Before Personal Travels

"It was a bold man who ate the first oyster" - Jonathan Swift

Gulliver breaks free

When I left my full-time job at booking-dot-com to start a project of my own, it did feel a bit like being the first person to ever try oyster. I still don't know if it's really my thing, but I will never forget that flavor. The idea is to make the world of travel easier and smoother, more democratic even, by bringing together those who travel and those who host travelers for a living.

On this blog we will discuss traveling under different perspectives and points of view. What do people who travel experience and feel during their trips? What do hoteliers or other hosts have to say about it? The aim is to try and define best practices and useful tips to enjoy at best on of the great gifts of humanity, however it involves you.

Before I further introduce the features of the blog, let me tell you more about myself and how I defined my own way of traveling. Being born in Italy in 1976, I'm old enough to remember what it was like when households did not have any form of personal computer. But thanks to my father the first such machine to enter our home was a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, and that was early in 1983.

Around 10 years later it was time for dad's first ever-so-bulky mobile phone. In those same years I was already becoming a frequent flier, mainly to visit my mother's side of the family in the 'Ole Country, every given summer. Back then the No-Smoking sign would go off while airborne and you could happily light up on your regular Aer Lingus or Alitalia flights.

Of course traveling is always the same, magic experience that expands the lives of millions of people today as it was at the time. Only we had to deal with a totally different way to organize, enjoy, and remember our trips. Let me just hint at what I mean by crucial differences by recalling some aspects of the one trip that forever defined my way of traveling: the InterRail trip of summer 1998 with the girl who was to become my lifetime companion.

Photos:

At the time not every hand-held device had an incorporated 12 megapixel digital lens. There was no such thing as a digital camera, at least not at consumer level. People had compact cameras that required actual film to deliver photos, like Serena's Pentax camera we had with us.

souvenir shop in Granada

You brought tons of film with you from home, bought from trusted shops where you hoped they wouldn't give you expired stuff. When you ran out of it, it was time to retort to souvenir shops like this one in Granada, where you could buy your Kodak Gold films and pay for them like they were actually made of the precious metal. During the trip, you shot blindly at your subjects, hoping to have pressed the button at the right moment. The adrenaline kick when you came back home and sent the film to develop hoping to have at least a few good photos in the batch is something still unsurpassed. As is the disappointment of finding out that you had completely burnt the film by accidentally exposing it to light, and would have to do with no visual memories for that particular vacation.

Calling home

As I said, mobile phones weren't exactly portable back then, nor were they very affordable. Needless to say, we didn't have one with us while travelling through Italy, France, Spain and Portugal. When you had a chance you called the old folks from a public phone booth and reassure them that all was well, like I was doing from this cabin in Barcelona's famous Barceloneta.

calling home from a phone box in Barceloneta

Another option was to inform your relatives of the phone number of the place you were staying, but this meant that your mother-in-law would have had to find out how to overcome the language barriers of the case and get the clerk of a dusty old posada to get her daughter on the phone ASAP.  She didn't really use that word.

Accommodation:

Booking a stay somewhere before you actually got there was almost impossible during youth travels. Business and leisure travelers succeeded by calling days in advance, and providing a credit card number or a bank instalment as a guarantee. But generally the rule was: Reach a destination, find a place to stay.

sleeping out in Faro train station

A trail of youngsters following a hotel owner to an available alternative nearby was a typical sight in many European cities. Sometimes though the task was unsuccessful. You could spend most of the day wandering from one to another place on your list, only to find them fully booked or unavailable.

That's when you retorted to literally anything, like the night we spent on the hard stone floor outside a godforsaken train station in Portugal with a bunch of German youths.

Friends:

Those guys were the funniest bunch of kraut aficionados I've ever met, and together we spent a couple of fantastic days. My memories of the time spent with them include a sick joke on Lady D, and the weirdest ever train journey. Between the stops I had to pick out the thorns of juicy cactuses from the unexperienced hands of those who had obviously never seen what the Italians call Indian figs.

dinner in Portugal (why pizza?)

Needless to say we did not have social media back then. If you wanted to keep in touch you had to commit to becoming pen pals. Provided you never lost the addresses scribbled on random sheets of paper or at the back of your phone book.

I always lost them. That's why none of these beautiful people are my facebook friends today. I wish they could recognize themselves in the photo and contact me, to share more memories of that fantastic summer traveling around Europe.