I’ve been lucky enough to have in the last fifteen years probably three ‘trips of a lifetime’ as well as several awesome shorter trips intermingled between them. Today I take you back to my very first trip (solo) which took place in 1999. How did it come about?
Well, I finished high school in 1993 with a gift of $1500 for finishing it. I had a plan for that money – to travel to America with it. It’s strange, isn’t it, because it took a lot longer to have enough money to travel, so it was six years later that I eventually left Australia.
You see, I was studying until 1997’s end. By that time I had also worked (pizza delivery) for a year or so, and was starting to put a little aside. I wasn’t sure when exactly I’d have enough mula, or indeed how much enough mula would be, and come 1998 I took on more shifts and took other odd jobs where I could find them including goal umpiring and event work when it cropped up.
It must have been early in 1998 that I started looking at travel agents. I think by that time I had decided a bit of Europe would be on the cards as I had discovered a thing called ‘round the world’ fares, and England was one place I had always wanted to go ever since I became a fan of Doctor Who in the mid-80s.
I went from agent to agent, looking at possible fares and dreaming a bit, until I went into one in Hampton, a suburb not too far from where I lived, and to be honest had the hard sell put on me by one travel agent. Well, when I listed some of the other places that had flitted into my mind when I started looking at brochures, such as Egypt and Russia, he presented me with the Star Alliance round the world fare, up to 40,000 miles or something (can’t quite remember) for $3200.
Well, as hard-selly as he may have been, he immediately pricked my interest and I started looking at all the possibilities. I would research, and we would try to crunch in as many destinations as we could – there was no limit to stops you see. I just had to get the miles under the maximum. It was then that Iceland popped up as a possibility as well, and I thought I might as well get Sweden in there as well.
Then my friends kept talking about Thailand and India, I bought Lonely Planet guides, things were moving. I could estimate a budget, which was just under $20,000 I think. I was pretty ambitious budgeting on 20 bucks a day in Thailand, although it proved enough in India and then some. My little idea to go to America had turned into what my travel agent later described as the most amazing itinerary he had ever booked.
Here are the flights for you (just the stops).
Melbourne – Bangkok – Copenhagen – St Petersburg (land); Moscow – Alexandria (land); Cairo – Munich (Eurail around Europe); Munich – London – Reykjavik – Stockholm – New York (land); Boston – Toronto – Los Anegeles – Melbourne
As you can see, it was a serious trip, and there were a couple of layovers here or there. I got to fly Thai, SAS, United, Luftansa and Air New Zealand. I set a date – it was February 1999, to leave, it was to take seven months. With a solid aim in mind, saving because easier I think.
I had to get a lot of (heavy) guide books, I needed to get vaccinations, a pack and all the little things you need like a torch, sleeping bag shrinker (a LIFE saver!) and all that jazz. Although I was onto all these things in plenty of time, I was still in a panic to leave the house on time!
You see, I was finishing off my mix tapes. Yes, it was 1999 and cassette-walkmans were still used and so I had to narrow down my music collection to fit on five tapes I think (100 mins each) although I vaguely remember having a yellow case that could carry ten which I think I took with me. These days, well an ipod is all you need and more! Still, people want more than more, right?
The pack was absolutely stuffed and was pushing 18-19 kilos. I had a secondary pack that clipped onto the front of the first which was a little of a new concept back then, but very common in 2014. Kathmandu – I reckon there’s no better place for travelling gear in the world. North Face? ‘Pft!’ I say.
And then I went to the pizza shop I had worked at for two and a half years and earned most of the money I would need for my adventure. My friends were there and we had a final meal, and a bit of wine, before I was driven to Tullamarine (Melbourne) Airport, to board my 1am flight to Bangkok with Thai Airways. Over a year of preparation and over six years of dreaming had taken me to this point. I waved my folks goodbye and went through customs, then onto the plane.
Although I still get a little excitement in the belly these days before a flight, it’s mostly because I hate flying! Yet I loved it back in 1999. The flight wasn’t even half full that night, and I sat next to a guy who was more jumpy on planes than I am today. I remember still distinctly the moment that the landing gear went up he jumped slightly out of seat, grabbed the random stranger on his right (ME) and said ‘What was that?’
I smiled, and was pretty excited as we took off into the night’s sky. Not only was an adventure about to begin, but I was in a place internally of freedom. From work and responsibility, for thinking about important life choices like careers, I was heading out into a world I had been imagining and now it was time to see it. First stop – Thailand!
And yes, please join me next week for the story of my first experiences travelling somewhere on my own!