20 Years and Counting.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the day I got my very first passport stamp.

Yes, I’m feeling kind of old. But more than that, I feel exceedingly grateful.

When I embarked on that very first trip to London so long ago, I thought I was getting my once in a lifetime opportunity to fly across the sea and live in another land. Even then I knew I was lucky, but I never imagined that 2 decades, 112 countries and uncountable transoceanic crossings later, I’d still be living that once in a lifetime dream.

Sure, some things are different then they were in 1993: I’m a lot older. I’m a lot smarter. I drink a lot more coffee and dress better. My bangs aren’t sprayed up with hairspray in my passport picture. I’ve learned how to drive stick shift. I no longer carry rolls of film or travelers checks. I travel with an iPhone, wifi, Google Maps, a handful of credit cards and a fancy carry-on instead of ragged backpack covered in patches.

I’ve grown up on the road, but thankfully I haven’t grown old and too tired just yet.

Many things haven’t changed: I still love every new place I go, and I still want to go everywhere. I still smile inside when I step out of the airport or train station for the first time into a new land. I still get lost. I still get stuck in the middle of crazy stories no matter where I go, and I still always remember to try to laugh more than cry when these misadventures do occur.

Yes, after twenty years on the road my passports are worn, fat and frayed around the edges. And sometimes I feel the same way too.

But mostly I feel excited for what the next 20 years has in store.

How about you? Where are you going between now and 2033?

**Photo: my first day in London with Lisa on 26 January 1993 in front of Big Ben. (our photographer forgot to actually get Big Ben in the photo and this was pre-digital, so we had no idea until we got the film processed months later).**

 

happy travelversary 012612 ::

today’s the 19th anniversary of 012693. The day that I got my very first passport stamp.

Maybe it’s weird that I remember this. Truth is, landing that day at London’s Gatwick changed the course of my life. In a way, that first stamp was a stamp of approval on my dreams to experience as much of this amazing world as possible.

Sure, I look a lot different today then I did two passports ago. I’m much older, wiser, and way more travel savvy. And I’m thrilled to say I’ve been chasing my dreams since that moment without looking back.

So, what did I do to celebrate? I crossed a border and and got a celebratory stamp in my passport of course. 012612.

Where were you 19 years ago today?

Did you do something today to chase your dreams?

#5 celebrating sevens ::

A few of my friends and I have an obsession with the number seven. There isn’t any remarkable numerological reason, but when 07/07/07 rolled around, we were determined to make it special.

Obsessed with travel, we decided that there couldn’t be any better way to commemorate then to actually have that very auspicious date stamped in our passports. (It’s also no coincidence that this is being published on July 7).

On this special day, my friend Andrea and I found ourselves in Northern Chile, and since we were just across the border, we decided to go to Bolivia to celebrate. Several hours into our trip, however, it occurred to us that 07/07/07 was a date that we didn’t want stamped on our graves.

First off, let me point out that July is winter in South America. Perhaps it didn’t occur to you that going to Bolivia in the summer would be cold. Ironically, even though we were there,  that didn’t seem to occur to us either.

The day before our Bolivian trip, we’d been in the Chilean desert on a sandboarding adventure. Climbing up and down the giant sand dune was hot. So hot that we stripped to our tank tops and forgot that it was still winter.

In a momentary lapse of judgment we awoke very very early the next morning, dressed like we were going to a spring picnic and piled in a van towards the Bolivian border. Perhaps the fact that we’d been told to pack our bathing suits for the hot springs contributed to this mistake. Luckily I’d grabbed my fluffy red jacket to use as a pillow in case the day was long. Little did I know.

The nice warm van drove us along a well-paved Chilean highway towards the mountains where we made a left turn towards Bolivia. It was amazing how quickly civilization turned into desolation. Up a dirt road, tucked into the mountain pass, two small cement houses stood in a snow bank with a Bolivian flag blowing in the winter wind.

We got our beautiful passport stamps and we stood inside a very cold building with a broken window and snow on the ground inside. Huddled around a card table drinking tea from thermoses with other travelers, we quickly realized it was going to be a cold day. Before we knew it, our warm Chilean van turned around at the border, and abandoned us to some vintage Bolivian Toyota Landcruisers.

