Watching Travel Change Drastically Over the Years

April 13, 2015
gp2, latvia, vietnam
Seeing Travel Change Drastically Over the Years

My mother tells me that I have always had ‘itchy feet.’ She thinks it comes from having an immigrant father and never really knowing where I belong. Perhaps, with the wisdom of 79 years she may be right. Whatever the reason, I took my first ‘solo trip’ to visit a German pen-pal before I left high school and have never stopped traveling since.

Things have changed since then. The world has changed and travel has changed. Most of all, communication has changed. Just today, I caught up with friends on Facebook, sent my elderly parents an email while still in Saigon, and chatted via FaceTime with my son in New York.

Watching Travel Change Drastically Over the Years

Saigon Vietnam
Saigon, Vietnam

When I took my first extended train trip around Europe in 1979, my poor mother did not know whether a postcard would reach her in six weeks let alone whether she would receive a phone call from me. Now, as a mother, I can relate to how hard that must have been. At the time, responsibility and care fell from my shoulders as the train door closed. I think we managed a call from a post office in Athens.

Only by taking time to talk will you learn about the lives and cultures of people.

It was not just communications that were different. The entire map of Europe has changed. I still have my scrapbook, journal and maps. Eastern Europe, including my father’s home in Latvia is just a washed out white. Yugoslavia was a huge block under Tito and, for the time, a relatively liberal part of Eastern Europe, albeit held together by by the same tenacity as a piece of string.

In the past, I spent a night in Sarajevo and then only a few years later, I watched in horror as the struggle between ethnicities destroyed so much. I was too afraid to stop in Turkey thanks to the movie Midnight Express, which filled me with an irrational fear of being flung into jail. Greece, now a destination for sun and sand, purely used the Greek alphabet for signage, making catching buses and trains more challenging than elsewhere we had passed through.

Watching Travel Change Drastically Over the Years

The first time I flew to the U.S., a friend and I hung around Manchester airport for four or five days just waiting for a seat cheap enough for us to afford. I can’t remember how exactly the system worked but I remember going through the same process on our return. With no internet it was a case of turn up and hope.

Once there, we set off with scant regard for safety. We spending nights on Greyhound busses and explored much of California and Arizona by day. Somehow we blagged a car for part of the trip. We hiked in Yosemite before the days of permits and I have photographic evidenced that we wild camped by Lake Tahoe. Something I had forgotten until I saw Facebook pictures of another friend’s recent trip.

The Baltic States are now under Europe’s umbrella but on my first visit to family in 1988 The Soviet Union was the incumbent. To get to Riga, we had to fly to Moscow, two hours east of Latvia, and then we had to fly back. Riga was dark and depressing. Food stores were empty and my father bought the entire family new shoes from the InTourist shops, where Latvians weren’t allowed to shop. Somehow we got permission to leave the capital and visit my father’s childhood home and those who could not make it to Riga.

As a solo woman ‘of a certain age’ common sense must prevail, but I find people, other travellers as well as locals, are more willing to engage in conversation now than when I was younger.

We were followed by the tourist police for 90 miles. The poor man’s job was to make sure we went nowhere else. He slept in his car, generously supplied with cups of tea, and then followed us dutifully back the next day. He melted out of sight as we were dropped off at our hotel.

Riga, though not rich in money is now truly rich in culture and as vibrant and colourful as any other city in Europe.

Watching Travel Change Drastically Over the Years

Cafe in Riga Latvia
Cafe in Riga, Latvia

Watching Travel Change Drastically Over the Years

Now I’m traveling in Vietnam, a country I knew simply through monochrome news in my early teens. It was the first awareness I had of man’s horrific trait of inhumanity to man. The image of Napalm Girl stayed with me all these years and I wanted to see what had become of the country I watched being burnt alive. The photograph is now in a museum in Saigon, along with many others. A moving reminder of the not so distant past. While here I have met and talked with many people from both sides of the conflict. My generation remembers well the hardship of war and the near starvation experienced in the following years as trade embargoes bit hard into the everyday lives of ordinary people. Things are far easier for those growing up today.

children in sapa vietnam
Children in Sapa, Vietnam

Watching Travel Change Drastically Over the Years

It is easy to ‘travel through’ whether with a package tour or with a backpacking budget, but it is also easy to miss so much. With Internet booking there is little need to interact with local people at all. Only by taking time to talk will you learn about the lives and cultures of people. Stay in one place a little longer and your face will quickly become recognised. As a solo woman ‘of a certain age’ common sense must prevail, but I find people, other travellers as well as locals, are more willing to engage in conversation now than when I was younger. Perhaps it is that I am seen as no threat, but I also think they are curious to know more about me. Why I am I there? Why am I by myself?

Watching Travel Change Drastically Over the Years

About Alvina Labsvirs

Alvina LabsvirsHome is Cumbria, the most beautiful part of England. Brought up hiking the hills and haven’t yet found anything I love more. Traveling is next on the list and if I can combine the two then I’m close to heaven. I have always been a prolific photographer and written copious journals, both of travels and domestic life. My career was in the IT industry for many years and these three things led me to start my blog. I retrained as a teacher around 12 years ago and taught IT and English until I decided to move to Vietnam for a few months and combine teaching English with getting to know a little more about Vietnam.

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