The Grand Adventure

March 21, 2007 at 3:23 am (Uncategorized)

I just got off the ‘phone from my friend Erin. She’s at the airport as I type, off to do a working holiday in the UK, which is something of a pilgrimage for many Australians. It’s a real coming-of-age trip, and I did it myself when I was her age. Most of us who undertake this journey work for a couple of years after university, get something behind us to put on an otherwise rather slim-looking CV, save some cold, hard cash, and then go nuts one day in the nearest Kathmandu store, kitting ourselves out with a backpack, matching daypack, fleece, thermal underwear, water bottle, Swiss army knife, chamois, sleeping bag, and anything else we even remotely think we’re going to need on our big backpacking adventure. Oh, and a Europe on a Shoestring volume of Lonely Planet, which weighs about 6 kilos.

Erin sounds like she’s following a very similar route to my own. She’s going to arrive in London at about 6:15 am. Heathrow – a universe unto itself. Then she’s going straight to Hammersmith to stay with Nat, who started her own working holiday about 8 months ago. By the time Erin gets through Customs, in other words, she’ll be just in time to share the tube with millions of peak hour commuters. Oh, I remember it well. My own welcome to London started at Customs. The guy looked down at my passport, looked up at me, and spat “Not another bloody working holiday Australian.” Having saved for a solid year to get to be right where I was standing, this was a little deflating. I looked at him, smiled, and said “I just had to get away from all the Poms.”

He didn’t appreciate my early morning attempt at humour, and stamped my spanking new passport with unnecessary brutality. But then I was through, and I was there. England. The other side of the world, and my gateway to Europe. It was a thrilling moment, and I deeply inhaled all those Heathrow fumes – oh, the humanity – with a rush of joy that’s very, very particular to taking my first steps in a foreign land. I just love that feeling.

A big sigh…

They’re happy and sad days, both hard and frivolous, strange and yet strangely familiar. Backpacking is a deeply shocking and in many ways totally unsatisfactory way to travel, and the horror of seeing your savings disintegrate at breakneck speed really defies description. The Pound Sterling and the Euro are horribly unkind to the Australian dollar, and it makes Australian backpackers obsessive and penny-pinching in a way that is both unexpected and unflattering. It makes backpacking a limited experience, and I can assure you I far preferred Italy the second time around.

Nonetheless, backpacking around Europe with Sarah, dodging repeated flashers, missing trains, and suffering gallery/church fever, was such a grand, mid-twenties adventure. It was simply great to be there, seeing everything with my own eyes, pounding those cobbled streets with my own two feet, smelling those markets with my own nose, hearing the cacophony of foreign tongues with my own ears, and tasting new flavours on my own tongue. Nothing beats travel as a way of life.

Bon voyage, Erin, enjoy!

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