Episode 1: That Time In The Beginning

365 Dates of Travel Podcast

365 Dates of Travel Podcast Transcript:

Hello. Welcome to 365 dates of travel with Fran. I’m Fran. Don’t you love that funky retro style music? I thought it appropriate seeing as I’ll be talking a lot about the 1990s. 

Well, welcome to my podcast. A behind the scenes look at the stories from, and writing of my book “365 Dates of Travel”, a travel story for each date of the year. You’ll also get a sneak peek into the book before it comes out on the 26 March this year. 

The main aim for this podcast is to make you smile from something I say, and or laugh at something I did. So feel free to laugh away at me and at my expense. That’s what I’m here for. 

I’ve entitled this first podcast “The Beginning”. Basically, it’s the beginning of everything. I’m beginning writing, and writing about the beginning of my traveling life. I’m beginning the process of publishing a book, and I’m beginning my first podcast. This will be a behind the scenes look at all of that. 

If you read my early website posts, a seed was planted that enabled me to start writing. I had an idea for a novel, but struggled to make myself sit down and actually start writing that novel. I was procrastinating by researching, researching, researching, researching. I’ll be grateful of that research one day, but it wasn’t writing. So I decided I’d start with something easier to write about, something that I know. And that’s how I started writing about my travels. 

The best place to start is when I first left Australia on the 7th of November 1992. I knew I had a scrapbook and diaries and photos, but I had to find them. I looked everywhere for the scrapbook. In my head, I’d covered it with a tea towel with the American flag on it. So I was looking for red, white and blue. And I went through everything in the garage, everything in the house at least three times, thinking that I had lost it. Surely I didn’t throw it out. Surely how could I have been so dumb if I’d thrown it out? Eventually, I looked even closer at things that didn’t look like the red, white and blue. And funnily enough, I found my scrapbook. It was covered in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pattern. I had never actually got around to my idea of covering the scrapbook with a tea towel or wrapping paper that was the American flag. I had done that with my English scrapbooks. For some reason, I never made it back to the original American scrapbooks. 

Anyway, with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles found, I found my scrapbook. Oh, and it was such a relief. There was so much in that scrapbook. I kept everything. Without that scrapbook, there’s no way I would have been able to remember all the details that I go through in the book. 

Now, sometimes I have absolutely nothing but the ticket stub or the train ticket. And that’s how I know what I was doing? I do have some diary pages, but there weren’t anywhere near as many as I would have liked to have had in diary pages. I mean, seriously, what was I doing? I was on the train a lot of the time in the evening. Why wasn’t I writing more diary? I did write a lot of letters back in those days, so I’m guessing I maybe spent my time writing letters or planning my next day. 

I probably read the guidebook about 10,000 times. I still have the original 1992 Let’s Go USA. And it was instrumental in writing my stories about this first trip. 

The thing about the photo album I had for this trip was that it was a very good photo album, and I had everything labeled and things like that, but it wasn’t in chronological order. It was in the order that seemed like you would do it if you were traveling around the country in order. But I didn’t exactly travel in order. I traveled based on train timetables, going backwards and forwards from one place to another. So I think I spent three days in Philadelphia. I’ve always told the story about how I spent three days in Philadelphia, but I never spent one single night in Philadelphia. Backwards and forwards on the train. So the photo album has everything in Philadelphia, all in the one section. I went to Los Angeles maybe three or four times over that time, and they’re all together at the beginning because that’s where I arrived. So the photo album, while useful to help evoke some memories and remember what I did, it doesn’t exactly help with getting everything in the right order. 

Thankfully, the scrapbook at the very back of the second scrapbook. There were two full Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle scrapbooks. And the second one, right near the end, had almost I think there was two missing, but had all the ticket stubs from every single train that I took over my sort of roughly three months in America in 1992 and early 1993. So that was the gold standard in working out where I went, when I went there, and in what order I went there. 

I’d also kept the train timetable from the time so the one that I was using to book my trains and plan my troubles. So from the ticket stubs, I could see the date and what train number I caught. I could look the train number up in the guidebook in the train information schedule book and work out what time I left, what time I would have roughly arrived, taking note that most Amtrak trains arrived late, but a rough idea of when I was meant to arrive in a place and when I had left. Without that, it just would not have been possible. The memories don’t last. The diary wasn’t enough, and there’s obviously no itinerary because I was making it up as I went along. So those ticket stubs and keeping them was instrumental in remembering what had happened. 

