Kathy said she lucked out during her gap year when a friend asked her to travel around the world using tickets she had won as a door prize. They were both in new jobs and could only get two weeks of vacation but decided to make the best of it.
I was, of course, thrilled when Liz asked me to go on a trip with her using the tickets to wherever British Airlines flew. We were working at the same place and always got along well. We didn’t have much money and two weeks was about all we could afford. But I was 19 years old, just out of high school, not at all sure where life would take me, so why not!
Liz planned the trip and it was originally going to be London, Singapore, and Australia—all quite tame and that was fine with me for I knew nothing at all about other countries at the time. Plans changed when we met some guys…
The first stop was London where we raced around for two days without stopping, without sleep. We thought we would catch up on our sleep on the flight to Singapore but that all changed when a couple of charming Brits took the seats beside us.
We lucked out when we met these guys. They worked for an oil company in Singapore and showed us places that we would never have visited on our own. A highlight was certainly Bugis Street (also known as Boogie Street), the famous night spot which at the time was a gathering place for transvestites. I had never seen anything like it, with the transvestites hitting on the British guys, and kids sitting around playing ‘Xs and Os’. The toilet in the restaurant where we were eating was just a hole in the floor and that was another first for I had never even heard of such a thing.
The guys invited us to join them on a scuba diving trip to Malaysia and we said “why not, we’ll just shorten our time in Australia”. So off we went with a group of 10 expats on a long road trip through Malaysia and a ride to an island in the South China Sea on a fishing boat that was so crowded that if we rolled the wrong way in our sleep we would have ended up in the ocean. We camped on the island for three nights and it was just the most beautiful setting. On our way back to the mainland we passed boats packed with people trying to escape Vietnam (it was 1980) and that was a shocking sight.
We finally made it to Sydney, Australia and saw all the stuff that one goes there to see and stayed in a hostel that had all kinds of rules.
That trip was a big turning point for me. It got me to start thinking seriously about what I was going to do with the rest of my life. It opened me up to a world that I didn’t even know existed. I was very narrow-minded and the experience opened my horizons not only to culture but also to food. Before the trip I had been a very fussy eater—a ‘peanut butter and raw carrots’ sort of person. I went back home ready and willing to eat just about anything. And I’ve never stopped travelling.
© Riding the buses 2011