Then and Now: Evolution of a Traveler

Brisbane trainIn 2003, I needed a plane ticket from Indianapolis to Dublin, so I called up STA Travel. The paper ticket was mailed to me a few days later.

Travel has changed a lot since then.

It’s not just the influence of technology, but the benefit of experience that has changed the way I travel.


Booking Flights


I booked the cheapest flight I could get my hands on. Period. It could have gone something like this:

United, $950: Indianapolis – Denver – Vancouver – LA – Tokyo – Sydney. Total flight time 56 hours.

American Airlines, $1000: Indianapolis – LA – Sydney. Total flight time 22 hours.

…and I would have booked the United flight. Layovers were part of the adventure. Brushing my teeth in airport bathrooms, exploring overpriced food options (Check it out! A Starbucks?), claiming and re-checking my bags at each destination – that was real travel.


I’ll pay up to $150 more for a direct flight. Time is money. I just want to get to where I’m going so I can enjoy myself.




For my first solo trip, I bought a giant rolling suitcase from Sears. Empty, it weighed over 15 pounds. I thought it was fantastic because I could fit most of the essentials like an oversized IU hoodie and eight pairs of shoes.

As soon as I left the Dublin airport with the ‘HEAVY’ tag on my luggage, I was ridiculed by a stranger on the bus.

“Oh my God! Why don’t you have a rucksack?”

“Ha ha,” I said, trying to disguise the fact that I didn’t know what a rucksack was. “I’m going to be away from home for almost a year.”

As if that justified bringing a wheeled closet across the Atlantic ocean.

I learned what a rucksack was when every other traveler breezed past with one – a backpack, especially convenient for walking across cobbled streets while looking for your hostel.


I downgraded (upgraded?) to a 70-litre backpack the following year for a trip to Australia.

Magnetic Beach, Australia
Pack horses at Magnetic Beach, Australia

Since then I’ve learned to condense even more, and whenever possible, I use a 35-litre backpack. This has been successful for trips of up to three weeks. It might be more of a challenge during next year’s 4-month stint in South America.


Stranded in Mongolia
Evacuating the mud-bogged van in Mongolia.


Passport Stamps


There was a time I could tell you the exact number of countries I’d visited, planes I’d flown in, and stamps in my passport. I was obsessed with ticking places off the list. I got anxious when I was with a group of people who had been somewhere I hadn’t, like the Pink Palace in Corfu or the full moon parties in Thailand.

Passport StampsYou have to go,” they’d say. “It’s…I can’t describe it. So cool.”

Every time I went through customs, I hungrily scanned my passport for the latest stamp. If it was faded or illegible in any way, I was disappointed. But now people won’t know I took a ferry to Brindisi or crossed into Slovenia by bus!

Who’s looking at your passport pages, anyway? The next customs official is hardly going to care how many places you’ve traveled to. Travel isn’t something to show off, nor is it a list to impress people with.

It’s for you. Not your friends, not your family, not that cute guy at the bar. Just you.


I never went to the Pink Palace or a full moon party. My passport has been stamped, stickered, scrawled on and stapled. I have no idea how many stamps it has, and you know what? Neither does anyone else.


Meeting Strangers


The first time I stayed at a hostel, I was terrified. There was one other girl in the dining room of the Kinlay House Hostel in Dublin. She was drinking a bottled water and reading a guide book, and it took every ounce of courage I had to approach her. (I was really shy, ok?) Finally, I decided on an opening line.

“Hey,” I said. “Where did you get that water?”

A few seconds ticked by, silent except for the loud humming coming from the evian vending machine in the corner of the room.

Loser.“…From the machine,” she said.

“Thanks.” I returned with my water and summoned the nerve to sit at her table.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“Michigan,” she said, pointedly glancing at her Lonely Planet.

I couldn’t hide my excitement. “Really? I’m from Indiana,” I said. This coincidence was too great for me to fathom. We were both from the Midwest? No way.

“Oh,” she said. Clearly the coincidence was lost on her.

Finally I got her vibe. “Okay,” I said. “If you want anyone to go out with tonight, knock on my door. I’m in room 6.”

She didn’t knock.


I’m that girl. It tires me when a perky traveler in a university t-shirt bounds up asking where I’m from/where I’ve been/where I’m going. Which is sad, really. One of the best things about traveling is meeting people and learning their stories. If you ever see me in a hostel, please ask me where I bought my water. I promise I won’t make you feel stupid.




Convinced that everyone I met was a potential thief, I carried all of my valuables with me everywhere I went. My heavy laptop went in its special daypack/carrying case, along with my Kodak EasyShare, 64mb MP3 player, passport, and wallet. I constantly looked around to make sure no one was trying to be sneaky and unzip my backpack. At night I slept with these things carefully arranged next to my head.


It got exhausting to view everyone as a potential thief. I have come to terms with the fact that my stuff is just stuff, and can be replaced if necessary. As long as my passport is safe and I am not carrying large sums of cash, everything else can go. But if you steal my iPad, I will hunt you down. Seriously.


Other things have changed, too – like the fact that now I travel as part of a couple, so I’ve traded dorms for private rooms. I use Skype and facebook to stay in touch instead of calling cards and mass e-mails. I haven’t seen a paper ticket in years, and if I can’t book online I usually don’t go.

There is one thing that’s stayed the same – I haven’t gotten travel out of my system, and I don’t think I ever will.


Jane Austen costume museum
Also, I'm still a little bit weird. Okay, a lot weird.


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  1. Nice work with the then-vs-now.

    Booking Flights:
    I also prefer to take the quickest option. I flew from Paris to Madrid last week, it took 2 hours, and cost $20 more than a 20 hour bus.

    Great that you’ve already realized less-is-more with packing. I’m still toting around an 80L pack (my first “big” trip). I’m gonna be so glad to go home and buy something I can take as carry-on.

    Passport Stamps:
    I’ve been to “The Pink Palace” 😉

    Meeting Strangers:
    I still approach strangers. But I wait until the context is right. Meeting people gets tiring after a few months.

    I started out trusting everyone, and as a result, I’ve had almost everything lost or stolen in 6 months. Now I don’t trust anyone. I lock my bags, sometimes down to something. Campsites and hostels are full of dishonest travelers.

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  3. It amazes me how some people can be so rude sometimes (in reference to the “then” of meeting strangers)! It takes a lot of courage to walk up to complete strangers. Bravo to you!

    1. Thanks! I wouldn’t think anything of talking to a stranger now, but at the time it took everything I had. She really resisted my friendly (if not a little overeager) conversation!

    1. Thanks Alouise. The internet has really transformed the way we travel – sometimes I think it takes away some of the romance, but that’s the trade-off for convenience. Now losing a paper ticket is one less thing to worry about!

  4. Isn’t it hard to believe plane tickets used to be mailed to you?! I’m also with you that I will now pay more in order to have a shorter, direct flight. Enjoyed this!

    1. I know! I can’t believe we used to do it all without the internet. Truth be told, I kind of miss those days, though not the long flights to save a couple of bucks. Glad I figured that one out.

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