Episode 2: That Time I Left For America At 18

365 Dates of Travel Podcast

365 Dates of Travel Podcast Transcript: 

So last week was the introduction, the beginning. So this week I’m going to talk about the first chapter of the book, which is November, and a few behind the scenes and the editing and the writing and just more information, background information, or a companion guide, if you like, to the chapter. 

In this chapter I visit, obviously starting in America, 1992. And then I also talk about Lebanon, where I went in 2019, and also Syria and Jordan, which was in 2010. So there’s lots of contrast there in both years and countries.

But starting in America, where this whole thing started, where everything started, my so called diary unfortunately stopped after a few days of being in Denver. Oh, and the Denver. Seriously, how hard is it to understand? Denva, Denva, Denva. Wendy and her flatmate, who also happened to be called Wendy, when I was in Denver for the first few days, literally teased me mercilessly about how I said Denva, Denva, Denva. I was like, “I do not say Denva.” Then basically they were insisting I say Denverr. And then it became this whole thing where it was like, Denverrrr, which is like so ridiculous. But literally they thought it was the funniest thing ever, how I said their hometown. 

But anyway, with the diary ending, all I had was the ticket stubs and the receipts that were in the scrapbook. I mean, obviously that scrapbook is the most intense scrapbook you have ever seen in your whole life. And I did keep everything. It really was all I had to try and piece together what I did from one day to the next. 

I’ve spent quite a lot of time on this particular trip since writing the book, figuring out the finer details and extra bits and pieces that I didn’t really know at the time or remembered at the time when I was doing the original writing. I’m actually going to write this particular trip because it was just so wonderful and my favorite ever up as a complete trip in its own book coming out sort of down the track because it’s hilarious. I’m an idiot, I don’t care if you laugh at me, and it’s just so much has changed in travel and obviously I’ve changed. I’m a little bit better with money these days, but I think it’s quite an interesting trip and I think a lot of people actually enjoy the stories from that trip. So I think it’s probably worth putting having its own book in its own right. So watch for that down the track. 

But I really wish I had written more down at the time. Like, I’d love to have more descriptions in my own words, but too late now. Writing this book has definitely taught me a lot about memory and the importance of keeping a journal or some description of some description when traveling because, you know, oh boy, oh boy, do I wish I had a mobile phone with built in camera and memory on this trip. Imagine what I would have and what I would know and what I would remember. Now that would have been the absolute ultimate. 

But who knew in 1992 that we would have anything like what we have now in our mobile phones, good old cameras where you had to buy film, which obviously I bought in duty free before I went, and I’m kind of assuming that, what was it, $19.94 0r $24.95 roll of film. That has to have been a pack of a few rolls of film. I’m assuming there’s not any detail in the receipt show anything but that’s. Otherwise a very expensive roll of film. So it must have been a pack of hopefully five or six or something along those lines. But yeah, I just wish I had a thousand more photos, a thousand more details, and just so much more information. But you know, never mind. 

So in November, I start the train pass that I bought before I left and it was 42 days. And I had very, very strict instructions that regardless of the fact that I had bought a 42 day pass, every single pass, regardless, was just going to be shortened up to a 30 day pass. So I’m not sure why the reasoning of that was why they didn’t want to have the option of a 42 day pass, why didn’t they just charge extra for the 42 pass compared to a 30 day pass? But by the first of December, if I hadn’t have started my pass for no compensation, I was going to only be able to use the pass for 30 days. So I had to have started that pass by November. Sorry, started by December, which of course I well and truly did. 

So after my time in Denver, that’s when I started the pass. I left, Wendy waved me off at the train station after a long catch up, and I headed out. 

In the November chapter, I talk about when I went to Pittsburgh, when I was in New York, and also Orlando. Orlando was just so many exciting things. It was my first time going to any Disney, so that was just amazing. And the fact that I just randomly happened to pick the quietest time of the year. Now I understand this is not the case anymore, but at the time it really was the lowest rates of visitors for the whole year. It just happened to be that two week period that I randomly ended up there and randomly ended up with the space shuttle launch. Like, it was just incredible, like the timing I had. So I was definitely very lucky a lot of times on this trip, which is one of the reasons why it is one of my favorite, but it was completely unplanned and all just what happened at the time. 

