Reformed Travel Slut


Guess which one I chose.

My first trip to Europe was exactly (almost to the day) twenty years ago. I was 24 years old, had just graduated college with one of the more spectacularly forgettable academic careers ever witnessed in Pittsburgh. It was my first trip alone and it was to be a learning experience. I carried a massive, teetering backpack filled with things I would barely touch over the next month and a lot of things I would discard. Hiking boots would be purposefully left in a youth hostel in Amsterdam, an umbrella would be dropped in Edinburgh, one of two sweaters would be left in Doolin, Ireland. I had a printed ticket which had a carbon copy and a huge book called Europe on a Shoestring.

I was so excited. It occurred to me in London that I had no idea how to get from the airport to the city itself. I finally found a train and handed over an exorbitant amount of money with a worrying lump in my throat. Money. Oh yeah. I met my friend Tara at Paddington Station, the train wheezed and decompressed and people bustled around me wielding British accents that I wanted to bottle and listen to at home in the bathtub. I was delirious with excitement and novelty.

The trip was meant to be epic. I wanted to do it all. England, Scotland, Ireland, Holland, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Hungary. Indeed, I did hit them all, got my Eurail punched for a bunch of long train trips. I dug through pockets of money that had become useless when I crossed the last border. The vastly underappreciated Lira. The Franc. The stoic Deutsche Mark. Two kinds of Pound. The nights out drinking, almost getting grifted in Budapest, scooping a camera film tube with rocks from Jim Morrison’s grave for my brother. I did it all. But I say that with a bit of derision rather than braggadocio. Though at the time my goal was to see as much as I could, I realize now that while I visited many places I did so like a stone skipping across a pond. I wanted notches in my walking stick, not a deep and pleasant experience. I was a travel slut.   

Since then, of course, things have changed. Then, to be called “a tourist” was to be called a dirty word. The gall! I am a traveler! Blah, blah. I am far more comfortable with being a tourist. I like a quiet hotel room and a good shower, a nice big meal that is a bit too expensive. I visit places now knowing that a week isn’t enough to see everything in a city. I pick and choose and I leave things off the list. My packing list is small. Let me smell! It’ll keep the pitchmen away.

Mostly, these days, I like to take things slowly. Walk around a city, drink a beer, sit on a bench in a park and wonder at the trend of butt cleavage. I don’t mind spending a few hours in a restaurant and having an ill-advised number of beers. I have thoroughly enjoyed a slow walk through a department store, while Tokyo waited outside. And I have spent Sunday morning in a British pub while Oxford Street demanded more of my money. Take it easy. Take it slow. Be good to your knees. Lessons.

Today I am preparing to travel to Portugal and doing my pre-travel routine. I have been going through the book selection process for three days. I have been vetting shirts and pens and underwear, putting them through a rigorous regiment. I am choosing the right notebook to bring with me.

Travel has changed for me for the better, but the excitement is still there. The newness blows my mind every time. The bustle of a different metro station or the vibrant colors of the breakfast bar in another place. To walk down a little lane not knowing where you’ll come out. It still gives me a thrill. But should I ever have trouble locating my love of a trip, then I shall just refer to one of my favorite passages from Bill Bryson.

“Is there anything, apart from a really good chocolate cream pie and receiving a large unexpected cheque in the post, to beat finding yourself at large in a foreign city on a fair spring evening, loafing along unfamiliar streets in the long shadows of a lazy sunset, pausing to gaze in shop windows or at some church or lovely square or tranquil stretch of quayside, hesitating at street corners to decide whether that cheerful and homy restaurant you will remember fondly for years is likely to lie down this street or that one? I just love it. I could spend my life arriving each evening in a new city.”
― Bill Bryson, Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe

And of course to answer his question – no, there isn’t.

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