Sometimes seemingly insignificant moments lead to your greatest adventures.
In 1988, I started working on Madison Avenue in New York selling advertising. I went on a ski trip to Colorado with two friends. After our first day skiing we headed out for a drink. Many hours and several beers later we chatted with some waiters and noticed they all had foreign accents —Aussies, New Zealanders, Irish, Germans and Swedes.
We wanted to know what they were all doing in Colorado.
“We’re traveling” they said.
“What do you mean traveling?” we asked, thoroughly confused.
“We travel around the world. We see things, find jobs, make a little money and move on.”
This concept blew my little New York urban mind. People traveled indefinitely? Not for one or two weeks like everyone I knew, but for as long as they liked? Nobody in America did that. My friends and I were astonished and sat up the entire night imagining and talking about how we should become world travelers too.
By the time we left Colorado, the three of us had agreed. We would quit our jobs, sublet our apartments, buy round the world tickets and go. As soon as I got home to NYC, I began plotting and planning my great trans-continental adventure.
Two weeks later I called my two friends to see how their plans were shaping up.
Sadly, two weeks were like two years and the magic travel fairy dust of Colorado had worn off. My friends said they wished they could do it, but they just couldn’t. I was desperate to become a world traveler and go to far flung places; eat Indian food in India and walk on the great Wall of China.
But how could I do it alone? I hadn’t even gone to Miami by myself. I was a New York City girl. I would have to travel with a backpack and stay in youth hostels. That was practically like camping and I hated camping.
Since my friends had abandoned the mission, if I was going to do it, it would have to be solo. Before I could think about it too long and talk myself out of it, I cashed in everything I owned and bought an around the world ticket and told my boss I was resigning from my job. He thought I needed counseling.
My parents were not surprisingly terrified at the thought of their little traveling around the world by herself. My friends thought it was cool and threw me several going away parties. With a few months of prep, I acquired a fabulous backpack, and got a round of vaccinations. I sublet my apartment, had my final NYC haircut and kissed my boyfriend goodbye. Yes, I actually left my boyfriend for a year.
My plane ticket took me west from New York to Colorado. where I spent a few months working and skiing. From there I went to LA and then to Hawaii. On the plane from Honolulu to Sydney, leaving the borders of the U.S., with only a backpack and a Lonely Planet guide, I realized I was going to be completely alone for a long time. There were no cell phones or internet then and international calls cost a fortune. I found being alone both scary and liberating at the same time.
I arrived in Australia and left the Sydney airport by bus headed towards a hostel located in the red light district called King’s Cross. At the hostel, I was in a room with seven girls; three Swedes, two English, one German and one Dane. We became fast friends, saw the sights together, shared food, told stories of home. I learned almost as much about the world from my fellow travelers as I did by going to different countries. The Danish girl, and I agreed to travel up the eastern coast of Australia together. For the next six weeks, she and I hitchhiked about a thousand miles and became certified to scuba dive at the great barrier reef. (fun fact: It was on that trip that we were picked up by a big rig ten wheeler, which started my lifelong fascination with trucker cabs and continues to this day.) From there I headed alone to Hong Kong where I was asked by several men to smuggle hot watches into Taiwan. I declined.
Next stop, mainland China. This was actually a big deal. In 1988, China was only open to escorted groups and no one spoke English. Throwing caution to the wind, into China alone I went. I almost died of food poisoning in Xian, but lived to go on to Indonesia, Singapore and even did an elephants safari in Thailand. (fun fact: elephant safari’s look way cooler than they feel, very bumpy) Then it was off to India. As a very young woman alone, I found travel in India the most difficult and was often harassed by Indian men. Still, the sights, sounds and smells of the country were worth the trip.
After six weeks in India, I was thrilled to get to super clean Germany. Western
food had never tasted so good after so many months in Asia living mainly on rice. I remember sinking into a feather bed in a cheap German hostel and stuffing myself with cheese and bread.
In Vienna, I met two Italian sisters who invited me to stay with them in Rome. From there I traveled around Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, England , Ireland, and my sister even met me for a week in Greece. I took a train from Italy to Turkey and then went to Cairo where I took a bus thru the Sinai Peninsula and saw the Suez Canal. I ended up in Israel before I flew back to the UK. My big global adventure lasted about a year, and my boyfriend was waiting for me in NYC when I got back. He eventually became my husband.
What was most surprising to me was how I slipped back into my old life with more ease than I expected. I thought I had been changed so much, but pretty soon I was selling advertising again and getting my nails done. On the surface, it looked like I hadn’t changed, but inside I was a different person. I had developed a curiosity about the world that I never had before and for that I am eternally grateful.
I believe every now and then, a single moment can change your life if you pay attention to the whispers. My novel, The First Husband, was based on a couple I met in India all those years ago. If I hadn’t met those traveling waiters in Colorado all those years ago, I wouldn’t have traveled the globe and met the couple on which the The First Husband is based.