“Why don’t you come too? At least for part of the time. You have some money saved up, don’t you?”
Little did I know how much this conversation would shape me in years to come. I was a studious, not-at-all daring second year nursing student and I had just learned that my older brother was planning to throw caution to the wind, take some time off from school, empty out his savings and spend 4 months or so backpacking around Europe. Until he mentioned it, I had never seriously considered the possibility of striking out on my own in a foreign country. I didn’t even like driving into Vancouver, less than an hour away, on my own.
But right at that moment, I started to open up to the possibilities. He was right, for the first time in my life I had some money of my very own. I had secured a job as a nurse’s aide after my first year of school with the thought of working the occasional weekend shift to pay my way through school. It turned out that there was always plenty of work for someone who was willing to pick up extra last minute shifts and by the end of the year I had already saved up more than enough to cover the next year’s tuition. And since I was working on an “on call” basis, there was no need to apply for vacation days; I could easily take a few weeks of the summer to travel. Always the planner, I began to research air tickets, Eurail pass prices and possible itineraries. In the end, my brother and I decided that we would leave from Vancouver for London together in the beginning of June, travel together through England, France, Italy and Germany for 3 weeks and then I’d head home from Frankfort and he’d keep going for the rest of the summer. How we came up with the itinerary, I really couldn’t say. Probably something along the lines of: “Where do you want to go?”
“I dunno, maybe Paris?”
“Sure, what about London?”
“Okay, and maybe we should start there since they speak English!”
“What about Switzerland”
“Nah, I don’t really like fondue”
Okay, maybe I made that last one up.
But for the most part we just pulled a basic itinerary out of thin air, then headed off to the travel agency in the back of the second floor of the local Eaton’s department store . (Was 1995 really that long ago?) A few days later we were back to pick up our lovely paper tickets, Eurail passes and the wonderful packet of maps and schedules that came along with it. Then off to the bookstore for guidebooks and the outdoor store for backpacks. I still have the backpack in my basement, but a few of the things we brought were definitely from the last century. Like traveller’s cheques. And phone cards to call our parents with a different country code to punch into the payphones in each new country to reach an international operator who’d connect us to home. And of course the wonderful, colourful handfulls of Lira and Francs and Deutchmarks.
I realize now that I was unaware of the fact that I would never again have so many shiny new “firsts” on any one trip. First big trip without my parents. First arrival in a foreign airport. First time on a subway. First time in a hostel. First time on a train. First time sleeping on a train. First time communicating in a country where I speak the foreign language. First taste of real gelato……….mmmm………gelato……….
But of course the biggest first of this trip was my first realization that the world is so much more complex and amazing than I had ever imagined. And that it was all within my reach, the biggest thing holding me back was my own fears and hesitations. And no matter how much the details of travel have changed, or will change in the future, the essence of travel will always be the same for me as it was on that first trip. And just like on that first trip, I always return home dreaming of my next adventure.