It’s one of my greatest regrets that I don’t have more diary from this trip. It is still my all-time favorite and I would love to relive it in exact detail from what I did, which is not really possible now, but it really was, yes, the most incredible trip anyone could possibly have been on. And I still have so many little memories of these exact snapshots of what happened during that trip. And that’s just literally amazing. 

Like I can remember looking out the window from my window seat on the plane. I can see the view of Sydney still as the plane was taking off. And I never go in window seats, so I know that’s a real memory. I’m always the aisle girl these days, but back then I was definitely in the window seat as everyone thought that was the best place to get better sleep on a plane because you could lean against the side of the plane. That never really worked for me, but that was the thought, that’s what I went for. And I can still see that view of Sydney and I remember wondering what was going to happen, would I ever return? If I did return, when would that be? 

I did plan to be away for around the ten year mark, but travel is unpredictable. I was 18 and I had no idea what I was doing, so who knows? Anything was actually possible. I remember being at the airport, so after I’d got my bags and all that sort of thing, and I can picture the accommodation board. That was an amazing service, which obviously is not as necessary now with the internet, but in those days you didn’t have the internet, you didn’t make international calls to book accommodation in advance, so most of your booking was done ad hoc once you arrived. I guess maybe travel agents, but I’m not so sure on that one because I never used one back in those days. I rarely use them now as it is. But this had this amazing board and it had everything from youth hostels at the cheapest end to the grandest hotels at the opposite luxury end. And there was a free phone, so you didn’t have to worry about having local money, local coins or how to make a telephone call, which is not always easy in a foreign country. And you could just pick up the phone, the phone numbers were there, free call and check on availability. So I did that. 

I seriously don’t think I ended up at the hostel that I rang, but that’s who knows what actually happens there. The service was fantastic and I have a great memory of the hostel that I ended up with. 

I can still see the 18 month old that was there with her parents and I was fascinated by their story. They had a station wagon car, so they had all the nappies and all the baby paraphernalia and everything in the back of the station wagon. And they drove around America, staying in hostels and travelling as cheaply as they could. And they had two beds in our six bed dorm. 

The rest were all boys. Cannot remember names or where they came from or anything, but they were all older than me, and they all had much more experience, and a lot more common sense, and had done all sorts of things, so it was interesting learning from them. But the biggest thing I learned was that I had no idea what I was doing. But it was too late now I was in America and I was going for it. 

All I had was some money. Still have no idea exactly how much money, but I had some, which wasn’t really enough. I had a four day Greyhound Bus pass and a 42 day Amtrak pass, but I also had the phone number of Wendy in Denver, and I was completely obsessed with the TV show Beverly Hills 90210

That is basically the reason I went to America. I loved that show. It was just as I was finishing high school. I think it started in year twelve of high school and I just thought it was the bees knees. I wrote fan letters to the cast. I think I’ve still got those letters reply somewhere, but I may not. But I just wanted to go to an American high school and I wanted to experience everything that a teenager would in America. Of course, I had no concept that what was on the TV wasn’t actually reality, but I didn’t care at the time. I just wanted to have the 90210 experience. So I went to America. 

Lucky at least I had one tiny little bit of a contact in Wendy and my original plan. It was to actually try and almost repeat my year twelve level or my last year of school. I wanted to enroll in a high school. I wanted to live with Wendy, go to an American high school, even though I’d already passed the final year of school and had done six months of university, I wanted to go back and experience the whole American life. Of course that really wasn’t possible. I did look into everything before leaving from exchange programs and all sorts of things, even university exchange programs, but there was just nothing that was actually relevant or that I qualified to apply for. And I probably put a little bit of stress onto Wendy trying to organize that before I left, so I’m sure she’s quite happy that I didn’t try and continue down that path for any longer than I already did. But it would have been the ultimate goal to actually go through that experience. Despite the fact that I’d already passed high school. 

One of the main reasons I didn’t have as much money as I should have or would have liked to have had, was I was working really hard to save money. And basically I got to the point where I was absolutely exhausted and there was no way that I would have been able to continue the routine that I was doing. 

From Albury, where I was going to university in the border town of Wodonga, I moved to Sydney. I arrived in Sydney on a Friday night because Saturday morning was the newspaper that came out with all the jobs advertised. So I arrived Friday night, I got the newspaper Saturday morning, I went to job interviews Saturday afternoon and I started my first job on Sunday. It was during the recession and everybody told me I was crazy because there was no work and the best place for me was to stay at university. But I just wasn’t concentrating. I was so obsessed with America that I just couldn’t concentrate on study, so I was just basically wasting my time at university. 

