When I tell people where I’m going tomorrow (!!!) they inevitably ask my why I chose Scotland as my 30th (shudder) birthday present to myself. As if the world’s biggest theater festival wasn’t a huge enough draw for a big old thespian like me, there’s lots of pretty castles, which I’m a sucker for, I’ve read every Irvine Welsh novel ever written and there’s a possibility I might run into David Tennant or Ewan Mac Gregor there, right? They’re just hanging around in Scotland together, wearing tight jeans and waiting for me, like you do. Oh, and hill walking. You gotta love hill walks.
But really, I’ve been all over Europe but I’ve never been on a proper British Isles excursion, England Scotland and Wales. Well that’s not happening this time either, but at least I’ll have seen most of Britain (albeit in chunks), except for Wales which I’m saving for when I get a bit part on Dr. Who.
Every time I set out to travel I start to think about all the other times I’ve gone abroad. Which brings me to… my first time. A girl never forgets it, so I’m told. Picture it, New England suburbia, 1997. It was the summer between my junior and senior years of high school and I was on my way to a three week tour of European Capitols with a half dozen of my Catholic School comrades. We were about to be set loose for the better part of a month with no parents, no curfews and very lax drinking laws. In the parking lot on the last day of school somebody blared Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life on the speakers of their car stereo and I skanked gleefully until my orange Dr. Scholl’s went flying off my feet and nearly dented the door of my Volvo station wagon. I was seventeen and the world was about to become my oyster. You know how it is.
Those were the halcyon days of pre-9/11 travel when you could wander into the international terminal without a boarding pass and check a suitcase the size of a rhinoceros without fear of an over sized baggage fee. And pack I did. I filled an entire suitcase (the size of which would later inspire my tour guide to tell me to leave the kitchen sink at home next time) full of multicolored spandex and velour t-shirts. Did I mention it was the 90s?
I got drunk for the first time (off a single pint of cider, god I was a cheap date back then), stood in deafening silence before Picasso’s Guernica, went clubbing in Florence, saw the Sistine Chapel, the Louvre and the Eiffel Tour, ate crapes in a shabby cafe on a rainy night in Paris, wandered in the woods of Germany and wrote about every last bit of it in my journal. In short, it was eye opening and mind expanding and fun in they way that every life-changing teenage experience should be. Most importantly it got me hooked on travel.
Later I would return to Europe for an entire semester in the Netherlands. I lived in a leaky, ghost ridden castle, learned how to make a toastie, roll a Dutch spliff, negotiate the Euorail system and cope with the intricacies of being a poor, smelly backpacker. It was heaven.
Twice bitten, now I was afflicted with a serious case of the wanderlust. In 2006 I spent a summer semester of graduate school in London and Dublin. I learned that London undoubtably the center of the universe (to me anyway), made theater with some of the leaders in my fields and even visited the inside of a prison in Belfast. Again with all the life changing and mind expanding stuff.
I knew my 30th birthday gift to myself was going to be more travel. I batted around the idea of Australia, Japan and Cambodia but those were all too expensive and a little too daunting for my first solo trip. Here’s some more free advice for you: if you want to plan international travel, try and do it at least 8 weeks before you’ d like to depart. Especially if you plan on booking accommodation in a small city that will be descended upon by a good portion of the theater loving universe all looking for a place to lay their unkempt heads. In late June all the hostels were already booked. I’m all set for accommodations now, but it was a little touch and go there for a while.
So tomorrow I leave for Scotland. Like every other travel experience I’ve ever had, I know it will be more than what I expected. I’ll learn more and grow more and do more than I imagined and I’ll be a fuller person when I come home. Just what will I do and learn and see? Who knows. I can’t wait to find out…