This month marks my 25th anniversary as a world traveler. In September 1990, I left my life-long home in suburban Indiana and headed to Europe on my first-ever flight, from Chicago to Ireland, to start a new chapter in my life. My first plane flight, first time outside the United States, first time backpacking and staying in hostels, and first time exploring the world and experiencing first-hand other cultures. It was the start of a new era—post-college, as an adult, on my own, and with the freedom to structure my own time. Then my world was full of new possibilities; now the possibilities exist, but in a different form.
My first memories of the trip were of the flight— There was a lot of turbulence on the flight (or some, I had nothing to compare it to). The Irish girl, Brigit, I was sitting next to was so nervous flying she had to go to the back of the plane to have a cigarette to calm down. This was back in the day when you could still smoke in designated areas on flights. The beige leather seats on the Continental plane were large enough to be comfortable (even in economy class), and we were actually served good food and drinks (without having to pay for them).
Security was very different then too. I didn’t have to take my shoes off and partially undress to go through security. No standing in awkward positions and experiencing awkward pat-downs. No figuring out how to stuff all necessary toiletries into a few tiny bottles to fit into a small plastic see-through bag (I don’t check luggage now). And less fear and concern with flying. But that too changed with the new century. After 911, terrorism in the skies became much more on the minds of everyone.
I awoke to lush green views outside my window seat, which were lovely, despite dealing with jetlag for the first time. I couldn’t wait to begin my new day in a different country for the first time! When I finally arrived in Dublin, after a plane change at Shannon airport, I remember the drive into the city center, on the other side of the road, and the “differentness”, but still with the familiarity of a western world lifestyle and language. After getting settled into my hostel, I went out to walk around a bit toting my Let’s Go Europe guidebook with maps so I wouldn’t get lost, and to find a phone booth to call my parents with my MCI calling card to let them know I had arrived safely.
I spent a total of a year in Europe—working for 10 months, first at restaurants in the ski resort town of Aviemore, Scotland, then at a deli in Aachen, Germany, for the summer, and traveling around Europe via Eurail. I took photos on my point-and-shoot disposable camera (but only a few in each place, as it could get quite costly developing all the film and mailing the pictures home). And when I was ready to return home, I went in to a travel agency to book my flight.
Nowadays, it almost seems like ancient history when we couldn’t have instant connections with anyone from our smart phone or computer. I now take way too many photos (over 100 per day) with my DSLR and iPhone knowing I can delete all the extras and there’s no cost to see them. I Skype home, use my phone’s GPS to find my way, and can be in instantaneous contact with friends via social media and email. I meet new people from around the world every day on Twitter, can find any travel information I’m looking for on the internet in a few minutes, and book all my travel and accommodation from my computer. And I arrange to stay with locals in a new destination ahead of time via Airbnb or Couchsurfing.
Technology has definitely made travel easier and available to plan in advance on your own. But it has also lessened the excitement of when you finally hear from someone via postcard or letter (the precursors to Instagram and email). The world was a bit more mysterious when any information you desired wasn’t accessible at anytime, anywhere from a computer. You didn’t always know what you would find in a new place. And that made travel a bit more of an adventure.
Twenty-five years from now, I hope to still be exploring the world, experiencing new places, and having new adventures. It’s hard to image how different it may be then and what new technology will influence the way we travel. Perhaps a new traveler’s first memories will be of boarding a flight on Virgin Galactic for the Moon and contacting holographic versions of family and friends to talk while beaming photos of the landscape home instantaneously. And perhaps someday travelers may even be leaving their life-long home on the Moon to explore quaint and ancient suburban cities in Indiana.