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Remembering Your “First”

Y’know how sometimes, no matter how good your most recent experience is, you find yourself reminiscing about your first? The one that opened your eyes to a world you didn’t know existed before?

Oh, stop. I’m talking about the first destination you traveled to, people.

I talk about Italy all the time, on this blog, on BootsnAll’s Italy travel guide, on Twitter, to my friends and family… And when I’m given a chance to get out of town, my destination of choice remains Italy (until I can call Italy home, I think that’ll be the case). But the destinations that opened my eyes to travel – the places that were the first stamps in my passport – were Australia and New Zealand.

It was a 4-week college choir tour that got me on a plane headed across the Pacific, and I spent two weeks in each place. Because it was an organized tour, everything was all planned out for me. This turned out to be a very good idea for my first trip, because frankly it hadn’t even occurred to me to buy a New Zealand or Australia travel guide before I got on the plane (oh, how far I’ve come as a traveler since then…). And consulting something like a hostel blog for information about budget beds wasn’t even an option back then.

This, my friends, was in those cold, dark days before the interwebs. Spooky, I know.

In New Zealand, we got to explore some interesting places outside the main cities – including a homestay with residents on the South Island, where the family I stayed with kept a huge herd of domesticated deer (my roommate and I clapped and giggled like kids, when it probably looked like we being giddy over their equivalent of cows) and took us on a jetboat ride on the river.

Two weeks in Australia, however, doesn’t allow for as much exploration of the country as two weeks in New Zealand – it’s such an enormous place, and so much of it is challenging to get around in. So for the same amount of time that we’d spent in New Zealand, we only got to see Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane in Australia.

I hadn’t even heard of Uluru until I got there (remember, seriously novice traveler here), but knowing we wouldn’t get anywhere near that big, red rock only compounded the disappointment I’d felt when I heard we wouldn’t be able to see the beautiful, blue mountains I’d seen in “The Man from Snowy River.” (It was one of my favorite movies, aided in no small measure by hearing my name spoken with an Australian accent over and over again.)

So what’s funny when I look back and remember my first travel destinations is that, although I have fonder memories of New Zealand, it’s often Australia that pulls me more to return. I want to get to know the cities I barely understood when I was there, but more than that I want to see what’s outside the cities. I want to spend a couple days staring at Uluru and taking a thousand pictures of it in every possible light. I want to get down to Tasmania and check out the forests the Tasmanian guy I met in Canada dreamily told me about. I want to look at the Great Barrier Reef before the climate changes so much that it’s not there anymore. And yes, I want very much to see with my own eyes the scenery that served as such a stunning background for that movie I still love.

On the one hand, it might be smart of me to look into a trip back to Australia before I leave Oregon, when I’m still living on the west coast and not yet living in the middle of Europe. On the other hand, it almost looks equidistant on the map, so I’m not even sure the flight time would be that much worse. I have no idea if there are more cheap tickets to Australia from the U.S. or from Europe, and I’m not even sure I want to know that yet… If I can’t take advantage of any spectacular deals I’d find at the moment, it’s almost more painful to know than to not know.

For the time being, then, I’ll probably keep my eyes on Italy, and then once I finally get there I’ll begin pining for far-off places again. Maybe a return to Australia is in my future, who knows?