I was better off getting a job, earning some money so I could go travel. But that first job, it was not a good job, but hey, it gave me some money like straight away. They were still paying cash back then, so under the table a little bit, not official payment, but it got me through the first couple of weeks. 

My main job was orange juice maker and chicken breast de-boner. So they taught me how to take the whole chicken breast off the bone without breaking up the breast. I was very good at it, but it kind of hurts your thumbs after a while. And I was making the orange juice, which I was told off for. Apparently people complained about my orange juice because it was too bitter, so I was apparently squeezing the orange juice too far down and getting bits of the rind in. Basically they wanted me to squeeze like once or twice and then throw the rest of the orange away, which in my mind just didn’t make sense. But patrons were complaining about the orange juice being too bitter so I was told off for my orange juice making. 

I was also told off for not making the glasses as shiny as they should be. I was told I had to rinse them in boiling water so that I didn’t have to dry them and they would just dry clear. But that was burning my fingers which were already sore and hurting from deboning the chicken. So I didn’t exactly dip them in boiling water, I just dipped them in hot water. So that didn’t go down very well. So I kind of got told, maybe this job isn’t the right place for you. 

Luckily, I was living in a youth hostel in Sydney in Kings Cross where there were lots of other international backpackers who were doing their working holiday year in Australia. So one of them told me about this place called the Casual CES which was a brilliant service. So CES doesn’t exist anymore. But it used to be the Commonwealth Employment Service, and they had a casual office, which meant any employer could ring this office and say, I need three staff immediately for the day. And they need to be able to wash dishes, or type a certain number of words per minute, or be able to drive a truck, or drive a forklift or whatever it was. So if staff called in sick in the morning, the employers could just call this venue and basically people would just turn up, ideally at about 6:00 am. I don’t know if it opened earlier, but about 6:00 am was generally the best time to go. And you’d sign up saying all the different jobs you’re prepared to do and then you just sit and wait. And then as jobs came in, you would just be called up if you were next in order for whatever skill set they wanted. So I had skills down as in catering, I did catering and home economics all the way through to year twelve, so I wasn’t a stranger to working in a kitchen, despite the fact I got fired from my kitchen job. But that was very specific details. 

I still feel bad for this guy, and I cannot remember his name for the life of me, but he had been going to this Casual CES every day for about two weeks and I think he’d only got maybe one job. So we went in together this first morning after I got fired from the first job, and I got a job in about 20 minutes of arriving. So it was just somebody they needed, someone with some catering experience and I was next on the list and I went to the job. So it was just going to be for 4 hours. So originally or officially, the shift was from six till ten. Obviously I didn’t start at six, it was just as soon as you can get here till about 10:00 am. 

And my job for that day was basically buttering bread and bread rolls, making salads on a very large scale, and potentially helping out at the front counter if need be. It was a staff cafeteria at the Carlton Brewery, so it wasn’t far away, it was easy to get to. Off I went. They gave me an apron and told me what to do and I did it and I did a good enough job they asked me if I wanted to come back the next day and I said yes. So I went back the next day and I think that was possibly the end of the week by that point, so probably my first week in Sydney. And they said, “Are you interested in permanent work or what’s your plans, what are you doing?” And I said, “Well, I need a job, I need to work, I want to save money.” So they offered me a permanent job, which was great. So there I had, so it was just for 4 hours a day. So that 6:00 am to 10:00 am, and that was from Monday to Friday. 

So when you’ve got no money, that is a good enough amount of money to have coming in. It would pay my bills. I was only paying $60 a week at the youth hostel, so it was a nice cheap rent and that was it. There were no bills, there was no nothing else. It was just $60 a week. I shared a room with five English male backpackers. We had our own little basic, our own little studio, so we had three bunk beds to sleep for six of us. We had a sort of kitchenette with a full oven, a table and chairs, our own bathroom, and we even had a balcony off the back, which, if you leant over the railing, you could actually see the Sydney Opera House. So you can’t complain about the view and the price. And it was in the lovely Kings Cross, so I learned all sorts of things living in Kings Cross for a while. 

