For my 18th birthday, my parents gave me a plane ticket to Europe. It was part birthday gift, part reward for winning the “Principal’s Award” (which included a year’s free tuition) at our college. Apart from two family trips to Fiji as a pre-teen, this would be my first big overseas adventure; and after a teary airport goodbye with my family, I boarded the flight from Tullamarine to Frankfurt alone. Solo to Germany, solo navigating transit action at an international airport, and solo flying to Venice (that complimentary mini bottle of vino felt so naughty!)
Yes, I was going to live with my Great Aunt and Uncle in Treviso, and would be under their roof, and care, for the next 3 months, but I was essentially free to make my own decisions and plans. I worked in a bar in town, learnt how to cook and pull a decent macchiato by the owners (and how to play poker by the patrons). While I was too green to plan extensive trips from my home base, my weekends were often spent on day trips I’d organised to neighbouring Venice, Verona, Padua and Vicenza.
Since then, I’ve managed to back-pack through, study in, or live in 19 different countries. My travels haven’t just been stamps in my passport. They are little pieces of who I have become. I love to get in amongst it. I plan the whole thing like a school project, looking into the history, culture and customs of each region. I’ll research and fact-find, and be sure to discover the best music, food and celebrations when I get there. The thought of being shuttled around, Wall-E-like, in a tour bus or cruise ship fills me with dread. Sitting on a beach, or by a pool is not my idea of a holiday. I want to be lost in a big noisy city or plonked in a provincial town where nobody understands me.
Sure, there have been hiccups along the way. I’ve had my wallet stolen twice, my camera once; worked for an elderly wanted-for-murder fugitive in Torremolinos, and been strip searched at Athens airport for having visited Bangkok more than twice (I DID go to University there!). But I’ve also met some amazing people and visited some incredible places.
Now, I hope our two daughters will follow suit. They are now 9 and 11 and have already travelled to Argentina, Germany, Austria, Italy, China and we are about to jet off to Japan. How have we afforded it all? I research, plan and book everything myself. Cam drove us through Europe. We stay in apartments with a kitchen so that we can prepare at least one meal each day at home. We work hard, and save hard. We’ll keep working too via the net right through this 3 week holiday. Sure, most of our clothes are from Op Shops. We buy all of our furniture second hand, and have take-away meals maybe once a month. BUT, our girls have witnessed the might of Iguazu falls at the Brazillian border, have eaten jellyfish in Shanghai and swum in the Adriatic Sea.
Sounds like a fair trade to me!