Some time ago, I was forwarded James Kay’s Lonely Planet article, “The Traveller’s Classic Rites of Passage” and asked which of these rites I, personally, have encountered in my explorations. The answer is all of them. “Reader’s Requests” came to life shortly after and, well, telling those tales on this forum seemed a perfect fit. The article is truly a beautiful post that speaks to everything, good and bad, that I love about travel. (The bad things do eventually become funny, I promise.) So, here you are—my personal travel rites of passage revealed.
“The One” …Okay, “The Two.”
Kay notes that every new place is special for travelers on some level, but defines the one as “the place you regularly return to in your dreams.” This being the primary qualifier, I can narrow my selection down to two destinations—Electric Peak and Iceland. My first travel rites of passage—check.
When I was fifteen, I was accepted into a National Park conservation program for teens in Yellowstone. 400 applicants nationwide, and I was one of only thirty kids who would spend three months of their summer working in the park. The timing of this life event was seemingly perfect; I’d just moved stateside from my home of six years in Belgium and, needless to say, the transition wasn’t going very well. I desperately needed an escape, and I needed a chance to take a step back and collect myself.
Well, mission accomplished. Because I came back a changed person with a different outlook, and I’d cultivated lifelong bonds with those who shared the experience. We’re all Facebook friends now, and I even receive the periodic Christmas card twenty plus years later.
The grand finale of the summer was a hike to the summit of Electric Peak. The tallest mountain in the Gallatin Range, Electric stands at 10,969 feet and “has some of the greatest physical relief” in the whole park. I have no idea at which location we began the hike, and I can’t remember how many miles it was. I just remember it was an all-day hike and the last stretch was basically a two-foot wide “trail” with sheer rock cliff on either side.
For some random reason, I also remember that the religious cult Church Universal and Triumphant frequented the area. Either way, there we all were—forty or so people (team leads included) crammed atop this tiny peak with panoramic views. We’d conquered the summit. And at the time, I realized I was finally ready to go home and restart my life as I knew it. It was official. I hung on to that summer for a long, long time in my head, and I knew it was truly something significant.
My second special place is Iceland. I don’t think there’s a specific sight or memory that stuck with me. It was really just the whole experience. The people were great, the landscapes were other-worldly, everything was simply amazing. I’d always had a fascination with Iceland and, when I went, it met all the lofty expectations I’d built up in my mind. It’s also the one place, of thirty-five countries that I’ve been to, that I’d like to visit again one day. ‘Nuff said.
Turbulence! Brace Yourself.
Well, this item on the travel rites of passage is self-explanatory, no? I’ve flown a lot in my life. By flying a lot, I mean my first flight was when I was two months old… from England to the United States. It really didn’t become any less frequent from that point on. Lots of flying means lots of opportunities for turbulence, and I’ve had my fair share of white-knuckle flights. Probably the most memorable was flying into the Quito airport.
I think the following USAToday.com headline says it all: “Closing: Quito airport, notorious for nerve-wracking landings.” …”High altitude, a cramped runway and towering volcanos nearby make it one of Latin America’s most challenging airports for pilots.” It’s all true.
The #AdventurePartnerForLife and I flew to Quito on our way to the Galapagos Islands in April of 2012, a year prior to publication of the article above. I can’t recall how long it actually took us to land, but I can recall significant turbulence and the nagging question in my head of whether I was going to live or die. Like, is this it? Was this my moment? All in all, two aborted landings. The third time was a charm, apparently. We still laugh about that to this day.
Nature’s Calling. Man Down!
Oh my. Sadly, yours truly has had a couple of these encounters. Without delving into too much detail, I’ll just advise to never, ever drink water in the Amazon (which I typically never do anyway)… but even if the eco lodge you’re staying at swears they boil everything, including the water for their ice cubes. Lesson learned the not-so-hard way.
