As a teenager I was really into writing letters. By the time I attended the sixth-form, I must have had over 40 penpals from all over the world. With some of them I exchanged letters that were like novellas in length, and it became a fun challenge to try to find thick pads of nice A4 writing paper: after all, the pretty writing sets with 10 envelopes and 20 sheets were pointless as I would just have nine leftover envelopes…! I couldn’t wait to get home or to my student flat to see if there was post and where it was from. It was great to get to know and become friends with so many different people from Belgium to Brunei, Australia to Argentina, the UAE to the USA…, and hear about their daily lives and future plans. The whole experience got to a whole new level when I had a chance to visit some of them: my budget only stretched to European travel but that didn’t matter. I was hooked!
In the early days of my travels – and this makes me feel and sound really old! – internet, email, and mobile phones didn’t exist. You had to go to a travel agent to book your flights and were given a three-part paper ticket. If you bought an open return, you had to go to a travel agent again at the other end to book your return leg. (Once I found out at the airport that my booking for the flight back home was not on the system. Luckily there were seats left so I got going as planned.) Each time I had exchanged landline numbers with my penfriend but had he or she not been able to meet me at the agreed time, I’m not sure how I would have got the message. My only just-in-case emergency preparations were writing down the address of the Finnish Embassy! Luckily I never needed to look for it or experience being stranded at the airport. I also breathed a sigh of relief as a student when I managed to get off the late-running Vienna to Zagreb train in Lljubljana, instead of ending up in Croatia late at night without anywhere to stay.
Of course people can be different in real life than in letters, regardless how well you think you know them, and a couple of my visits weren’t the greatest. However, none of them were a disaster either, and with some of my penpals I had an absolute blast. Staying with them and seeing the every day life of one family in that particular country gave such a great insight to the culture and customs there. Of course I often saw much more as I was a visitor and the families wanted to show me everything! I especially remember my 2.5-week stay in Slovenia when I was hiking up the mountains, suffering in the heat before a weekend in Bled, admiring the beauty of Lljubljana, and just having a great time with Manca. Another unforgettable stay was with Julie in a small town in Cornwall where we visited colourful fishing villages, managed to explore the ruins of Tintagel although the car broke down, and walked up the hills where you almost expected to see Cornish pixies lurking…
I remember someone saying that once you have travelled a bit more, you get the urge out of your system. In my case it has definitely been the opposite. The more I travel, the more places I want to visit. Being able to look for information, compare prices, and book tickets online, even check out what a place looks like on Google Street View, has made the planning process so much easier. With Wi-Fi widely available, the world is at your fingertips wherever you are. The information overload on natural disasters, terrorism, political unrest, or even strikes could put you off but it would be a pity to lose opportunities to see more and connect with people in other parts of the world. Personally I don’t mind where I go: although I thoroughly enjoyed my trips to Thailand and Australia, I’m also happy to smell and taste the sea air on the Dorset coast or eat waffles in Bruges. Just to go “somewhere” is usually good enough for me.
You’re off the Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!
(Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr Seuss)