One Boomer’s Journey: First Time Out

 

My own travel journey started in May 1968 on a highway ramp in England, with my backpack hoisted and my thumb pointed optimistically toward the English Channel ferry. A queasy stomach belied my confident air: What on earth was a 19-year-old college girl doing in the chilly English countryside, thumbing a ride from truckers? I’d arrived with a proper suitcase and romantic visions of Europe gleaned largely from Three Coins in a Fountain. But, once in London, where the Sixties counterculture was a wild jump ahead of America’s, I traded my valise for a rucksack and melted into the throng of European students.

I got into plenty of scrapes that summer, learning the rules of the road on the fly.
But by September, I had become skilled
at spotting drivers with dishonorable intentions, and learned that the T-shirt and cutoff jeans that were de rigueur for females in Europe marked each of us as something quite different in Balkan villages.

As often happens in life, my most traumatic day brought the greatest gift. My road buddy Linda and I were separated in the countryside around Peć, Yugoslavia, when she hopped a donkey cart that sprinted into the forest. It was 24 rather eventful hours before we found one another again, and we were feeling pretty ragged by the time we reached the railway station. All notions of feminism were tossed to the winds when we spied two rucksacks draped with Dutch flags and large sneakers. We intended to become fast friends with the
tall, English-speaking young men who owned them, and planted ourselves two feet away. Over the next few weeks, we wouldn’t let the fellows shake us—not on the train ride to Athens, not in the Plaka tavernas, and certainly not on the locals’ secret getaway island of Poros. That road trip bonded us for life, and those two students from the Netherlands, Pieter and Cyril, remain my two “Dutch Brothers,” more than forty years later.

I traveled much further than the road from London to Greece that year. My world view expanded beyond the borders of middle-class America; I read furiously to keep up with my European peers; and I honed my primitive foreign-language skills—since, to Europeans, conversing in the local tongue is simply good manners.

I have never stopped traveling, first as a film producer; then as a journalist; and always with a mission to kindle wanderlust in everyone I encounter, since I feel that we’ll never really understand another culture until we meet people face-to-face.