My first overseas trip was what some would call a doozy. While I hate to give away quite so much on my age, the context is sort of important, so in that spirit, I will say the trip was to the Soviet Union — Moscow and Volgograd to be exact. I know those are Russian cities but I was there in May and the Soviet Union didn’t crumble fully until later that summer. At that time, the union was disbanded and republics like Russia, Ukraine, Estonia, began working independently. Guess I got the jump on them!
Friends & family find it amazing that I will hop on a plane destined for the other side of the planet. Only on rare occasions have I done this flying with someone! I travel fairly independently but have great friends and contacts all along the way!
I had hoped to participate in a college exchange program a year or two earlier but my family didn’t have much extra cash around — four kids and at the time two or three of us were in college. So when I went to grad school, I did so with an eye on getting a big trip arranged. What could be bigger in studying journalism than to study what was happening in the USSR with policies designed to open it up?
Without a group going, I quickly decided I needed contacts. The fact that I had been impressed by the policies Gorbachev put into place, led me to write a letter while in college. It was given to a cultural exchange group and a member wrote me as a reply. Over the next two years, Sergey traded lots of info on how we each saw the world. This friendship and my interest in Russia and getting in touch with a journalist who had been to Memphis State made it oddly easy to connect up with some folks.
In Moscow, I chose an organized tour of the Kremlin (like anything there wasn’t totally organized & controlled at the time). On the tour, I met some Americans who insisted I join them for lunch. At the hotel, there was another girl traveling on her own. We ended up walking around Arbat Street together. Granted, I’m careful about what I do as far as traveling with folks I’ve just met — like a walkabout well lit neighborhoods is okay, hopping in someone’s car isn’t — but there are lots of other great folks traveling out there too.
With social media, it’s easier than ever to make those connections. I have set my FB status to find out if friends are interested in travel & where, to poll them for ideas, and to ask them who they know in various places. It’s amazing to find someone who can tell you the exact pizzeria and menu item to try while in Rome. And it’s amazing how you can stumble on good travel buddies.
I need a short diversion and a family recollection…. My willingness to go to Moscow on my own was a source of great pride to my grandmom. She lived in a time where doing such a thing was unheard of and yet she took the time to tell everyone at her bank what her red-headed granddaughter was up to. That independent streak was something she knew all too well. Even though I never saw her with red hair (even photos were black & white from then), we had that sense of ourselves and what we wanted to do in common. She may not have been to Moscow, but she had lots of independence!