The trip we took was into the Eduardo Avaroa Andean National Reserve and north toward Uyuni to see a red lake and a green lake and some amazing hot springs and flamingo colonies, and other stuff that was supposed to be phenomenally photographic. I vaguely remember the the amazing red lake with the mountains behind. I’m sure it was gorgeous, but mostly I just remember how cold it was.

While old cars that break down tend to be the norm for travelling through developing countries, most of my experiences of flat tires and blown axels had occurred in warm countries where an extended breakdown was inconvenient, but not deadly.

Not only did our vehicle lack heat, it also lacked insulation. With my window rolled up, cold wind and snow blew in through the cracks despite my attempts to use bandanas and napkins to patch the airy window leaks. We were slowly becoming popsicles.

Other than the snow inside of the car, and being dressed for a spring day, there were a few other challenges.  Including these top seven:
1. The car kept breaking down
2. The weather was getting worse and the snow was drifting into the narrow roads.
3. We didn’t have any food.
4. We didn’t know if we’d make it back before the border closed
5. The driver only spoke Spanish and mostly we didn’t.
6. The driver kept telling the only Spanish speaker  we weren’t going to make it.
7. If we didn’t make it out we were going to freeze to death.

Since I’ve lived to tell this story, we obviously didn’t reach unlucky #7 on this list. Rather we eventually made it to the border, defeated hypothermia, and lived to get show off our 070707 Chilean passport stamps.

We celebrated that night by breaking four corkscrews trying to open a bottle of Chilean wine to toast not freezing to death and the auspicious day of 7’s.

And what did we learn? Not checking the weather should be on the list of 7 travel sins. Sure, even the most seasoned travelers forget – just don’t be one of them.

#1 The day it started- 012693 ::

This is the first story because this is the day it all began.  On 01/26/93 I got my first passport stamp in London Gatwick.  When I heard the sound of the rubber stamp ink my blue page I didn’t have any idea how addicted to that sound I would become.  Seventeen years later I still smile when I hear that sound.

 

While the English are credited with getting me addicted to border crossing, I have to credit the French for getting me across the sea.  You see, I didn’t grow up in a family that travelled internationally.  I grew up in a family that mostly traveled to Florida for holidays. Twice every year.

 

My grandparents came from Italy and they traveled to their homeland numerous times when I was growing up.  I’d seen their slide shows as a child- but I’d never dreamed it would be a place I’d go.  In sixth grade my social studies teacher showed us slides of his trip to Egypt.  I always thought it was fascinating, but I’d also never even dreamed that someday I’d take my own photos of the Pyramids.

 

And then one day I started to study French.

 

To this day my French n’est pas bon. It’s a language I’ve never mastered, but oddly, one that pushed me into the world where I learned that I can manage fine despite language barriers.

 

I remember three things about high school French.  1. I used the name Danielle because is it my middle name and sounds more French than Stephanie.  2.  My teacher was short and very passionate.  She’d hop around and chant “ici, la, la bas”.  Oddly, those are three of the only words I remember.  3.  Our book cover had a picture of Mont Saint Michel  and I decided that one day before I died I wanted to go to France.

 

I finished high school without mastering French and enrolled in some more French for my obligatory two years of university foreign language.  My French still wasn’t great, but apparently it was good enough that this girl named Lisa decided that I should be her study partner.  While Le Francais itself didn’t really change my life per se, meeting Lisa, did. She came from a family that traveled, and convinced me that I should do semester abroad in the UK.  She gave me the push and permission that I was looking for to see France and to see the world.  Thanks Lisa.

 

And so on 012693 we stood together in the immigration line waiting for those fateful passport stamps.   Little did I know that we’d be standing in the same line in another dozen countries that year  (including France) and that more than 100 countries later I’d still be standing in those lines all around the globe.

 

My 012693 was a long time ago but the lesson I learned is this: it’s never to late to make today the day that changes your future.

 

What are you doing today ?