When I was 19 years old I did what most Kiwi kids do… I dropped out of university and went on my ‘big OE’ (Overseas Experience). Ok, so most Kiwis don’t drop out of uni to do it… but I did. I had picked a uni course that I wasn’t that enamoured with and my heart just wasn’t in it, so I completed my first year and then got several jobs in order to save up for a trip to Europe. For the record, I did end up finishing my design diploma at a later date (as well as an art history degree and a masters in museum studies, so I’m not a complete drop-out!).
I worked hard as a nanny for 2 separate families, as well as being a host at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, saving to spend the summer of 1999 in Europe. My funds never really reached the level required to country-hop extensively, so I concentrated on London, Wales, Paris and Naples. As you can see from my rudimentary budget, I had no concept of the cost of food, or the cost of airfares back then! Remember, this was before twitter and skyscanner and last minute deals; and the internet was still only a handful of years old! I was just SO green*!
* ‘green’ is a term for inexperienced
I bought myself a pack… a massive, ridiculous, and highly illogical pack. The kind of pack that you need help putting on. The kind of pack that an unfit, green traveller should NOT be carrying. It didn’t last long, as I got stuck in the metro ticket gates and flailed like a upturned turtle, and promptly bought myself a wheelie case the next day.
I over-packed ridiculously, including books and several pairs of shoes and jeans. I mean, really, books? Given I wasn’t travelling to many countries, why I needed a Western Europe Lonely Planet is beyond me. But then again, I suppose that is what these kind of trips are for – to make mistakes, to learn, to find your travelling feet.
After a visit with friends in London, I caught a train up to see friends in Fishguard, Wales. It was on this section of the trip that I realised how young and naïve I was at 19. Here I hung out with 20 year olds and we spent our days sunbathing (oil not sunscreen, darling), and taking daring midnight trips up rocky beaches to drink by bonfire-light. They seemed so much older than the 1 year that separated us. When their shenanigans got too rowdy for me, I found myself going fishing with their dad, so I could see the seals and porpoises in the beautiful Newport bay, and learn how to catch Mackerel. I was still just a kid, really.
After Wales I headed to Paris to meet up with some school friends. This was my first experience in a hostel… and also my last I might add. Sharing a room with 7 other people, of differing travel styles, who sometimes decided to have sex when they thought everyone was asleep (we weren’t)… it just isn’t my thing at all. The shared bathroom with no place to put your dry clothes and my travel towel that never really dried you properly were just icing on the hostel cake. I’ve not hostelled again since, and am ok with that. I was learning my particular style of travel, and it doesn’t involve a pack or a hostel… it involves minimalist packing, a multi-directional wheelie-case, and the nicest hotel I can afford for my budget.
By the time I arrived in Naples, however, I had found my inner travel moxie and was adept at weaving through heaving crowds at Pompeii, dodging drug dealers in the centre of town, and perfecting my ‘piss off’ stare at the train station. I definitely think Naples made me – in regards to the travelling me – read more here.
I returned to stay with my friends in London for the remainder of my summer, as I’d run out of money – learning how to budget for travel took me many more years to perfect! But these halcyon days of gorgeous weather, jugs of Pimms, bike rides along the Thames, and trendy exhibition openings in Soho, totally made me feel like I had arrived. I had arrived at adulthood, I had become an adventurer, I had conquered my ‘OE’. I knew stuff. Looking back, I realise how little I actually knew… but that’s what these life experiences are for!
When I talk to young people now, I always encourage them to take some time before they settle down into university or a career job, to travel if they can – travel has taught me more than I can ever explain.
All photos © Hannah Henderson and may not be used without permission (sharing this blog post is fine though!).