Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

The Amstel river that runs through the city of Amsterdam.

I feel a little silly writing a personal post about travel- like the typical millennial blog about why you should travel to every country before you turn 30 (if you are blessed with money and time). Honestly, I’m not sure I would even call traveling a hobby and I don’t think I would consider myself a “wandering soul” or someone with the “travel bug.” I am perfectly happy nesting in my bed during my vacations.

Most of the hobbies I consider essential to how I define myself are personal, and, usually, things that no body knows about me. That’s what makes them special. However, I do think traveling has had some impact on the person that I’ve become and the way that I view things. Plus, it’s the only thing I have original images of so….

Historically: Ancestrally, I suppose humans have always been nomadic before civilization evolved; although, I don’t think early homo sapiens traveled for the same reasons that I did. Their reasons were purely pragmatic and had nothing to do with the existential crises that people my age seem to face. Nomads went where the food was. Come to think of it… so did I.

In more recent history, traveling (at least, internationally) has not been a theme in my family, aside from my father and I. My mother’s

The Hohenzollern Bridge that goes over the Rhine river in Cologne, Germany. It’s filled with locks, much like Pont des Arts in Paris.

family were all born and raised (and stayed) in Alabama. My mother, by coincidence, has a crippling anxiety of planes, so she never traveled- ironic since my father is a pilot. I guess both of my sisters just never really had the desire to. They’re home bodies, like me, but I never like to say no to an opportunity.

Proximally: If my father weren’t a pilot, I probably would have never left the country, or at least not in my twenties. Traveling is expensive if your airline tickets and hotels aren’t free- I’m privileged in that regard. It started with me just meeting my dad on trips. He flies cargo so his job is basically to fly a plane full of boxes to one location, wait a couple of days, and then fly it back. He flies the Asia route, so his typical destinations are places like Dubai, China, India, ect.. but every now and then they do half way stops in European countries, like Germany. For my father, traveling at this point is more of a job than an adventure, so when he gets bored, he asks us to fly out and visit him. I’m usually the only one who says yes, so I’ve become accustomed to traveling solo.

But flying non-reservation to distant lands isn’t as romantic as it sounds. Flying as the dependent of a cargo pilot has its pros and cons. Pro- I can fly any airline I want. Most dependents of airline pilots only get free tickets on the airline they’re associated with. Cons- Depending on the airline, my name is always the last on the list. Planes are notorious for over selling their tickets. But just as an extra precaution, they allow a list of stand by passengers to sit around and wait to see if the plane fills up. If it doesn’t, that’s where the list comes in. First, goes the people who work for the airline, then the dependents of those people, then me. Sometimes I’ll spend all day in an airport trying to catch a flight with an empty seat. If I’m lucky, they will only have first class seats available and I’ll get the seat for free.

Pretty much the only photo I took in Iceland before my camera ran out of storage.

Getting to my desired destination can be like a game of planes, trains, and automobiles. Sometimes it amounts to more time in the air than on the actual ground. The first time I visited him in Germany, I took a 9 hour flight to Amsterdam (although first class so I’m not complaining), then an hour bus ride to a train station, then a three hour train ride to Cologne where my dad was. I was in Cologne for less than 24 hours before I had to go back. I honestly don’t mind the traveling. Sometimes it can be more adventurous than the destination.

Developmental: I don’t want to say that traveling is developmentally essential in your 20s. It’s a luxury in more ways than one. I know you’ll see a million blog posts about how to travel on a budget and how it can be affordable for anybody, but really that’s only one part of the equation. Traveling takes time. Not everyone has the luxury to drop whatever they’re doing and leave the country or take breaks from school or work. More than that, it takes support. There are a lot of factors to international travel.- customs you have to adhere to, languages you have to take into consideration, along with currency differences and travel restrictions. You can always wing it like I did, but I wouldn’t advise it. I may have traveled alone, but I was never really alone. When I lost my wallet in Shanghai, I was able to call my mom while I had my mini panic attack, and when I got on a train going the wrong direction in Amsterdam, I had a friend to call who spoke fluent Dutch and was able to get me back in the right direction. It’s the little things you don’t think of that really make traveling a privilege, not just the money.

A random hammock i found in Ambergris Caye, which is an island off the coast of Belize.

I suppose that it is most common for people to want to travel in their 20s. It’s typically a time in your life when you have minimal responsibilities and attachments, which is ideal when you’re leaving the country. I do, however, think that it’s just as acceptable, maybe even more so, to do it later on in life. At that point, you have more financial accessibility, life experience, etc. but I do understand the “seize the day” attitude people have and the appeal and romanticism of traveling when you’re young. It’s a common theme that traveling is something that changes you forever. You hear stories about someone climbing to the top of the Eiffel tower or studying abroad in Italy and becoming a “new person.” I think that’s kind of absurd. These are just places; they aren’t magic. Don’t get me wrong, it is a wonderful experience to have and it can have a lasting impact, but not being able to travel doesn’t mean you aren’t developing as a person and being able to travel doesn’t mean you will become a new one.

The coast of San Juan, PR. Right next to Fort San Cristobal.

Functional: Well, one thing that isn’t compatible with international travel, I’ve learned, is a crippling fear of planes, so you have to be able to physically get yourself to your destination. A big part is just mobility. That’s another luxury. Not everyone can travel easily and at a fast past. There are a lot of physical factors that can limit that.

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