I blame my travel addiction on my amazing, fascinating grandmother, Agnes Leeming. As a young girl, I’d visit her every Sunday and we’d spend hours looking at photos from her world travels with my grandfather, Howard. These mysterious far away places spoke to me of adventure and new experiences and endless possibilities. Agnes (I called her Nana) even let me read her journals so I could get the details of their tours all over Europe, Asia and North America. I was hooked!
Thankfully, that fascination stayed alive and well with the happy result that over the past thirty years, I have become quite a veteran at world travel! To me, these have been so much more than trips – they are more like life altering, personality shaping journeys of self discovery. In my twenties I quit my job TWICE, put all my belongings into storage, packed my back pack and headed off to see the world. The first time, I bought a round the world ticket – beginning in Toronto, spending several months travelling in the Middle East and Europe, going Down Under and beginning a long standing love affair with Australia and New Zealand and at the end of the year, ending up in British Columbia. The second time, I returned to my beloved Australia then carried on to Asia – Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, India and Nepal.
The thing about travel – it is all about FREEDOM! Every time you leave the familiarity of home, you can be whoever you want to be and do whatever you want to do. All you have with you is your passport and that pack on your back. Perhaps a guide book and, as was my case, a journal so that, like Agnes, I could record every scrumptious detail of my journey. I spent hours a day recording each new experience – this is how it felt as I slept in a tent in the Sinai Desert, traveled up the Nile on a felucca for three days, climbed Masada, fell in love in Istanbul and lived with that man for a month until he abruptly ended it, lay weeping from a broken heart on the golden beaches of Santorini…. My writing took on a life of its own, I couldn’t keep up with the pen as the feelings, experiences and conversations poured onto the page.
You learn a lot about yourself when you embark on this kind of travel. I still go back and read those diaries with complete amazement at how I operated with the unflagging belief that everything would just work out. And, normally, it did. Well, not always. But the times that things didn’t work out make some pretty interesting stories! And that’s all part of it. For example, one of my very first trips was to Greece when I was 23. I’d arranged to travel with two girls I knew from university. We’d meet in Athens on this day at this time and go from there to explore the islands. So I booked time off work and made the trip to Athens by myself, arriving in time to meet them at the agreed time and place. I waited for a day for them to come, figuring perhaps they’d missed a connection somewhere (they had already been traveling in Europe for three months). After another day passed, I realized they weren’t coming. So I panicked and smoked and cried for a while , then grabbed my pack, made my way to the ferry docks and caught the next ferry to Santorini. Who needs them?? I’ll do it on my own!
The great thing about traveling alone is that you seem to attract more people to you than when you’re traveling in a couple or in a group. I met all kinds of great people over that two week period. One of the best outcomes from that trip is that I met Anne from Brisbane. I was sitting alone on one of the exquisite beaches of Santorini, happily reveling in the fact that I was even THERE and here comes this girl and she sits down beside me. Of course we start talking and it turns out that she is also traveling alone and is having difficulty finding accommodation. Well, I just happen to have a triple room to myself so invite her to bunk with me. Lots of room, dirt cheap. Great idea, she agrees. And that is the beginning of a treasured friendship which has lasted twenty six years!! I came to thank those two selfish idiotic girls who stood me up in Athens. If I’d gone off with them, I wouldn’t have been put in the position I was. I wouldn’t have come to appreciate that I AM a brave and independent woman who can handle things like this on my own. I wouldn’t have met Anne and subsequently traveled with her to Australia three years later and fallen in love with THAT country and met three other women who are now my OZZIE family. This is all a gift. This is the universe providing. This stuff does NOT happen when you are sitting on the couch in your living room and hibernating!
You find your voice. You learn what makes your heart race. You unveil your creativity. Along with writing, I became an avid photographer. I started in the days of film, long before the digital age. Back then, photos were precious and I would pick and choose what I wanted to capture on film so I could take it home and have it with me forever. Being on the road for six months, twelve months, I’d have to make careful notes of what I was taking pictures of – little slips of paper that I’d stick in the film canister so that I’d remember all the details when the time came to get the photos developed. I’d mail these precious treasures home to my family to keep for me, praying the whole time that they’d arrive safely as there were no memory sticks or cards or online copies to back them up – that was it!
When you are traveling, the world becomes a smaller place and strangers become friends. Staying in hostels and backpacker inns, you meet like minded people from all over the world, all on similar journeys of self discovery. You sit and talk for hours, swapping stories, learning, laughing. If you are lucky, you make a connection with one or two of these fellow travelers and perhaps you decide to travel together for a while. You learn about their homes, their families, their hopes and dreams. And if you are REALLY lucky, a life long friendship is born. I have the absolute privilege and joy of beautiful friendships with several women I met while traveling in my early twenties and we are still friends to this day. These gorgeous women are from all over the world: Australia, New Zealand, England, Germany, France, America. It blows me away and fills my heart with such joy. We have shared so much of our lives through letters and phone calls. Love, marriage, children, careers, loss. And you better believe that most of us continue to travel every chance we get! Of course the experience is different now that we have husbands, families and careers. But you know what the great thing is about hitting middle age? We are finding ourselves free again to return to our world travels. Out come the travel guides. And of course, now we can do so much of our research and communication online. But I’m still old fashioned, I religiously buy my Lonely Planet guide as I prepare to hit a new part of the world.
Last November Anne traveled from Brisbane and I traveled from Toronto and we met in Manhattan to celebrate her 50th birthday! She was there with her gorgeous daughter Lauren who had swung by New York while on her own back packing adventure to be there for her mom’s birthday. A lot of living has happened since 1983 when Anne and I first met. I never would have met her if I wasn’t in Greece on that beach, on that day. Life is amazing!
I’m so lucky to have married a man who shares my sense of adventure and, by spending the last fifteen years with me, my darling Karel has developed a pretty powerful travel addiction of his own, thank heavens!!
Sadly for me, my precious grandmother, Agnes passed away before I could share any of my travel stories with her. But it is her generosity of spirit which set me on this path of self discovery. It is her financial generosity which helped me pay for that first round the world plane ticket in 1985. All these years later, I still think of her all the time and wonder what she’d have to say about the legacy she left me. And to this day, I still thank her for introducing me to the world.