I woke up at some ungodly hour having to use a restroom you’re not supposed to flush toilet paper down. Fortunately, we’d nabbed a Cipro prescription before we left and I was only down for half a day. Jeff, meanwhile, enjoyed a trek through the jungle to visit a local medicine man who made him drink something or other from an old Yoo-hoo bottle. …Maybe I was the lucky one after all? Not the best of the travel rites of passage.
I was fortunate enough the first time around to be in the [sort of] comfort of my own lodging when the travel bug took over. Not so much the second time around. And my father just loves to laugh about this story. We’re in Budapest, hiking up Gellért Hill when I literally have one of the worst stomach attacks of my life. Part way up a 771-foot climb and I am in so much physical pain, I can barely breathe, let alone make it the rest of the way up the hill… to salvation.
When I finally reached the top, I abandoned my dad completely and ran as fast as my little legs would take me to the closest restroom. I skipped the line entirely and flew right past the cleaning attendant. I might’ve truly attacked everyone in sight if I had to. Turns out, it was a paid restroom… and I had no money… and the ATM nearby was broken. I kept trying to offer the attendant $20 American, but she just kept yelling at me in Hungarian. I kind of wanted to explain to her that $20 would probably be well worth the walk to the exchange office. In the end, I found my dad and he had cash, so I was able to square up appropriately. …You gotta do what you gotta do.
The Joys of International Bus Travel
If you’ve ever traveled on the cheap in third-world countries or former war zones, you get it. One of the most frightening travel rites of passage. I personally experienced a bus ride in Costa Rica where the driver decided it would be a good idea to overtake not one, but two vehicles, while navigating a double, blind S-curve. After we’d survived, one of my fellow travelers awoke from the back seat, completely clueless, wondering what we were all laughing about. We just told her it was better this way. It was for her own good. Really.
And I can’t forget crossing the Bulgarian border from Turkey. We’d arrived at a border crossing in the middle of nowhere, some mountain region in northeast Turkey. Hadn’t seen a town for hours. What we did see was a couple pigeon-poop-covered buildings, lots of unwell, stray dogs, and men with automatic rifles. We had to disembark the bus and stand in the blazing hot sun for a half hour to exit Turkish customs.
We entered no-man’s-land between the two countries—not in Turkey, but not in Bulgaria yet either. They came on board to collect our passports. (I hate this practice in Southeast Europe, by the way. It’s everywhere over there. They take your passport from you in a big stack of other passports and leave with them. Out of sight entirely. You just kinda cross your fingers and hope you’ll see it again.)
The customs officer had collected everyone’s and finally got to us. Jeff was completely okay, but he paused when reviewing mine. Looked down, looked at me, looked down… You just hold your breath and imagine being stranded between countries with all the stray dogs, in custody. The only two Americans on some out-of-the-way bus route and we’re sitting in the very, very back; that’s not suspicious at all. And it seems like something’s wrong. “English passport?,” he finally asked. Oooohhhh, that.
I have an American passport with an English birthplace. My standard reply: “No, American.” He exited the bus, passports in tow. Just a few minutes later, the only two American passports in the stack came back to us. Jeff said ours were back first because they were the easiest to check. I countered they were the first back because he wanted to double-check mine. Drama averted, but not before I almost had a heart attack.
Granted, the #AdventurePartnerForLife and I are never on the road long enough to truly experience the pleasures of fresh laundry, but I can definitely still relate to this item on the travel rites of passage list. Friends and active blog readers know all about my all-time favorite travel zip-up, the trusty Nike pullover.
Great for layering, it has pockets and thumbholes, and it’s thermal. I pack light and wear it constantly. The older it gets, the more it seems to trap the scent of whatever I’ve eaten that day, and it holds the whooole trip. No amount of floral toiletries will rid the smell. It’s especially bad when I consume curries, garlic, or schnitzels… all of which happen to be some of my favorite flavors. I haven’t found a suitable replacement for it yet, so I’ve just been shamelessly going with it in the meantime.
