BE AFRAID, BUT DO IT ANYWAY
I grew up outside a tiny Upstate village. With ideals. Maybe an even bigger share of naïveté.
Barely 21, I set off to the other side of the earth.
Emigrating to New Zealand.
Where to start? I went to the local travel agent. She had never booked a trip out of country that was not part of a package … and never 13,000 miles. I wanted to see as much of the world as possible on my way there.
Between us we figured out an itinerary. Shannon, London, Paris, Munich, Rome, Athens and more.
I had been to New York City a couple of times. Scranton. Binghamton. Warren, N.J. Philadelphia. North Pole, N.Y., to see Santa and Mrs. Claus. Albany on a high school field trip. The sum of my big city trips. No Greyhound buses anywhere. No train rides. No inter-city air travel. Nary a night away from home.
Up until then, my only airplane trip had been a prize for memorizing and reciting in front of the entire church congregation 1,000 Bible verses. That flight was on a tiny single-engine plane taking off from and landing in a cow pasture.
I didn’t know what an airport was like. What you did when you got to some foreign country. What kind of clothes would I need? Where was it safe and cheap to stay? Where would I eat and enjoy local foods without getting sick? My Frommer’s Guide to Travel on $1 a Day helped me prepare for a lot of this.
Eventually I had every stay plotted. Some places with friends, their relatives or my relatives. Other cities at inexpensive hotels, guest houses, hostels, YWCAs. Guide books helped me figure out what currency
I would need, where and how to get it.
How to reach my family in an emergency, what to do if I lost my passport, where to buy postage stamps, cold medicine, get bus tickets and more. What sights were free?
When were museums and art galleries open? How and where to shop for food. Simple ways to save money. Where shouldn’t I go?
Guide books couldn’t tell me what I needed to take to emigrate from a tiny village in Upstate New York to the capital city of New Zealand. And I couldn’t take much. No suitcases with wheels back then. Lots of climates traveling east to Asia and then to the southern hemisphere, all in two months.
As I traveled further and further from Upstate New York, more and more fellow travelers told me how brave I was – watching me with concerned eyes. Where did I get the courage to set off on my own around the world. At 21. I had never thought that it was brave.
I just did it.
There sure were scary moments. Being pursued by a leering man at the Coliseum. Escaping from a brutish man on a tour of the Acropolis. Going down back alleys to find WCs (toilets) –many of which didn’t smell as good as a Porta Potty.
In New Delhi, jumping on the back of a young Pan Am clerk’s scooter to his aunt’s guest house after the YWCA had lost my reservation. Then the next day riding on the back of a bicycle with a man who spoke almost no English. Even worse since I never learned to ride a bicycle. But even terrified – I had no choice.
It was the same on my last night with my family. Growing up I had only been to a restaurant a handful of times (pretty sure only one handful). But for that night we went to a special restaurant. White tablecloths.
Seafood. Probably we couldn’t afford it. That night my Mom sobbed. My Dad’s eyes glistened with tears but he told me to do well.
But that night my dream evaporated. I was afraid. I wanted to change my mind. Stay safe at home. It was too late though. No turning back. I had quit my job and spent most of my savings on a non-refundable air ticket.
The scary moments mounted. But on the last, hair-raising leg from Sydney to Wellington I held the hand of a terrified Japanese woman on the turbulent flight and even bumpier landing. Told her we would be fine as my body trembled with fear.
And now the scene was set for my first march into the newsroom at the Dominion. God’s gift to journalism arrived after months abroad.