Many of my friends and friends-to-be were doing it, planning it, or had returned from travelling, and I had well and truly caught the travel bug.
So one day I went to the travel agent and booked a round the world air ticket for about 10 months hence.
I absolutely hated the job I was doing and could not wait to tell them I was leaving and I waited a whole eight months after booking my ticket before I did tell them. They weren’t happy about it. After all, who would they get who was as good and as obliging as me? I heard the person that did replace me lasted until Christmas, she went on holidays to her family in New Zealand and just never returned. So leaving my job was absolutely no hardship and there were no other ties except family and friends binding me to Australia.
Booking my ticket so early and committing some money was the only way I knew that I could actually go on this trip without procrastinating forever.
Finally the day came that I was to leave. I had put my stuff in storage (thanks mum, dad and sister) packed my newly purchased backpack, filled up my address book with any contact I could get and had a going away party.
There were quite a few people at the airport and when it came time to board I gave everyone a hug and kiss goodbye. I left mum and dad for last and when I came to say goodbye to them, dad had tears in his eyes. I have never ever seen my dad cry and seeing it this time made me realise how sad and probably scared he was to see me go. I cried all the way to Melbourne, so much so I couldn’t even eat.
I stayed in Melbourne for a couple of days with a close friend and they drove me to the airport so I could catch my flight to Los Angeles. The flight was pretty uneventful apart from being stuck on the runway in Honolulu for five hours. I wish I had organised a stopover there in retrospect.
One of my contacts met me at LA airport. I had met him before when he stayed in a sharehouse I lived in for three months. The first thing I did after I’d put my backpack in the back of his truck was go to hop in the drivers seat, which of course would have been the passenger seat here.
He lived in Seal Beach, Orange County right along the esplanade so the beach was right out front along with numerous oil rigs. Unfortunately he was quite busy at work so I didn’t spend a heap of time with him but his girlfriend was really accommodating and took me out one day.
Most of the other days I availed myself of the public transport system which I knew nothing about and had no idea where the buses went. I caught a bus from near where I was staying one day and stayed on it thinking it must end up somewhere and I would just wait and see. After a while I looked around and realised that the neighbourhood I was going through was really bad. All the windows had wire over them or were boarded up, and I was the only white person I could see. I’d never ever seen a neighbourhood like this before, let alone be surrounded only by people of different race. I felt quite uncomfortable, and not knowing where I might end up I got off the bus.
A silly thing to do I know but I just wanted to turn around and get back to more familiar territory. While I was waiting for a bus to come along a guy pulled up in his car and beckoned me over. I walked a couple of steps and asked what he wanted. He asked if I wanted a lift. I told him no, that I was waiting for a bus and when I looked up just then the bus came.
On the way back the bus had a minor accident so we all had to get off and wait for the next one. I was glad to get back to my accommodation this night.
My first few days weren’t filled with touristy type stuff which was fine. Wherever I travel I like to do lots of walking around and just soak everything in. It was my first time out of Australia so I had lots of adjusting to do. I was surprised at how much adjusting I had to do. I thought that being in another first world country would be quite similar to what I was used to here and there are lots of similarities but lots of little differences too.
For instance the food, in particular sandwiches. I wanted to buy an ordinary sandwich, two pieces of bread with some filling in the middle. The closest thing I could get was a huge roll with filling in it. This roll would be two meals I would have here. There were also a lot more franchise fast food places – Taco Bell was one. I got some nachos from there one night and I have never been back since. We don’t have it here but I didn’t go back to one when I was in the States either.
The beer was another little difference for me. I found the beer I had to be water and tasteless. I guess I went for the more well known type beers but I never got used to them. I remember later on in Florida, poo poohing the idea of having a Lite beer. I’m a beer drinking Aussie chick I thought, I can handle normal beer. I soon found out that Lite beer was lighter in calories not in alcoholic strength. Here it is lighter in alcoholic strength, not necessarily in calories.
It was Halloween a few days after I arrived and my memory of this was the big pumpkin drop. I heard the buildup and the actual drop on the radio. They’d hoisted a huge pumpkin up with a crane I assume. There was a microphone on the ground to capture the noise of the pumpkin once it hit the ground. When it did drop it sounded like a big fart and was a real anti-climax if you were just listening to it like I was.
I scored an invite to my first ever Halloween party on my last night at Seal Beach with some friends – three boys who lived two doors down – of my host. The protocol for parties I normally go to, unless informed otherwise, is to take my own drinks. So I rocked up to this party with a six pack of some beer or other, and I was the only one in our small group that took anything to drink so I think I had one or two drinks out of that and my companions drank the rest. It was a very boring party, with no booze, pretentious people and really crap music.
The three boys and I went back to their place and two of them went out leaving one of them and me. We had a lot in common and eventually went to sit on the beach and ended up kissing. It was really lovely. All we did was kiss and cuddle and I was happy with that, especially as I knew I would never see him again.
The next day I was off to Las Vegas to check out that city and to see the Grand Canyon. I travelled by Greyhound bus as it was the cheapest option I could find. I could write heaps about Greyhound buses and might reserve some of my other stories for a later post.
I’m glad it was a relatively short trip. There was a guy who got on behind me and someone was seeing him off. She told him to keep to himself and not get into any trouble. He was quite smelly and my radar went up immediately but I didn’t have any hassles on the relatively short trip to Las Vegas.
Because I’d stuffed up my bus connections earlier I arrived at 11pm and it was a Saturday night and I had no accommodation booked I had to find a hotel. I spent more than I would have liked ($55 a night according to my diary, cheap now but expensive then when I was backpacking) but didn’t want to stuff around at this time of night to find cheaper accommodation. One thing that the USA lacks, or lacked in 1991, was lots of backpack hostel type accommodation. Australia and New Zealand do this really well as I’ve since found out. Europe weren’t good at it either.
I was suitably impressed with the Grand Canyon. I took a flight out there a quick look around and a flight back. Once there I wish I was going to be there for longer. I would have liked to do the trek down into the canyon.
While in Las Vegas I met up with a good friends parents who were there for business for a short time. They were great. They took me out for the day and paid for pretty much everything. We hired a car and went to Hoover Dam, then went out for dinner and a wander around the Casino for the day.
It was taking me a while to get into the swing of travelling. As I was there on my own it was fantastic to meet up with people that I knew so I didn’t feel quite as homesick. It took a while to get over the homesickness but there was no way I was going to head home so soon.
In fact, it was another two years before I saw Australia again.
Update (8 May 2007): I’ve entered this post into Scribbit’s Write-Away contest.