By Leigh Morrow
Since I was a little girl, travel has always had a hold on me. I would sit in my parent’s car, parked in the garage, with my imaginary friend, Lulu Simms, and pretend we were on the road to big-sounding cities like Minneapolis and Cincinnati.
By the time I entered grade nine, I had lived in five different cities, in five different provinces, which only fueled my wanderlust. By grade 10, I won a trip to Helsinki, a city that mesmerized me with its Marimeko patterns, smoked salmon breakfasts, and saunas. I returned home, officially bitten with the travel bug.
Yet travelling in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s was much different from today. It was much more free spirited. It was ok to just wander. It was exhilarating to let your intuition be your only guide. Often no one, not even your parents, knew exactly where you were or how to reach you. With no wi-fi, Facebook or WhatsApp, postcards—which took weeks to arrive—were how we communicated. Long distance international telephone calls were prohibitively expensive, and reserved for emergencies only. We were on the road, unfettered and free to roam.
I remember planning trips to what were then considered off the beaten path destinations like Cambodia or Myanmar, when it was still called Burma, long before Google earth could show you exactly where you were headed. We would browse the glossy brochures at travel agent kiosks in the mall, for inspiration. There was no Internet for instantly discovering the best beaches, no blogs from world travellers to mine through for nuggets. There were no websites and online magazines to guide you. The travel books of the day were bland and sterile approaches to adventure, more concerned about which electrical converter was required to keeping your hair dryer running, than where to trek for the best sunset.
Travel secrets and “don’t bother” lists, were only known by listening to returning travellers who like Marco Polo had amazing tales to tell of blue burkas and midnight strolls on Temple Road for steaming bowls of hot pots. These trusted travellers would tell you tips like forget the local bus and leave Siem Reap long before dawn on foot, to sit with saffron-robed monks and watch a new day break over Angkor Wat to truly capture the magnitude of this ancient site.
Flights were infrequent and very expensive. We would save all year for a ticket that today costs a fraction of the price. Luggage was different too. There were no fees for your bag, or your seat, and you could bring as much liquid as you could carry. You guarded those paper tickets like gold, often tucking them under your pillow for safe keeping, along with your traveller cheques.
When I was younger, flying meant a trip to the cockpit to meet the captain during the flight and receive my “golden wings” from the “stewardess”, who served you real food to eat with metal cutlery. I watched people smoke, and colored in my free airlines coloring book.
We wore our best outfits, and arrived for the flight just a few minutes before boarding, fresh and excited. The plane ride was such a luxury, you felt the vacation started the moment you stepped on board. The journey, back then, was as important as the destination.
By college, we were carrying our cumbersome copies of Lonely Planet, consulting it daily in cafes or on the curb, during long bus rides and in our hostel bunk beds, as much for the information as to look cool.
We transformed those books into our travel statement, brandishing them with our peace signs and our faded jeans. We made notes in the margins, wrote down new friends’ mailing addresses on the inside back cover, and circled hostels and eateries that hit the mark. When we returned home, those dog-eared copies reminded us as much of our travels as anything else.
There was no GPS, we read maps to find our way, and learned how to refold them. When we got hopelessly lost, we asked complete strangers for directions, and some even invited us home for a meal.
We had cameras. We took pictures, and developed the film as we could afford it. A lot of those pictures were lovingly sorted in photo albums or tucked into Christmas Cards to our friends the next year. Film was precious too. You had 36 shots and you made them count. You spent time looking at the sights, not just shooting them.
Traveling was about leaving all your familiar routines of home, behind. This included becoming completely oblivious to what was happening in the world. Was there a landslide? Did someone call an election? Who became President? If you were really travelling you were blissfully unaware of world politics and all the bad things happening around the world. The only news was the odd English language newspaper being sold on the beach, overpriced, days old, and full of filler articles. I miss that complete detachment that travel could provide. We said real goodbyes at the airport, with lots of tears, and missed our family, instead of taking everyone along with us in our phone.
I miss the surprises too. Travel “back in the day” was full of anticipation, and lots of unknowns. We didn’t know what every city and beach looked like, or where to get the best burger, or see a sunrise, because we couldn’t Google it. The novelty of the new experience isn’t really that new any more, as we have scoped it all out on-line, ahead of time.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love to travel, but I try to still do it a bit blindfolded, the old fashioned way, with this great quote in mind.
“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson
Leigh Morrow is a Vancouver writer who operates Casa Mihale, a vacation rental in the quaint ocean front community of San Agustinillo, Oaxaca, Mexico. Her house can be viewed and rented at http://www.gosanagustinillo.com