September 2001. I boarded my first trans-Atlantic flight at the age of 25 to embark on a whirlwind 23 day tour of Europe. This was my long-awaited “post-bar trip” – a so-called rite of passage for many soon-to-be lawyers. I spent months planning it, but back then, my planning consisted of researching tour companies and itineraries. It never even occurred to me to go on my own.
I initially targeted tours heading to Russia and Scandinavia, but friends and family convinced me that for my first trip to Europe, I was better off sticking with the more typical tourist trail – London, Paris, Rome, etc. As a result, I booked the 23 day European Vista tour with Contiki, a company that caters to travelers ages 18-35. Although the trip was tainted by the impact of 9/11 (which occurred just a week into the trip), it sparked a passion for travel that had always been smoldering below the surface.
Over the next few years, I used my generous-by-US-standards four weeks of vacation time to travel to Spain, France, Australia, Norway, Italy, Austria, Portugal, Germany, Egypt, Germany (again), the Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria (again), Peru and London. Sometimes I traveled with a group, twice I traveled with my mom and once I went with a former friend from high school. Only my trips to Australia, Norway and one trip to Germany were truly solo. And even then, I joined a group in Australia for a three-day trip along the Great Ocean Road and I kicked off my Germany visit by staying with a friend in Frankfurt.
I never stayed in hostels. I rarely carried a backpack, preferring a rolling suitcase instead. My idea of a “budget” hotel was one that cost less than $100 per night. I signed up for day tours or guides because I didn’t want to spend the time and energy to figure out how to visit places on my own. I took winery tours in Australia and a tour to Versailles in France, and hired guides to take me around the Tuscan hills in Italy, to visit Beni Hassan and Tell al Amarna in Egypt and down into the Colca Canyon in Peru.
I planned vacations around holidays to make the most of my vacation time, often traveling over Thanksgiving when I could get two days off “for free.” My trip to Norway included Memorial Day weekend and my tour through Berlin, Prague, Vienna and Budapest was over Christmas and New Year’s. And because I had limited time, I tried to squeeze as much as I could into every trip and planned almost every sight and activity in advance.
My travel style made a seismic shift when I departed on my 13-month career break trip through the former Soviet Union.
I stayed in a hostel for the first time. I lived with local families for the first time. I bought groceries and cooked my own meals instead of eating out all the time. I tracked all of my expenses and tried to adhere to a budget. I put more effort into figuring out how to visit places on my own, rather than just joining a group. I forced myself not to plan out every hour of every day I had in a destination. I traveled completely independently for not just weeks, but months at a time. It was an enormous challenge and as a result, I grew a lot as a traveler and as a person.
But that doesn’t mean I will continue to travel that way.
I can already see myself reverting to my old style of travel. I packed my carry-on sized rolling suitcase with 5 pairs of shoes, 3 dresses and 6 shirts for a 2-day trip to Toronto – almost as much as I carried in my backpack for 13 months. I scoured sites like Priceline and Hotwire to get a good hotel deal, not even considering staying at a hostel. With limited time once again, I am going back to my super-planning ways, already thinking about how to make the most of the two days I have in Memphis later this month. My eyes are already on the calendar for the end of December, thinking about where I might be able to go when my workplace (I work for a law school) is closed between Christmas and New Year’s.
But most importantly, I am much more independent and adventurous than I ever was before. I almost laughed out loud when I wrote the first paragraph above and the idea that I never even considered traveling by myself on that first trip overseas. Now, I can barely imagine NOT traveling solo. I can’t see myself taking another group tour unless it is to a place where I just wouldn’t feel comfortable traveling on my own (there are a few of those) and I’m not even sure I would travel with friends unless I was really certain that our travel styles would mesh.
And I will continue to seek out physical adventures and unusual, off-the-beaten-path destinations. I will spend three weeks hiking in the Nepal Himalayas this October (a trip for which I will likely break out the backpack again!) and I am working on some possibly very unique trips down the road. Overall, I think my travel style will be a good mix of the old and the new – and it will probably continue to evolve.
How has your travel style evolved over the years?