In contrast to that, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan were all group tours, which means everything was pretty much taken care of for me. Now, Syria and Jordan in 2010, that was a single group tour together, but that was only my second ever group tour. I was very, very anti group tours for most of my life, and it was only when I started traveling again in 2010, after a bit of a break, that because I’d chosen to go to Libya, I had no choice but to go on a group tour. So that’s how I started with group tours, because it was an official legal government requirement that you had to be sort of on a group tour, which ended up being, I guess I was a bit spoilt after doing everything by myself. So I definitely did, or have done a lot more group tours since then. But Syria and Jordan was only the second ever group tour that I had ever done, and it was a really Syria, it was a very hard trip to write about because again, I had no diary. 

In contrast with the American trip, at least I have very detailed notes about money, so how much I started with and how much I spent. So on the 14 November, which was the day I arrived in Damascus, I know I spent 250 pounds, so 250 Syrian pounds on food; pjs, apparently 150. I’m not sure why I needed to buy pyjamas, and I have no recollection on what those pyjamas might have looked like. I guess it’s possible I forgot to pack them, but who knows what I actually wore as pyjamas. But I bought some new ones. And I paid 60 for a taxi. And the potato stick, which is one of the photos I think I probably put up online, that was 100. And I’ve bought some water and looks like I’ve put some coins away to my coin collection, and that’s what I spent on my first day in Damascus. 

To start with on this trip, I had just over $1,100, a measly little $58 Australian. I’d pre-bought some Jordanian money in 15 dinar, and I had English pounds for some reason.150 worth of those. And somewhere with all of that, or maybe on top of that, I’m not 100% sure, but $300 became 13,500 Syrian pounds. So that was my starting point, obviously, being a tour, accommodation, transport, and some entrances and things would have all been included. So it was literally just food, incidentals, souvenirs and stuff like that. 

So on the 15th of November, so that was the first day of the actual tour, I spent 150 Syrian pounds on lunch, 400 on dinner, 75 on water, and for some reason I’ve written taxi to airport. Now I’m not sure why I needed to pay a taxi to the airport, because we didn’t have any internal flights in Syria, so a bit confused about that. And I paid good old 25 Syrian pounds to go to the toilet. So even though I’ve got great detail about how much I spent, none of that really jogs any memories. I always thought that at least I write down what I spent. I’ll remember things and I don’t remember the pyjamas and I don’t remember taxis to airports when I’d already arrived the day before and spent 60, 60 pounds on that. So 1500 seems to be an awful lot. So no recollection whatsoever what that might have been for. 

It was on this trip where I started writing an exchange rate. So I’d write one dollars, 2-3-4-5 and how much each of that was worth in the local currency. And often I’d do it both ways. So I’d also have so I started it in Jordan, I didn’t do it in Syria, but I have just written $1 equals 45 Syrian, so that’s what I’ve got. But by the time I got to Jordan, I’d started writing. So I’ve got one dinar, two dinar, three dinar, four dinar, and how much that actually translated into Australian dollars. So it’s quite useful to know down the track when exchange rates obviously change over the years. So very much great detail on the finances and nothing else. 

I did have very fond and what I thought were quite strong memories of Damascus itself. Like in my head I could actually picture the start of the walking all the way through to the souq and down through multiple levels of history, through this backstreets and just amazing walk.

But when I was writing and trying to jog my memory, the photos obviously weren’t necessarily enough. The money didn’t really jog anything. I actually found a video on the internet that walked the exact walk I thought I remembered very well in Damascus. And while it looks the same, I had the order wrong. So I was a little bit confused on what came first, what came second, what came third. So it was really, actually nice to watch this video. It brought back so many memories and obviously I corrected the bad memories. But I do have very fond memories of Damascus and a lot of Syria and a lot of Jordan. 

And particularly in Syria, it is really hard to have seen the devastation that’s come because of the war. Since I was in there being 2010, I literally just made it. The war sort of started a few months later, so I had perfect timing to see it before everything ruined. But it’s just so hard to know that these beautiful places that you’ve seen and loved are actually now in ruins. 

