Travel has changed a lot since then.
It’s not just the influence of technology, but the benefit of experience that has changed the way I travel.
I booked the cheapest flight I could get my hands on. Period. It could have gone something like this:
United, $950: Indianapolis – Denver – Vancouver – LA – Tokyo – Sydney. Total flight time 56 hours.
American Airlines, $1000: Indianapolis – LA – Sydney. Total flight time 22 hours.
…and I would have booked the United flight. Layovers were part of the adventure. Brushing my teeth in airport bathrooms, exploring overpriced food options (Check it out! A Starbucks?), claiming and re-checking my bags at each destination – that was real travel.
I’ll pay up to $150 more for a direct flight. Time is money. I just want to get to where I’m going so I can enjoy myself.
For my first solo trip, I bought a giant rolling suitcase from Sears. Empty, it weighed over 15 pounds. I thought it was fantastic because I could fit most of the essentials like an oversized IU hoodie and eight pairs of shoes.
As soon as I left the Dublin airport with the ‘HEAVY’ tag on my luggage, I was ridiculed by a stranger on the bus.
“Oh my God! Why don’t you have a rucksack?”
“Ha ha,” I said, trying to disguise the fact that I didn’t know what a rucksack was. “I’m going to be away from home for almost a year.”
As if that justified bringing a wheeled closet across the Atlantic ocean.
I learned what a rucksack was when every other traveler breezed past with one – a backpack, especially convenient for walking across cobbled streets while looking for your hostel.
I downgraded (upgraded?) to a 70-litre backpack the following year for a trip to Australia.
Since then I’ve learned to condense even more, and whenever possible, I use a 35-litre backpack. This has been successful for trips of up to three weeks. It might be more of a challenge during next year’s 4-month stint in South America.
There was a time I could tell you the exact number of countries I’d visited, planes I’d flown in, and stamps in my passport. I was obsessed with ticking places off the list. I got anxious when I was with a group of people who had been somewhere I hadn’t, like the Pink Palace in Corfu or the full moon parties in Thailand.
“You have to go,” they’d say. “It’s…I can’t describe it. So cool.”
Every time I went through customs, I hungrily scanned my passport for the latest stamp. If it was faded or illegible in any way, I was disappointed. But now people won’t know I took a ferry to Brindisi or crossed into Slovenia by bus!
Who’s looking at your passport pages, anyway? The next customs official is hardly going to care how many places you’ve traveled to. Travel isn’t something to show off, nor is it a list to impress people with.
It’s for you. Not your friends, not your family, not that cute guy at the bar. Just you.
I never went to the Pink Palace or a full moon party. My passport has been stamped, stickered, scrawled on and stapled. I have no idea how many stamps it has, and you know what? Neither does anyone else.
The first time I stayed at a hostel, I was terrified. There was one other girl in the dining room of the Kinlay House Hostel in Dublin. She was drinking a bottled water and reading a guide book, and it took every ounce of courage I had to approach her. (I was really shy, ok?) Finally, I decided on an opening line.
“Hey,” I said. “Where did you get that water?”
A few seconds ticked by, silent except for the loud humming coming from the evian vending machine in the corner of the room.
“…From the machine,” she said.
“Thanks.” I returned with my water and summoned the nerve to sit at her table.
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“Michigan,” she said, pointedly glancing at her Lonely Planet.
I couldn’t hide my excitement. “Really? I’m from Indiana,” I said. This coincidence was too great for me to fathom. We were both from the Midwest? No way.
“Oh,” she said. Clearly the coincidence was lost on her.
Finally I got her vibe. “Okay,” I said. “If you want anyone to go out with tonight, knock on my door. I’m in room 6.”
She didn’t knock.
I’m that girl. It tires me when a perky traveler in a university t-shirt bounds up asking where I’m from/where I’ve been/where I’m going. Which is sad, really. One of the best things about traveling is meeting people and learning their stories. If you ever see me in a hostel, please ask me where I bought my water. I promise I won’t make you feel stupid.
Convinced that everyone I met was a potential thief, I carried all of my valuables with me everywhere I went. My heavy laptop went in its special daypack/carrying case, along with my Kodak EasyShare, 64mb MP3 player, passport, and wallet. I constantly looked around to make sure no one was trying to be sneaky and unzip my backpack. At night I slept with these things carefully arranged next to my head.
It got exhausting to view everyone as a potential thief. I have come to terms with the fact that my stuff is just stuff, and can be replaced if necessary. As long as my passport is safe and I am not carrying large sums of cash, everything else can go. But if you steal my iPad, I will hunt you down. Seriously.
Other things have changed, too – like the fact that now I travel as part of a couple, so I’ve traded dorms for private rooms. I use Skype and facebook to stay in touch instead of calling cards and mass e-mails. I haven’t seen a paper ticket in years, and if I can’t book online I usually don’t go.
There is one thing that’s stayed the same – I haven’t gotten travel out of my system, and I don’t think I ever will.