My very first plane trip was to the Caribbean island Antigua in 1984, a high school graduation gift from my mom. At 17, it wasn’t my first trip away from home, but it was definitely the furthest I’d been from my comfort zone.
And I hated it. Well, I thought I hated it.
I researched the trip with a friend from school and we found a mostly-inclusive package for the snazzy Jolly Beach Resort. And by research, I mean we went to Liberty Travel on 86th street and 20th avenue and asked about island package deals for Brooklyn girls. We knew absolutely nothing about the island except that it was sunny, sandy, the water was extra blue and there would be booze cruises and discos, and we could drink fancy cocktails on exotic beaches without worrying about parental repercussions. That’s how we picked Antigua.
It was disappointing from the moment we unpacked and I got bored quickly. Laying by the pool, laying on the beach, eating bland lunches, eating bland dinners, laying by the pool, laying on the beach. We were also constantly harassed by local men and then constantly advised by the staff not to leave the resort perimeter without a guide. Two single young girls at a resort that catered mostly to couples … probably not the best choice, but what did we know? By the fifth day I desperately needed some kind of stimulation. In the wake of all the hotel staff warnings, leaving the complex made my friend uncomfortable so I decided to check out the nearest town on my own. I’m sure I was a little nervous, but the thought of another day laying on the beach in a turtleneck was unbearable.
Downtown St. John’s was amazing. Bustling, colorful, intimidating, beautiful. I wandered for hours with no real destination, just watching, smelling and listening to life bubble around me. I felt comfortable and safe and didn’t want to go back to the Jolly Beach Hotel…ever. I remember wondering “who are these fascinating people? What are they speaking? What are they eating? Who lived here before them? What is it like to live here?” I sadly returned to antiseptic Jolly Beach and back home I wrote the overall trip off as a “waste of time with a tan”, and vowed never to go to the Caribbean again.
So silly. 26 years later, and it couldn’t be clearer to me how that trip ignited an insatiable wanderlust and shaped the way I prefer to travel. The following year, my sights were set on Europe. This time research involved more than a trip to the travel agency. It started with a general interest in the history of England and romantic ideas of France then grew to an exploration of places to visit and culture to experience. I planned the trip with a friend of mine from work and we convinced my cousin and another friend to join the adventure. The idea of a package deal turned me off so we asked our travel agent to help us with flights and hotels, and we would figure out what to do on the ground. The trip was great, but it was difficult to juggle so many personalities and I found myself breaking away from the pack and to seek my own experiences and meet new people. The year after I went to Madeira, Portugal to spend three weeks with a lovely man I met in Paris. The following year I packed a small backpack and spent a few weeks traveling solo in the Lake District and northern Wales, staying in hostels and B&Bs. When I turned 20, I quit my job and spent 6 months backpacking through Europe. And I haven’t stopped trotting around this great wide world of ours. And I haven’t stopped learning about myself and the world around me.
And that’s what this blog is about…learning and growing and changing through travel, one trip at a time.