to Philly to see family often. Once, at my grandmother’s urging, I got to fly to Austin, Texas to visit my aunt and see my newborn cousin. When there, we went to San Antonio and saw the Alamo (which was underwhelming – it was across the street from a Woolworth’s) and went to Houston and saw the Astrodome and went to Astroworld (ugh, I hate amusement parks . . .).

My mom’s mom was considered the traveler in the family. She was part of a seniors’ group that once in a while took cruises to places like the Bahamas and Nova Scotia. The trips were heavily planned for, and she scrimped and saved to do it, but she did it. She also visited my aunt who was stationed in Madrid, Spain with her husband who was in the Navy. While there, my aunt also took her to visit France and Italy, but grandma came back complaining about how dirty everything was – so she wasn’t exactly the best role model for world travel . . .

So for me, travel was always something that other, more moneyed people did. People who were a bit more worldly than I was, had a bit more confidence than I did, were more comfortable in new environments . . . which definitely was not me.

Once I went to college, and then moved out of my parents’ house, I was out on my own and meeting lots of people who were much more traveled than I was, who told many amazing stories about their adventures backpacking through Cambodia, or hanging out in Prague, or living in Switzerland for a semester. At first, I was very intimidated, but after a while, I realized that some folks were just rather lucky, I guess. At this point, I was trying to scrape together enough of my meager earnings just to pay rent and occasionally attend happy hours . . . finding the cash to fly to London was just not on the radar screen. Besides, there was plenty to do here . . . I was working on a ton of community things – political campaigns, community groups, going to various local events – I was pretty fulfilled in my local life, and I didn’t think I was missing anything . . .

Mr. Random has never traveled out of the U.S. either. Well, he says Tijuana doesn’t count, and I agree . . . His family just didn’t travel much either, so it was no big deal . . .

But now I am 35 years old. There is still much that I want to do here in the States, many places I would love to visit – did you know that I have never been to New York City? Been to Boston, been to Atlanta, Chicago, L.A., Portland, Seattle, San Francisco . . . I can even say I’ve been to Fargo, ND, for goodness sake! But, now I am starting to feel like . . . you know, I really should see London some day. Go to Barcelona and try the amazing food and see the architecture. Go to Sydney Harbor. Go to Vancouver, BC and Montreal. I want to try to experience something out of my range, something not American, but feel what it is like to live in another place, with different markers, and accents and culture. Try to speak a different language and understand others. I want to go to Harrods and Marks and Spencer and Selfridges. I want to watch British TV in all of its glory and see the Thames.

I want to be . . . more a part of this big world that I am living in right now. I want to . . . widen my horizons. I want . . . something different, and maybe, the same.

I want to experience it, see what happens. Will it change me for the better? Will it help me understand myself better? Will it help me understand human nature better? Will I understand the world better?

I don’t know . . . but I certainly hope to find out . . .


Virginia Gal said...

Yay - you got your passport!!! Doing a happy dance for you!!!

This is awesome!!! The world is now your oyster my friend, visit the foothills of the Alps in Austria, dance a tango in Argentina or take authentic green tea in Japan. Now is the time. I am so happy for you.
Being a travler, my advice, is to plan one big trip a year, this will give you enough time to get the money together and make plans. As you travel overseas more, you'll get more comfortable with the routine and it will become old hat.
Of course I think your first trip abroad should be LONDON. I can give you tons of advice - heck I'm going again this weekend, so let me know if you need me to pick up anything : )

Merci said...

It's a beautiful thing, isn't it? My advice: choose a country where you speak the language well for your first international journey. Traveling internationally can be a bit tricky, and it's easier to learn the ropes (read: sort out any problems)in a country where you're comfortable with the language. The first time you're outside the US, you'll get a, "We're not in Kansas anymore," feeling.

My family did not travel much when I was a child, either. We made a few day trips to the shore, we took in a few Philly museums, and that was about it. I loved the University Museum as a child because of the artifacts from ancient Egypt. I loved the Art Museum, as well.

Living in South Jersey, there were many school trips to the zoo (I still have an old red plastic zoo key in the shape of an elephant) and to the Franklin Institute. I haven't been there since they refurbished the heart.

We're fledglings when it comes to travel,too. We've made a few big trips (Ireland, Nova Scotia, the Caribbean, and Alaska - the last 3 were all cruises). Virginia Gal is right, planning a big trip once a year gives you time to make all of the arrangements and then pay the trip off before you start to plan the next one.

Wherever you go, you'll come back with stories to tell and memories to last a lifetime.