Updated: Dec 31, 2020
It started out as me needing to be back in Europe. After a fantastic, HAlarious (this is how I used to think the word was spelt) time on my trip to Spain with my high school Spanish class in 2006, I was greedy for more.
My first trip abroad without the folks or teachers was to Greece at 18 with my best friend. Perhaps I would have a drink or ten while I was there but who knew? We were just two crazy kittens out on the town. Our parents forced us to booked all our accommodation beforehand, 90% of which we ended up cancelling while we were there. My bestie and I were pioneers of sorts- travelling to a foreign land by ourselves just out of high school. It just wasn’t done. Unheard of- said no one ever.
During this time, I was, what some may call, a mess of a person when travelling. Not a hot mess or a lovable mess or any sort of mess that can be considered flattering. Partying until 6 am, sleeping until 3 pm. Having a light snack of potato chips and apples, then doing it all over again. When we glanced at the analog clock, I kid you not, we were never certain if it was am or pm. Once, we decided to venture out and “explore”. This consisted of us walking down to the beach, realizing we were too hungover and then walking back. Since it was such a steep climb back to the hostel, we vowed never to attempt such feats again. I was care-free and loving life, just like every other backpacker. I had the I can do and be whatever I want in life, endless possibilities. I chatted to the other travellers with ease, getting excited about where they had been, avidly listening and laughing to their funny stories and wild adventures. Interjecting with my own stories of cheapness and embarrassment. I related to them. For food, I beelined (I Googled B-lined and I see now what it actually means) it to McDonald’s every chance I got and the most exotic thing I ate was Hawaiian pizza. We planned nothing. It was a matter of having a feeling to move onto another Greek island or location, so we did. Smart phones weren’t a thing so there was no checking Trip Adviser, top things to see or where not to go. This was a time when internet cafes were all the rage, so we would go down some dodgy street to send a mass email to our parents saying we were alive, accompanied by the most sober photo we could find. We would only see the sites if we happened to walk past them. So that’s why, years later, when people asked if I enjoyed the Greek ruins of Santorini I was shocked. I genuinely didn’t know there was anything on that island but bars. I had not a care in the world: career, school, safety nets. I was naive and loving it. That’s how it was at 18.
Travels in my early 20’s were somewhat similar but with less coin in my pocket, since I spent it all on my last trip. I came back cheaper than ever. I was well versed in supermarket meals, camping and living out of a car. I became crafty, making utensils from things that I found: twigs, food packaging, my hands. I discovered when buying a pre-made salad, you can simply dump some dressing into the bag, close it and shake it to evenly (it will be clumpy) spread the dressing around. If you have no bag of salad and just a head of lettuce, you can just as easily take a bite of veg, followed by a shot of dressing, then chew. Tourist offices were our go-to for a free map of the area and info on where we could shower without paying. We ended up getting so greasy, some people pointed out where the showers were before we even had to ask. At times, I was guided by my cousin’s Lonely Planet or if we had luxurious WiFi, then we’d Google. I saw heaps of tourist attractions, national parks and other sites. On occasion, I also saw the empty bottom of Buckfast bottles and slept on the coveted goon wine pillow, after finishing off the boxed wine. One vivid recollection I have, was when I was 23 partying on Magnetic Island, Australia. There was a 35+ year old guy who was partying with us, along with some 18 year olds. After talking to him, I found out he had no life goals or ambitions of any kind. He liked to party so he did. At the time, I was a tad disgusted by that 30+ year old in a hostel, wasting his life away. When you are in your early twenties, 30’s seems OLD. You are supposed to have your shit together. Right?
At 24, I stayed in a hostel in Barcelona. This was the moment where there was a shift so slight that, at the time, it went unnoticed. I was becoming more keen waking up early to cross things off my city map and my “This is Happening List” than I was on finding the best drinking hole. I pre-booked sites to avoid lines. I slept with my ear plugs and sleep mask, hoping to get my full 8 hours. The shift of how I travelled was similar to airplane noise. When the engines start you think the buzz is super annoying but once you become immersed, you kind of forget about it.
A few years later was when I realized it.
Laying on the bottom bunk of a six bedroom dorm, at 27, I knew. Staring at the wooden slates above me, I was frustrated by the idiot who scratched their name in it. Senseless vandalism. The insistent chatter of travellers who stumbled in at midnight severely angered me. It woke me up and it only reminded me of how much I missed my friends back home. I was irritated rather than enticed by people’s adventures. How could they NOT see the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. I get it, you went to 5 countries in 5 days. You obviously should have planned better. Aren’t you tired? I found it hard to find commonality with them perhaps due to the 7 year age gap. I was annoyed at having to tell people my name, where I was from and where I had been. I didn’t sleep. I could feel every vertebrae digging into the individual springs on the uncomfortable mattress. I only thought about my soft bed at home. The entire time I was on constant edge thinking someone would steal my belongings. I locked everything or had it hidden on my body. When did I get so negative, sketchy and unsociable?
I was out of place. A similar feeling to when I board a plane and have to stand in the first class aisle, waiting for people to put their bags in the overhead compartments. There are those judgmental, business attired people who look at me probably thinking something along the lines of keep walking lady.
I was that (almost) 30 year old in a hostel. The one that I spoke so ill of many years prior. Minus the partying, because loud music hurts my ears.
The natural progression of travel happened to me. As much as I want to enjoy sharing a kitchen and being social in a hostel, the dirty dishes are too icky to touch and annoying conversations bore me. As much as I want to party till the early hours, I can’t stay up past my 10:30 pm bedtime. Also, hangovers are brutal.
Simply put, I am not there anymore.
Let me be clear, I am not pessimistic, I still adore travelling. I just know I don’t want to be that 30 year old in a hostel filled with 20 year olds. I am not a picky food eater as I once was. As my taste buds changed, so have I. In a good way, I swear. This is just me- you do you.
The progression of travel impacts (I still don’t know when to use effects or affects so I always type impacts instead) everyone differently and some are perpetually stuck in the 22 year old phase. Some refuse to accept things can change.
I was in a Spanish hostel in my late twenties and a 40 something year old man was in a the bunk bed above me. He was an astrophysicist so I assume he is a smarty pants and makes decent money. Yet, he washed his clothes in the sink. I should rephrase that, he washed some of his clothes in the sink. Most of his clothes smelled like rotten fish. He had no cell phone and he only used a lonely planet guide or tangible map. Keep in mind this was 2017, not 1995. His guide book was mightier than Google. After chatting to him I knew he saw all the sites and went for a drink in the pubs. He ate at the two $$ recommended restaurants. I found this fascinating and of course smelly since I was directly below his bunk.
There was a time in travel when cell phones were a burden instead of a saving grace. When guide books and internet cafes directed your plans. There were times when you met so few travellers that you felt like you were the only one who discovered this hidden gem.
It is undeniable that travel itself has changed, not just how I experience it. There was a time when I thought climbing to the peak of Mount Everest was the greatest test of human endurance. Now, when people say the climbed to the base camp, I don’t even bat an eyelash. I think those 4000 successes to the top by untrained individuals guided by Sherpas has desensitized my sense of achievement with the whole thing. The world is more accessible to everyone, faster trains and more planes which is great for travellers. But it breaks my heart to know the untouched land that I witness today may be a water front beach resort in coming years. Unarguably, change can be good. When I went to Cuba in 2009 they had ration cards for food and supplies which, to me, is unfathomable but the unwavering human greed to develop every piece of land into something profitable is tragic.