Probably the dirtiest I’ve ever been in my lifetime was in Yellowstone. We did physical labor throughout the park, mostly backcountry, and we’d be gone Monday through Friday. The first week or so, we braved cold rivers and streams to wash up, but we all just gave up after a couple weeks. The same applied to our clothing. We started packing less since it just added to the weight you’d have to lug around for the whole week. Two or three shirts and a single pair of pants would do. We stopped worrying about greasy hair midweek and stopped shaving on weekends entirely. Sweaty and dirty… Monday through Friday. Rest assured, every single one of us was happy to visit the dorm showers on Friday nights and put some clean clothes on.
Most of my hostel experiences have been pretty pleasant, actually. There was that one time, though, in New Zealand. I have zero idea what time in the morning it was, but I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth. It was dark in this part of the hostel and I was completely unfamiliar with where all the light switches were. I was really just guided by moonlight, brushing my teeth.
Literally, out of the darkness, a man suddenly passes behind me (in the mirror) from a restroom stall in his underwear. This scared the living daylights out of me. Who uses the bathroom in the dark?!? It’s one thing to brush your teeth by moonlight, it’s another to hang out in a stall that’s probably even darker for… who knows how long. I guess it was an effective wake-up call, to say the least. Another check on the travel rites of passage.
Love, On the Road
Everywhere. That’s my response as it pertains to this rite on the list of travel rites of passage. Every trip, every place, everywhere, there’s at least one marital spat, and one marital make-up. The #AdventurePartnerForLife and I have character traits that span either end of the “personality spectrum.” And this is exactly what makes us a great team.
At the same time, it’s also the cause of minor annoyances on the road. I’m the neurotic, dramatic one. I’m also the one who plans our travels, memorizes train and bus schedules, and reads up on cultural customs beforehand. My husband is the easy-going, diplomatic one. He just shows up; he’s down for whatever and I love him for it. He’s the one that so kindly puts up with me when I’m spiraling out of control for something as simple as a delayed flight, destined to ruin our entire vacation for sure. (Right?!? It was going to ruin our whole trip! Everything!)
I think the arguments usually start when something goes wrong and I have no idea what to do; then I realize Jeff has no idea what to do either. It’s like I’m expecting my husband to sort out the un-sortable (which is stupid), and I’m just mad and want to be mad at something or someone, and I can’t be talked out of it until I calm down, which could be a solid half hour. (I have no defense for this, it’s just what I do. God bless my husband.)
…Like when you’re on a train in Bosnia and the conductor is trying to tell you in Bosnian to move to specific cars at a certain stop because only half the train is continuing on. Yeah, that was a total shit show. It’s all good, though. Happens to the best of us. We were back on track a half hour later.
That Sudden Realization
So many to choose from. And this is what makes me love travel as much as I do. You already know every new place you go has something unique to reveal, but when you have that moment of clarity, that sudden realization… it’s a truly special thing.
Road-tripping Ireland and pulling the car over in Connemara. It’s just started to snow and you’re immersed in the landscape’s serene silence. There is zero sound pollution here. No other cars, no airplanes or helicopters. Just a light breeze across a lake. It’s so peaceful, and you recognize the total chaos of what you live in everyday, comparatively. These moments of silence are so, so rare.
Being one of only twelve people on an uninhabited island in the Galapagos. For just one day, that white-sand island was ours. We swam in crystal clear waters with black-tipped sharks and sea lions and penguins and marine iguanas. They weren’t scared of us in the least. They were completely unaffected and untouched by human existence. Ah-mazing.
Spending the entire day roaming an ancient city. Finishing it off with a beer in hand, and watching the sunset on the cliffs of the Adriatic. Thank you, Dubrovnik.
And thank you to every place I’ve ever been and every wonderful person I’ve met along the way. I cherish every single experience, the good and the bad. Sincerely. The world is a big, big place that has given me so much… and I want more of it. Mostly, thank you for taking the time to read my personal travel rites of passage.