One of the topics that lead to the name of my blog was travel. I love to travel, both as a tourist to see the magnificent things that others before me have seen and to learn and experience the culture of people different from myself. To me, this is the two sides of the “worldly” coin – both experiencing the sights and learning the culture. The final Life Story blog prompt asks me to talk about the places I have traveled outside my home country, so this is a perfect topic for this blog.
As a teenager, my parents took my sisters and I to my mother’s family reunion in Washington State. We lived in Louisiana, so it was quite the epic road trip to get there. My dad was a bit sad that we spent the majority of the time in the van either sleeping or otherwise engaged and not beholding the majesty of our country as it passed mile by mile. While our country is truly majestic, anything view for hours on end from a moving vehicle is pretty damn boring. We spent the reunion in a cabin by the river, and it was a good time. When I realized how close we were to the Canadian border, I began planning a campaign to take a trip and recruited my sisters and some of my cousins into going, too. I think my dad agreed to drive us since we were actually excited to see something. We packed a picnic (which Boarder Patrol made us throw the fresh fruit bits out) and visited the nearest border town: Selma, Canada. I still have a shirt with its coordinates in my hope chest. This was my first time leaving the country.
The next time I left the country was in 2004, when my (now ex) husband was redeployed.* I’m not sure how we picked the cruise, or why really – I’m sure it had something to do with both a military special and my need to escape. We went for 7 days with stops at St. Thomas, Saint Martin, Princess’s private island in the Bahamas, and a tour of the Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. I hated the boat, and felt bored and trapped during our sea days. Dinners with strangers were uncomfortable when they found out my ex was in the military, no matter what side of the politics they were on. The days in port were magical, though. My ex learned to body surf in the ocean and I went snorkeling in the Bahamas and saw a barracuda hanging out 30 meters from the reef. Sadly, the film from snorkeling got exposed by security at the airports (I was crushed about this for months).
About a month after the cruise, we went on an all expense paid 5 day trip to Los Cabos, Mexico. This was a gift from my company for being a top sales-maker during Q4 (the holiday buying season). Our hotel was right in the middle of Los Cabos – Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. We went on a history excursion to San Jose and horseback riding on the beach in Cabo San Lucas. Of course there were drinks at Cabo Wabo (some famous football player was there) and some of the best lobster dinner I’d ever had (I had never had lobster that I liked up until that point). I still remember McDonald’s as the only place with a language barrier, and asking if they had milkshakes by saying “leche”and shaking my hands ala martini shake. Since the cruise and the resort trip were practically back-to-back, we were able to compare the two modes of vacationing, and we definitely enjoyed being able to thoroughly enjoy one place over hopping around.
My first transatlantic crossing occurred two years later, shortly after I separated from the now ex (above) and I went to meet a guy from the internet. One day, I will write about this toxic relationship, but suffice to say that he was an excellent tour guide for my first trip abroad. We had a loose schedule of things I was interested in seeing and picked from it each morning. I loved Kew Gardens the most and also saw the London Zoo, the British Museum, and the Tower of London. One day we took a walking tour of sights along the river and into the government buildings, too. I saw V for Vendetta when it opened in theaters in London and it was such an amazing experience to have just walked where many of the scenes took place (especially the final scene at the Parliament buildings). I remember clubs with pitchers of mixed drinks specials for £20. The entire city took my breath away and to this day remains one of my favorite places.
The toxic guy was British, so the following year I went back to England to visit his home in Derbyshire. One of his mates got married, and they had a proper English tea in the morning and a hog roast in the evening to celebrate. The bride wanted the tea and the groom wanted the roast, so talk about a win-win compromise! Pimms Cups were served at the tea and I still have a love affair with that brand of booze. It was also the first time I drove on the wrong side of the road! We went hiking at Peak District and walked the gardens of Chatsworth (it was named in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and was filmed as Pemberley in the 2005 film). We stopped at random churches to look at the stained glass and at parks to feed the ducks. I remember being impressed that we had drinks in a pub that was opened in 1530 in Derby, De Olde Dolphin Inne. While in London for transit, we visited the Tate Modern and the Aquarium.
