My niece has been in Puerto Rico with her boyfriend and his family for about two weeks. They are coming home today. All the while she's been there, she's texted or called home to her mother (my sister) at least once a day (or so, I'm guessing). This made me think about my travels to Europe when I was only a few years older than Grace is now, almost 20 years ago.
The first trip in 1989, I was 22 and went with 3 friends (there were 6 of us to start but two broke off after about 4 days) on the post college graduation/backpack/Eurail/Let's Go tour. We were gone for 2 months and I think I might have called home once to say hello, I'm fine. Back then, calling home was a challenge. I remember being in the bowels of the Roma Termini train station in the phone center. You signed up, waited for a booth to open up, then you would go to your assigned booth, make your calls, and depart, paying whatever the call cost. And you kept the call short because it cost a lot! I'm sure now it's an internet cafe or a starbucks or something.
The main source of communication was the postcard. And I wrote jillions of them. My mom (thankfully) saved the ones I sent her and the ones I sent to my grandmother and gave them all back to me. They are like mini-diaries of my trip (of course I kept a journal as well). I loved being so far away from everyone and everything I knew. That to me was as much a part of the experience as seeing Carcassonne or Mont Saint-Michel. Even though I had three good friends to rely on while traveling, it was still exciting to be really on our own, figuring out train schedules, currencies (no euro then) and maps.
The next trip I took, in 1992, I was all alone. It was a similar trip, youth hostels, backpack, train ticket, Let's Go but just me this time. Again, no easy communications and lots of postcards. But this time I asked people to send me letters to the American Express offices in various cities. I'm pretty sure with internet cafes on every block and now iPhones and Blackberries that work overseas actual mail is a thing of the past for travelers. But back then, oooooh, it was a great feeling to step into the Amex office in Paris or Rome and ask for mail and GET SOME! I was in Paris, had been on my trip for maybe a month and went to the Amex office around the corner from the Opera (Yes, THE Paris Opera). There were 3 letters for me!! Holy cow. I went right into a cafe, sat down and ordered what turned out to be a $9 cappuccino, but who cared! I was reading letters from dear friends from home. It really brightened my whole trip to know there might be letters waiting for me in a foreign city.
On that trip, I don't recall how many times I called home to my mom or sister or dad. But I'm sure weeks went by between calls. I liked the challenge of not being to rely on comfort zones of contact, and I soon discovered that when you travel alone, you don't stay alone for long. Especially when you stay in hostels with other people your own age, doing what you are doing. I traveled to different places with different new friends I met along the way and when I got tired of their style, or they got tired of mine, we parted ways.
Ten years ago, two friends went on a year-long trip around the world. They knew they could access email from time to time and they indeed sent reports and updates along the way via email, along with a few postcards, but they also included Amex travel office addresses in cities they would be going to and approximate dates of when that would be. I sent them a few actual letters, knowing how much it meant to me to see a handwritten message from home on my trip. I wrote them emails too, of course, but was more happy to post those letters. (There are many other blog posts I could/will write about my
paper fetish love of writing paper, but that's for another time.)
Of course my niece is on a vacation, she isn't really traveling. But still, there is some magic lost when you can go to far-away places and have people call or text you any old time. (Yes, I do check emails from time to time when we travel now but mostly to make sure there are no emergencies, I rarely send.) I am the kind of person who likes the travel time and the reflection time. It would drive me nuts to tell someone what I was doing every day while I was doing it. It takes away from the doing for me. I couldn't imagine standing in the middle of this and talking on the phone telling someone how amazing it is. That kind of place is too overwhelming in size and scope and history and spirit to interrupt with a phone call or text message.
Yes, call me old fashioned (you already have from previous posts) but when I go away on a trip, I like to be away and experience that "away-ness." It makes the coming home and reconnecting that much more special.