Anyway, so I got that job. So that was my second job. And then after I’d settled into that, one of the jobs that I’d interviewed for on the original Saturday rang me and asked if I was still available. Whoever they had chosen over me on that original interview stage had let them down and I was next on the list. And so that job was from 3:30 pm until or 3:00/3:30 until 11:00 pm, Sunday to Thursday. So that was a full time job and it was working at Food Plus in Rose Bay. 

So Food Plus is like a 7 Eleven. So I took that job. Now I am working, so my working week would start at Sunday at three o’clock and my working week would finish at ten o’clock on Friday morning. So I would get home from the Food Plus job at about midnight. I would need to get up, luckily it was close by, at 5:30 in the morning to get to my morning kitchen job, so there wasn’t a lot of time to sleep. In between the two jobs, I would get home about 11:00 am, and I would hop into bed and I would sleep till about 1 o’clock. So an extra couple of hours sleep.

I’d get up, I’d have a shower, I’d make my favorite lunch at the time, which was an Italian rice and peas dish, and then I would start watching Days of Our Lives. And I was supposed to leave before Days of Our Lives ended, but I kind of never did. So I was always maybe five minutes late for my 3 o’clock start in Rose Bay, and then I’d work till 11 o’clock, get home at midnight, get up at 530 and do it again. 

So come Friday, I was pretty exhausted getting home Friday at 11 o’clock. I basically sat in the TV room, which just happened to be opposite our bedroom, and was the only other thing on the top level of the hostel and I would park myself there and watch TV for the whole night. So it was hard work. I did that routine for nearly three months. I don’t think it was the complete three months. It was long enough to be completely burnt out. 

I was saving fantastic money. So I had a full time job and a part time job. So I was working 60 hours a week. So I was saving about $400, which $400 a week in 1992 was a lot of money. I was living on about $100 a week with my $60 rent and the rest of my expenses. So food and travel was basically only around the $40 mark, so $400 could go a long way. So I obviously saved money faster than I originally expected. But that made me sort of feel like I could leave earlier when I really didn’t have an appropriate amount of money. It is one of my biggest pains in the butts that I do not have an exact figure of what I have. I still haven’t been able to figure it out from all the bits and pieces that I’ve found. Hopefully there’s some extra bits and pieces I’ve mislaid somewhere that’s gotten the wrong file. And I will eventually find a better idea, because I’d love to know. All I know is that it wasn’t enough. I should have stayed. I should have given up one of the jobs, but I really didn’t know which one to give up. Obviously, the full time job was better money, but I think I enjoyed the four hour job much better. They were very nice to me. I really enjoyed working there. So that was a great find. Thank you. Casual CES. 

So yeah. So off I went to America. I went back to Albury to say goodbye and leave all my belongings in the basement, which unfortunately flooded. So I did lose a few things, hence why maybe I can’t find how much money I had, or maybe I lost a few bits and pieces when sort of mold grew in and took over some of my paperwork and things back then. 

And, yes, started off in Venice Beach and realised, here I am now, I have to make it work. But I just wasn’t organised enough. So I did stay in LA for a few days and then I moved on to Denver, or as you’ll learn, Denverrr. 

But I’ve gone off on a complete tangent. I didn’t actually plan to tell you all of that, but now you know the one hundred per cent pretty much backstory of how I ended up in America the year after I finished school. 

So going from there, talking about how I started the writing of these stories as a way to get into habits of sitting down writing when I couldn’t write the novel, and I honestly didn’t know where it was going to go. I don’t always follow through on my ideas or see them through all the way to the end, even if I do start them. It’s a little bit of a trait of mine over the years, so I kind of felt like I might not make it. So I’m quite surprised that I actually did make it. And I’m very proud of the fact that I did make it. But it made that early writing a little bit, I guess, not quite one hundred per cent accurate. I was sort of thinking that I wouldn’t finish it, therefore I wouldn’t need all the details or I wouldn’t need every date of travel or save information for later or what to put in what and when. So I sort of amalgamated some of those early couple of days in Los Angeles thinking that I wouldn’t need the detail realising that and I think I found extra information as I went on. 

Like I said, the diary wasn’t great. And so it was all sort of in bits and pieces. It wasn’t in a book, it was actually pieces of paper like it was originally in a book. But there was this real hard cover and screws basically on the side, keeping it together, so it was quite heavy. And I’ve obviously taken off the cover, and the back cover and the front cover, and I just got the few pages that were relevant for this trip and obviously used the paper for other things over the years, which, who knows? So when I later found bits and pieces, it was a much clearer picture. The more I looked into everything, the more the memories came back. And so it was much easier to put it together in a proper real life, exactly what happens scenario.