My next international trip isn’t until four years later (2011 for those that haven’t kept up with the dates) due to the fallout of the above toxic relationship. A recently divorced friend was bemoaning the fact she didn’t have a travel companion any longer and I gladly volunteered. She loves cruises though, and grilled me a bit on why I didn’t. I explained the above story and she suggested that we try a cruise with less days at sea. She is a cruise pro, and knew the ins and outs, what to do and what not to do. She found a 7 day cruise departing from Puerto Rico and had only one day at sea. We few into Puerto Rico a day early to explore Old San Juan and to swim in a bio-luminescent lagoon in Fajardo. We went to a butterfly farm on St. Martin, zip-lined in St. Lucia, para sailed in St. Thomas, and snorkeled in St. Kitts (I have the pics from that one – thank goodness for digital cameras!). In Barbados, we went on a booze cruise to feed sea turtles. There was an open bar afterwards with the biggest “bottle” of Mount Gay rum I have ever seen. I don’t remember getting back on the ship after that excursion! To this day, I still love Mount Gay rum. It was a good cruise.
I was able to travel internationally for business the following year. I was working with Latin America, and our largest market was Brazil, so most of our staff in market was from Puerto Alegre. This was my first real experience with international business culture, and during the week, colleagues would actually tell me that meeting me in person made a difference int he information they felt comfortable disclosing to me. I was also there to learn non-business culture, so my colleagues made sure that I experienced the night life and arranged a market shopping experience as well. They didn’t quite believe that I enjoyed their chimarrão (mate drink), and I’m sad that I don’t have the skills to make it at home. International flights being what they are,** the cost difference to stay the weekend in country covered the cost of my hotel room for those extra days. My colleagues each took a different part of the weekend out of their free time and showed me around their city – the parks, the public market, and the museums. I was able to go back in 2013, but wasn’t able to do much culture related.
I began my MBA program in 2013, and began planning for a short study abroad program for the summer of 2014. I originally thought I’d go back to Brazil (I really love the country), but I was convinced to branch out a bit for educational purposes. The India program required a deep dive into culture that lasted a semester before the trip, so I went with India. We learned history, culture and business practices in the semester before our trip, and I found a love for Bollywood. The trip itself was 3 weeks and we visited Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, the Himalayas, Bangalore, Kabini and Coorg. I rode an elephant, saw the Taj (beautiful!) and other historic sites, visited a monk on a mountain top, went on a safari, learned about great coffee, met orphans and the lowest caste as well as future business associates in India. I witnessed the arrogance of American business culture clash with the local culture, and it made me vow to be better in business. I won’t be the brash executive that doesn’t consider the local point of view when making decisions.
My best friend, the aforementioned Good Sarah, wanted to go on her first international trip and asked me to accompany her after I graduated from my MBA program. She wanted to go to Greece. Knowing what I know about both Greece and her, since Greece is mostly islands and she hates beaches, I asked her what activities she wanted to do. Turns out, she wanted to do the historical stuff centered in Athens. So, I asked if we could do 3 days in Athens and 3 days in Istanbul, but Istanbul scared her a bit, so we settled on Rome. In Rome, we saw the Vatican and the Pantheon. We visited the John Keats museum next to the Spanish Steps. The Trevi Fountain was sadly under construction. We also spent a day in Pompeii to see the ruins. We used AirBnB and our apt was near the Pyramid in Rome and walking distance to the ruins in Athens. In Athens, we saw all the archaeological sites, including the Acropolis and the Parthenon. We spent a day searching for Plato’s academy and found Socrates’ jail cell. We even pampered ourselves at a Hammas (Turkish bath).
Right before that last trip, B asked about a vasectomy. Due to the lineage of my name, I’ve always kept the option of kids open, but never really wanted kids. The trip with Good Sarah made me realize that if I wanted to see the world, I needed to do it before I was disabled. Most of the ancient sites weren’t accessible without long walks over rough terrain. This lead to committing to one big trip each year, starting with Ireland this year. We are closer to commitment on the Nordic cruise next year, and I’ve invited my friend from the Puerto Rico cruise to travel with B and I. I’m sure there will be updates.
*For those of you who have never been military adjacent, “re”deployed means coming home after a deployment. There is a lot of military stuff to the term, but most people think the deployment orders “expire” and the troops get to come home. While deployment orders have a general time line (6-18 months), suffice to say that it’s the new orders that actually send them home.
**It’s always cheaper to stay over a Fri/Sat, since business travelers normally don’t want to miss time away from home. Vacationers want to stay extra free days. So airlines can get away with charging more for business flights.