And it’s funny that I actually in this chapter, talk about my trip to Lebanon as well because originally when I went to Syria and Jordan, I really wanted to include Lebanon and the tour company I went with had the three tours. So one for Syria, one for Jordan and one for Lebanon could be joined to make one longer trip. And that would have been just amazing to do it, but the leave from work that I had for the Syria and Jordan trip was prearranged leave in my graduate year as a nurse. So I had no say in when I had my annual leave and unfortunately there wasn’t enough I couldn’t extend my leave and there wasn’t enough time to do all the three tours. I had to sort of cut it back to Syria and Jordan, which I’m grateful for now because I made it to Syria in time rather than leaving out Syria. And luckily I did make it to Lebanon in time nine years later, but it was in time before unfortunately it had some bad luck after I left as well. 

It was a little bit of a trend there for a while. So after I left Libya, Gaddafi was still in charge when I was in Libya, a few months later, everything fell apart there and Gaddafi was found and removed. After Syria and Jordan, and a few months later there was the war started and in Lebanon, so even nine years later, unfortunately, it had the explosion down at the wharf and the financial crisis and the riots were happening when I was there, but it just seemed to just fall apart in one thing after another. And again, it was not that long after I left. So I started to get this little bit of a particularly back in like 2010, 2011, a bit of a complex that countries fell apart after I visited and it was like, do I go visiting places? Because otherwise everything might fall apart and if I don’t go, maybe things won’t fall apart. Obviously I have no control over world events, but it was this pattern for a little while and I did feel a little bit guilty, but also I felt very lucky that I timed everything just right. 

And of course, without Lebanon, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you today because I wouldn’t have written a book and I wouldn’t have written a podcast about the book. So Lebanon definitely has a place in my heart and it was the second last trip before COVID so it was the penultimate last hurrah, so to speak, before COVID got in the way of all my travel plans. And it was really a last minute trip too. So I was again very lucky that I just happened to book that trip on those particular dates. And again, it was related to work and when I could get leave. And it worked in my favor and may have completely changed my life for the rest of my life. So I’m very grateful as well that I went to Lebanon when I did and met the people that I did and ended up with the experience that I had, which brought me to where I am today. 

So you never know where travel is going to lead you. And that’s one of the things I love about it. It’s unpredictable. Anything’s possible and it could literally change your life. 

So, like in last week’s episode, I definitely went on a few tangents as I was talking and told you all sorts of things that I didn’t know I was going to tell you, but never mind. Such is life. I hope it’s made you smile. Definitely makes me smile thinking about all these things. And I would love to know that you’re laughing at me. Don’t feel bad about laughing at me. That’s why I’m here, to entertain, to make you smile. If I made you smile, then that will make me happy. And then we’ve got two happy people. So there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Have a good laugh, have a good chuckle. And I hope that means then you’ll come back and listen to me again another day. 

I do have one last story I need to tell you when talking about November, and I seriously hope this makes you laugh. It still makes me laugh thinking about it now. So when editing, like the big edit before I was looking at getting published, there were all sorts of things that I looked up in depth along the way. But one of the funniest things that I had to look up in this early stage, so when I was writing the or editing the November sections of the book, I talk about buying T-shirts in Los Angeles on the day of arrival. And I was never quite sure whether it was supposed to be a lowercase t, or an uppercase T. So I searched T-shirt with a capital T versus T shirt with a lowercase t, and that was when I discovered why it is called a T-shirt. 

I had always wondered, did you know this? I had absolutely no idea. This was how it got its name, by being the shape of a capital T, hence needing capitalisation. That blew my mind. If it was not capitalised, that would mean the sleeves would be coming out from underneath your armpits. Hilarious. I’d always wondered why it was called a T-shirt and who knew that writing a book, mentioning a T-shirt and going through the editing process was the way I was actually going to find out how and why it was called a T-shirt with always a capital T? Or was I the only one who didn’t know this? 

I’ll leave the episode there for this week. I think I’ve told you enough stories for one week. 

So what was your all time favorite trip? Tell me something about it. 

And what have you discovered later in life that has made you laugh at yourself? I’d love to hear those stories. 

And as always, thanks for listening and 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.

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