I’d also read just before I started writing this article about why travel articles aren’t published and one of the things in there about one reason why travel articles don’t get published is because they use the word “I” too much. So it is a bit stunted in the beginning and I struggled to make it a little bit less stunted. I mean, it is less stunted now after about 10,000 revisions, but I can still see some of that stuntedness in there. By desperately trying to not use the word “I”. I gave up on that not too far in the future because it was just impossible. And it was “me”, it was “I” was doing all these things and it just sounded weird, basically. So the first couple of days are a bit weird, but I’ve tried to take some of the weirdness out there without sort of taking away all the early ways of what I was writing. But I’ve definitely made it a lot more true to fact of what actually happened. So if you read the website original posts, there might be a few differences. And I’ve definitely moved out a couple of dates and put in a little bit more detail about what actually happened from the time I got off the plane until I actually did leave to go to Denver from LA. So you’ll find some new details in there, even if you’ve read all the posts that were on the website. 

In my defense, it was a lot of work, and I still can’t believe I actually wrote one post a week for a whole year. And I can tell you now, particularly in the beginning when there was this steep learning curve of how to do the website, how to make posts, how to get photos up there and do everything, it would take forever. So even after I’ve written the post and done sort of a little bit of editing and then trying to find all the photos and get everything together and then make it work on the website and upload it and all those sort of things. It took days to do each post, and then people wanted audio. So I’ll also have to go do some audio taping. And that took a steep learning curve, which I’m useful for and I’m grateful for now because I’m using all that stuff I learned with that to do this podcast. But it was kind of like a lot of work, and I had to do one per week, and it was very stressful in the beginning because I wasn’t exactly ahead of time. 

But that is one of the reasons why I didn’t tell people about the website. On the day I started the website, on the official date of the 7th of November, I was very clear I had to do it no matter what on the 7th of November. But I didn’t tell anyone about it for a week or two because I just wanted to make sure that I was able to keep it up. And I really didn’t believe I was going to be able to keep it up in the beginning. So I’m very proud of myself and I’m very proud that of what I achieved. That website was just pretty incredible for a beginner and someone who’s not known for their technical know how. I definitely show my age when it comes to technology. 

In the end, I wrote over 235,000 words starting in October 2021, and finished somewhere in August in 2022. So about eleven months, 10/11 months. I didn’t realize that that actually added up to basically two books. So the first book has ended up being 99,000 words after all the deep editing processes. So I’ve got 135,000 words for the second six months, which we’ll see how much that ends after the editing process has been finished. But the book is 312 pages of stories, so if I had done the whole year, it would have been over 600, maybe 650 pages. And I really just didn’t feel like it was just too big, particularly as a first time author, to make something of that size. So I had to turn into two books. 

But in the background, while I was writing all of this, I was also spending time learning about editing, publishing, formatting, website building, podcasting, marketing, advertising, amongst all sorts of other things. So some days were very brain draining, but I loved the writing. I’d get excited for the day ahead. I’d wake up and before opening my eyes, I would say, “What am I doing today?” And then I’d get excited about whatever it is that I had planned for that particular day. And I’d jump out of bed. I’d make a cup of tea and head into my spare bedroom, which is now my writing room. It just made me so happy. It was so easy to get out of bed. 

So now I work seven days a week. Two days at nursing, which pays the bills, and five at writing, making my dreams come true with a smile on my face the whole time. I just wish I’d started writing earlier. 

I needed the idea, though, to write the travel book. I mean, how do you write up 30 years of travel stories without the idea of the 365 dates of travel? I probably wouldn’t have made it, as it was just too complicated and to know how to and where to start. So, 365 Dates of Travel, beginning with the first six months, is stories from the past, written with the hindsight of now, backwards and forwards in time to tell a tale for each date of the year. Well, the first six months for now, the second six months will be out soon. 

So how did you start or what made you start traveling? And how did you save the money for your first trip? Let me know. 

Thanks for listening. I wish for you an interesting day. 

Well, that’s this week’s podcast. Thank you for spending time with me today. I hope I made you smile or laugh. Don’t forget to check out my website for more details about myself and the book, “365 Dates of Travel: The First Six months”, and various ways to follow me should you wish at franheapwriter.com.

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