Do you have a digital library of your old photos? I am talking about your old photos, the ones that you had to have printed on photo paper, that you had to have developed at your local drugstore or newsagent? Well, I started a digital library a couple of months ago, to preserve all these good memories, photos of my childhood, mostly taken when we were on family vacation somewhere around the Mediterranean Sea.
When I was little we would travel to another country at least once a year. We went to Spain (a lot!), Morocco, Croatia, Turkey. I remember the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the dunes of Maspalomas, riding camels in Agadir, visiting the ruins of Ephesus. Lazy afternoons on a floaty somewhere off the Spanish coast. Hot nights without air-conditioning, no TV, and of course no internet.
Many things were different back then.
And it’s fun to think back and remember how we used to travel in the 80’s and 90’s. My parents may have been classic German tourists but they didn’t lack a sense of adventure.
I remember vividly this one afternoon when we were cursed with particularly wet school holidays when my parents told me to pack my bags as we were going to Spain that very night. And we did. We rocked up in Blanes late the next day after a day on the motorway, rented one of the last available apartments for a fortnight and thus escaped the cold German summer. We also managed to fly to Kusadasi without a hotel booking, not speaking a single word of Turkish. Yet, we ended up in a beautiful manor-house hotel in the centre of town and had a lovely traditional dinner with the host family.
I found this article on Traveller the other day about travelling before 2005, and I thought that this Gen Y writer ain’t seen nothing yet. You think finding a place to burn your CD with your travel pics is hardcore, old-school travelling?
Wait till you hear how we used to travel in the 1980’s.
Plane travel was an adventure
Remember the days when people put on special clothes for plane travel? And I don’t mean trainers and sneakers for extra comfort.
I mean proper suits and high-heels. Because, after all, you were travelling on a plane.
That was pretty special back then. Granted, you still see the odd person NOT travelling business class and still wearing some really fancy uncomfortable clothes and make-up, but do they also clap their hands when the plane touches down on the tarmac? Well, this is what we all used to do back in the day.
Landing at your destination in one piece did feel like a miracle. Pilots were treated like semi-gods that you needed to thank for their cleverness and their skill.
And kids were even allowed to visit the cockpit. Pretty cool, eh?
International phone calls
Here’s the thing: I was born 10 years after my brothers, so when I started collecting memories of our travels they slowly but surely phased out of our family life. Independent as they were at some stage, they chose to stay at home and not come to Spain with us anymore.
So now we had to make international phone calls to see if everyone back home was still alive and the place not trashed. Not that we trusted them or believed a single word they said, but still.
International calling cards didn’t even exist back then. You had the choice between using the payphone down the road (a big problem if you didn’t have a ton of coins on you), or you went to special shops that would offer you good deals that were payable with bank notes. You would be assigned your own private booth, and after the call you would pay what would show on the metre, quite similar to a petrol station, come to think of it.
Of course you would want to make sure that the other person on the line would be answering the phone at the time that you called, so arrangements would have to be made in advance to make sure that both parties were ready for the phone call. Imagine the worry of my parents if my brothers forgot the arrangement and were not able to pick up the phone!
Customs still existed in Europe
I grew up in Europe during the Cold War. There were proper national borders between countries back then. And car queues in the summer holidays along the motorways when everybody in the northern part of Europe was heading south. Boots were checked, passports inspected.
These days, once you are in the EU zone you don’t have to use your passport at all. Travel from Paris to Rome and you won’t be bothered at the airport.
Sadly, with the current refugee crisis things seem to go backwards in Europe, so passport-free travel within the EU may soon be a thing of the past, but it was fun while it lasted.
Comic books on the plane
I clearly remember a time when plane travel happened without any kind of electronic entertainment.
Not even communal screens to share among rows were present in planes, so you would have to find alternative ways to occupy yourself while flying. I was lucky as a kid to have a comic book store in my town where I could buy used comic books for small amounts of money.
So travelling would always happen with a big pile of new preloved Mickey Mouse and Superman books in my backpack. I would actually spend my time on the plane reading! Who can still say that about their kids these days?
