First-Time Travel Off The Map

First-Time Travel Abroad
When I was 14 years old, my parents agreed to let me go on a school trip abroad.

My classmates and I would be walking for two weeks in the Odenwald – a wooded and hilly area in southern Germany – ending our trip in the city of Heidelberg.

I must have been the most unfit boy on the trip because I always seemed to be watching the others trooping ahead of me in the forest.

But I had the travel bug and I went abroad the next year with a teacher from the school and a boy who had just left school.

We went to Germany and Switzerland and I can remember almost nothing about the trip except the lake where we camped. That and the teenage girl who invited me to go for a canoe ride to the little island in the middle of the lake.

Ready To Go Again
When the next summer holiday came around I was ready to go abroad again. Only this time it would be different. I would go with just one friend. This time it was for real – our own adventure.

We caught the ferry from Dover to Boulogne and set off walking. We had a detailed map of a fairly small region of northern France – probably about 100 miles square – and we intended to hitch-hike from place to place and explore this corner of France. That was a the plan.

We walked for two hours in the baking sun and were slowly readjusting our ideas of what was likely to happen over the next few weeks.

Now we envisaged a lot of standing and waiting.

Chance Steps In
Then a car pulled up. The driver was Scottish and on his way home. Home was in Switzerland. How far were we going?

He told us he had stopped to pick us up because we were wearing boots, so he thought we had a good attitude and wanted to help. I have a lot to thank those boots for.

We watched the French countryside drift by, and slowly we understood that we could have all of Europe. We could enjoy just what we wanted. The only thing that would hold us back would be ourselves.

So we rode with him through the afternoon and through the night, arriving next morning high above Geneva where we sat in what seemed to me to be the most romantic cafe in the world – overlooking the town and the lake.

We drank coffee from bowls and ate crusty bread baguettes. Then we drove down into Geneva and watched the fountain come on – at 9 a.m., if I recall correctly.

Our journey that summer took us through Switzerland and Austria, down the length of Italy, and back up through France.

We got lessons in hitchhiking etiquette in Austria and got sunburned like lobsters in Genoa. We changed the course of our holiday and for me it changed the course of my life.

Romance Of The Road
My wife Tamara and I share a love of travel. When we drive somewhere new and have been on the road for a couple of hours, we get a hint of the adventures we have had and hope to have.

That’s why the signal that Tamara uses, even for stopping for a coffee, is “Romance of the road?


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  1. What a great story of flexibility and going with the moment. 99% of travellers wouldn’t have changed their plans so willingly and got the experience that you had.

  2. David,
    A nice story and a fine example of going with the flow…a lesson that the road teaches us sometimes whether we want to learn it or not.

    • David Bennett

      Thanks Jason,

      Yes, I think that’s right. I think the lesson I learned was about things working out.

      I associate it with travelling and the hum of the road. Is that the escapist in me or the escaper? 🙂

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