At my very first airline job, I was trained by a guy who had never set foot on an airplane. I thought it was a bit odd – how could he understand our customers when he had never experienced flying? When prompted, he explained that he simply didn’t feel the urge to go anywhere.
Remember those days? There was a time when not everyone wanted to travel. The days I’m thinking of were roughly twenty years ago.
The trips I chose to do back then were on a whim. I revisited places I liked over and over again, rather than checking new places off an endless list. I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of trips, and day trips within larger trips, but only visited some 35 countries or so. Unless you count airports, at which point I lose track.
It wasn’t a contest or numbers game. You weren’t reporting it to any followers (the notion of which would have felt absurd). You traveled where you wanted to and if you liked, say, Paris, then you might’ve gone there twice a month and nowhere else.
Besides hedonistic, travel used to also be humbling. You’d take what you got, accept that things might not go as planned, and focus more on practicality than pretty poses. Not that there’s anything wrong with pretty shots; in fact, I wish I’d taken more photos. But it felt embarrassing to be caught taking pictures back then. Tourist, you’d hear people thinking, and no, even back then nobody wanted to be a tourist, a mindless member of a herd, dressed tackily (for some reason).
I liked traveling spontaneously, not that planning ahead was even that easy compared to today, since the Internet in all its glory didn’t yet exist – or if it did, it was just a baby, learning to stand up on its own, with wobbly feet. I made travel decisions based on recommendations I heard from people, sometimes near strangers. I liked the element of exploring and being surprised.
Before internet bookings, you booked by phone or simply by turning up. Once, I arrived in Florence in the afternoon and all the hotels and hostels were fully booked for that evening. As usual, I was traveling solo – what was a girl to do? Luckily, after walking around a scorching hot city with my heavy backpack, I managed to find what seemed to be the last available bed in Florence. It was located in a dorm and I was told that another Finnish woman was staying there, too.
Great, I thought, not too pleased. I’d come to Italy searching for adventure, not nostalgia for home. But as I was rummaging through my backpack, sitting on the bed allocated to me in a female dorm of 6 or maybe 8 beds, my fellow countrywoman entered. She too had been cheerily informed by reception that another Finn had become her roommate, and she was looking as skeptical as I was. It only took us a few sentences, however, to determine that we were, in fact, soul sisters. She, too, was working for an airline, doing the same job as I was and she too had a history of long cultural exchanges and expat life. She spoke Italian fluently and we soon became travel buddies. Back home, our paths kept crossing afterwards, and we ended up working for the same airline, knowing the same people, and keeping somewhat in touch.
Street smarts and blending in were what made you a part of your destination. Spending several months in Italy, it became a part of me, a scene in the story of my life. Many of those stories I’ll never share here, because they weren’t lived with the intention of publishing them for likes, just like how I won’t tell the stories of my half a dozen airline and airport jobs, and what I learned and saw each day, the unusual and untold.
Now, I’m working in an office job with people who have no need of language skills and who, pre-Covid, traveled once a year for their annual vacation. They are happy in their office careers, which is nice to see. No soulmates in sight, we are of a different tribe: once a year was never enough for me. I wanted more, needed more, and took more. Before it was a trend, I’d quit my job for travel, planning on finding something else. Today, with kids as my motivator, I’m focusing on a so-called career for the first time and I’m mind-boggled when someone says they have been sitting in the same office since the 80’s. To think of all the things I’ve done during that time, and meanwhile they were just here, doing the same thing they’re doing today. I can’t process it.
But I’m happy about the diversity. I embrace it, and I wish there was more of it. We don’t all need to like the same things. (It seems obvious, but there: I said it out loud.)
I can now understand the urge to not go anywhere. Traveling internationally – touristically – will only keep the pandemic going for longer, and anyway I wouldn’t enjoy it. Travel during a pandemic has lost its carefree glamour, its soul-pampering element. The adventures that might happen seem too extreme for my liking, or maybe I’m just getting older and less grandiose. Could well be.
This summer, I’m touring domestically by car (unecologically so), exploring what I’ve missed within a few hours’ radius from home. I didn’t even used to own a car until very recently. And I wonder what travel will be like when my children and their generation become young adults and fly the nest… or will there be a new fad by then? Space travel, perhaps?
(Oh, and the last I heard, my soul sister had moved to a rural area a few hours from Helsinki and was tending a garden instead of sunbathing in Italy. We both thought our sunbathing glory days would never end, but time took care of that.)