Crossword puzzles were another favourite past-time, not just while on the plane but also on the beach or right before bedtime. These days I am actually quite skilled in solving crossword puzzles.
Smoking on the bus
Here’s a shocker: I remember a time when smoking was still allowed on planes and coaches.
In fact, my mother would insist on being seated in the smoking section of the bus or plane. I remember one time when we were seated so close to the non-smoking zone that my mother started a major argument with fellow non-smoking passengers who didn’t approve of her smoking at all. She was right of course, she was seated in the right zone and was allowed to smoke. But the smoke would waft through the cabin, disturbing other passengers, even in the non-smoking part of the bus.
And I was sitting next to my mother, deeply conflicted, as I was aware of the health risks and knowing that this elderly couple were completely right to protest against the smoke, yet of course I was also loyal to my mother.
Fortunately, smoking is no longer permitted when travelling, no even at most airports.
Red like a lobster
I don’t know what my parents were thinking but sunburn seems to have been one of these nuisances you simply had to endure on your way to perfectly tanned skin. As a German travelling to Spain for three weeks there was no excuse to return home pale and without at least a bit of colour.
Ideally, you needed to tan to a golden crisp, with sun bleached hair to match. And while we did possess a bottle of sun blocker, for some reason my parents always failed to reapply the cream after my lengthy swims in the ocean or in the hotel pool.
Come day 2 or 3 of our vacation and I would be red like a lobster.
My worst sunburn experience: trying to sleep in a particularly hot Canarian night with burns to my upper arms, upper thighs, breast, and shoulder. I couldn’t sleep with a sheet on my skin, and no matter how I turned I was in agony.
What I loved about sunburns, however, was how the skin would peel off afterwards. Always good fun rubbing the skin off when bored. I was a kid after all. The biggest disappointment was a sunburn right in your last week before returning home, as it meant that you would peel off all that tanned skin and come home paler than ever. So embarrassing!
Checking the news
Travelling in the olden days meant that you were blissfully unaware of world politics and all the bad things that were happening back home.
Your only reliable source for news were the free tourist paper that was handed out at the beach as well as the imported, over-prized and a day old newspaper at the local newsagent.
But then, it was summer, nothing much would happen anyway, and so we would go for days without knowing anything about what was going on around us.
The art of writing postcards
Do you still write postcards? I have given up long ago…
Too much of a hassle to buy the cards, to pick motifs that the recipients might like, to make up a text that was not too dull but also not too lengthy, to find the correct addresses which you would have to pre-organise before you leave for your destination, then to buy stamps and lastly to post the damn things, ideally before your own return home.
But then, don’t you just miss receiving postcards in the mail? Waiting anxiously for the delivery of the mail during the school holidays to see if a good soul had thought to send you a lovely card?
The blind hotel selection
How exciting were these long winter nights when my parents would come home with stacks of holiday brochures, filled with colourful photos of the most amazing hotels, blue hotel pools, palm trees and endless beaches!
We would spend hours with these brochures, making selections of hotels based on star rating and photos alone. Calculating the overall cost with a calculator. Finding the right travel dates. Hoping that the hotel of your choice would still be available by the time that you would make it back to the travel agent, and that in the end you would have picked the right hotel with the right level of service and the needed cleanliness and the perfect food offerings.
There was no way of knowing whether you made the right choice until you actually arrived. You couldn’t check online reviews. There were no maps to consult other than the sketchy ones in the brochure. You had to trust the travel company who would get you there, hoping that they would value their reputation as much as you valued your precious days off work.
Do you have a return-home-ritual? I used to have one as a child.
We used to have a magazine subscription, a magazine with the TV program (does this still exist, I am not so sure!). Returning home from a two, three, or even six week holiday it was a delicious exercise to browse through the magazines that were waiting for me at home. Did I miss any important movies or TV shows? What would there be on now? What else did happen while we were not in the country? Just wonderful!
Now it’s your turn – are you a child of the 80’s or 90’s? What do you remember of your travels that doesn’t exist like this anymore? Looking forward to your comments, the form is on the bottom of this post.