In high school, I was in a special program and one of the classes was an economics class. I was an absolutely dreadful econ student, but the teacher, Mr. Zinn, was really cool. So cool, in fact, that as an alternative to all the Europe trips students could take “where you just go visit a bunch of churches” (not that there’s anything wrong with that), he was putting together a trip to Australia and New Zealand, as he had done before. Originally, we were supposed to go in 2000, but no one would be quite ready to go in that timeframe, and plus there was the whole Sydney Olympics thing happening around the time we planned to go. So we decided the trip would take place in July 2001. Two students from a previous trip decided to go; and of course, my parents decided they needed to chaperone and my uncle and a friend of the family ended up joining as well. Due to alphabetical order of last names, I was fortunately seated next to the cute guy on our trip (bonus: he had a bag of fun size Twix bars for the flight).
On July 11, 2001, we left for our trip. Just getting to Australia was a little more challenging than we’d anticipated; we stopped in Fiji for fuel and spent an hour circling Sydney. After an hour, our pilot gave up and flew us to Melbourne, a city we weren’t even scheduled to visit. No one had gotten enough sleep to be useful and yet we set out to explore the city where we’d gotten a bonus night. I was so tired, I announced my intention to go to bed, at which point my parents insisted that that was silly and I needed to go out. I think the thing I remember most about that evening is nearly nodding off numerous times while sitting down to watch the cheesy tourist-bait movie they showed in the tower, but I’m still glad my parents had the sense to get me out of the hotel.
We spent a couple of days in Cairns, which is in a rainforest and serves as a sort of gateway to the unparalleled beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, before heading to Sydney. I remember snippets of our time there: The bus tour around the city to see Olympic sites, Bondi, Manly, going to the fancy jewelry store to learn about opals and buy the best ones in town, freezing as the wind blew off the water as we waited for our Opera House tour to begin, our cheeky tour guide Megan, going to the Blue Mountains despite feeling awful, going to Planet Hollywood for dinner with most of the rest of my classmates, everyone buying Australian-made cowboy hats (yeah, I have no idea why that happened). But needless to say, the city had a hold on me. Afterward, I would tell anyone who would listen that I wanted to live there one day–if only it weren’t so far away…
We spent time in Auckland and Rotorua, New Zealand, where we did home stays for a night, took boats through glow worm caves and saw locals perform a haka. Yes, the country is exactly as green and hilly and gorgeous as all the movies show it to be. (Go see Taika Waititi’s fun and wonderful Hunt for the Wilderpeople in theaters now–there are some knockout shots.)
So how did this trip change my life? It showed me what travel can do to you–make you obsessed with places you’ve been, where you see things both natural and man-made that you could never have imagined and you can engage with a different way of life. And yes, I still miss Sydney (Hobart too) and want to go back even though there are so, so many places I haven’t been yet, entire continents that I haven’t even touched. It’ll happen, one day.
How has travel changed your life? How do you want it to?