Getting the Get Up and Go

expat blog challege

Our Expat Blog Challenge prompt for July is: Tell us about the first time you were bitten by the “travel bug.” Pop up to the Blogroll link on the top to explore some of my fellow blog “challengers,” as well as some other blogs I love to read, expat and otherwise.

postcardI do not come from what I would describe as a family of travelers. Oh, we went places now and again: I wasn’t one of those people who made it to adulthood without ever being on an airplane, and in fact there exists a photo of me at some early stage of infancy on a plane for the first time to meet my Grandma and Great Grandma, so there’s even proof that I got out a bit. When I was 12, we flew to Hawaii. That was the furthest we went. Aside from that, I mostly remember visiting relatives. Traveling with kids is hard (says someone with almost no experience in the matter, but it seems hard!) and expensive to boot, so no wonder we weren’t dashing off on European tours or hiking to Machu Pichu together. But, as we didn’t have a particularly strong travel culture in my family, I don’t remember the first time I felt the presence of the “travel bug” in my knickers, or wherever it plants itself to ensure that you get up and go.

I do know that when I was in college, I trotted myself off to Barnes and Noble and bought a book about study abroad programs. I scoured it with wonder, and even picked out a program in Scotland that seemed like something I’d like to do. But, semesters abroad weren’t really done by very many students at my college, so I put it in the “too hard basket” (thank you Australia for my favorite phrase), deeming it probably too expensive and complicated.

Finally, though, the year after I graduated, I had the perfect excuse. My best friend in college, and my soulmate to this day, V, was German. Obviously, I had to visit her, so using some savings I had (pretty well the last time in my life I had any savings!), I got myself a passport and booked the trip. Is there any feeling in the world like getting a new passport? Those blank pages hold more promise than almost any item you can hold in your hands. I didn’t know where the future stamps after Germany would come from, but I just knew there would be some.

I spent three weeks in Germany with V, and it was wonderful. I desperately wish I could put my hands on the pictures from that trip and share a couple here, but they must reside on another continent. We were based in Cologne where we did just about every tourist activity available, along with plenty of non-tourist ones. V showed me her life. We visited with V’s family, we went to Berlin, and spent a couple of hilarious and marvelous days in Amsterdam. We had a running joke about not eating McDonald’s but finally broke down and had some when we couldn’t find anything else in a train station and, wow, it really is the same the world over. We went to museums from ancient history to chocolate. We saw the Anne Frank House and remains of the Berlin Wall. We drank good beer and I carried on with the annoying habit of ordering sausages everywhere we went, while V suggested that Germans did eat other things. We went grocery shopping and road the train around town. I intuited things about German culture that I never could have understood from a book and, moreover, I saw something new in my friend, something about who she is at home, which is almost like how she was in the U.S., but just a bit more … at home.

The incredible thing to me, at the time, was that I came home not just knowing more about Germany, but more about my own culture. By placing everything I knew next to a different culture, I saw things that took for granted in a new way – some for better, some for worse, most for just different. I still remember having a heated conversation with V about most stores there closing on Sundays, by law. The good American in me was appalled. Hello, Capitalism! Stores should be open when they want to be! But, V saw it so differently, arguing that people need time to spend with their families. It was such a fundamentally different way of looking at the same thing and that surprised me. A lot of little pieces make up the education of travel.

I did go on to get more stamps in that passport, not as many as I would have liked. Once bitten by the bug, it’s never as many as we would like, I suppose. I have a new one now, after the first one expired a decade later. As an expat, it’s the most important object in my house. Things to save in a fire – kid, passport. My pictures shows a decade older woman, my last name has changed, but those empty pages still hold the clean, blue hope of what’s out there to see.

2 thoughts on “Getting the Get Up and Go

  1. Linda Higgs

    Bryan and I were amazed to discover that our passports, 8 years old, did not have enough blank pages for our Australian/New Zealand trip. We’ve done some spectacular traveling in these last 8 years! The passports have been sent off to get additional pages. We feel naked without our passports at hand.

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