“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” ― Dr. Seuss
I would like to take you back in time; probably before some of you reading this were even born. But if you indulge me, I will tell you what set me off on this path of world exploration. I’m sure my reasons back then are probably not that different from your reasons today.
It’s 1985, keep that in mind. I have a job at the investment firm “Broadbank”, where I worked as a loan officer. I had a cubicle but by today’s standards it was an office. Plush ruby-red carpet, dark wood furniture, five-line intercom, and a lion pawed coat rack standing guard in the corner; right next to the entrance.
Along the right side, from floor to ceiling, was a bank of windows that looked out onto the historic Strand Arcade. The arcade acted as a pedestrian artery through which pedestrians could walk from Queen to Elliott Streets. It was lined on both sides by shops lending themselves to nostalgia; in appearance only.
My desk was a place for writing then organizing paperwork and forms. It was a place where clients would sign documents and I would double-check the amortization results of my calculator.
It was a place free of monitors, keyboards, mice, cell phones, speakers, and apps.
My desk was a large expanse of very little. A writing pad, a pen, a name plate; all the necessities required to make a signature and have it deciphered.
I would meet with clients all day long; approving or declining small loans, recommending to the “higher ups” the larger ones, or running down the credit worthiness of applicants.
I was in a rut; a rat race at the age of 22 and I wanted out.
My girlfriend worked for the same company. We were separated by three floors and a security door. Her world was vastly different from mine. I spent my day working one on one with clients, listening to their financial concerns and dreams; she worked with big business, frantically buying and selling currency on the foreign exchange market.
Out of the blue she called me around 10.00 am, all a tither. Today was not a good day and she let me know it; our conversation ended with a request. She asked me to seek out a travel agent, during my lunch break, and find out what I could about going overseas. She was fed up with corporate life and wanted out.
I could have told her what she wanted to know right then but the phone went dead.
Around noon I entered the doorway of STA Travel about 200 yards down the hill from where I worked. It was a quiet Wednesday; a summer’s day in New Zealand. Most people were thinking about a lunchtime stroll to the waterfront. Sandwiches, seagulls, some sun in your eyes, and a re-calibration of mid-week working blues.
The travel agent was chatty. He was as excited to pitch world destinations to me as I was to absorb them. As with all Kiwi’s about to embark on a world adventure the ultimate initial destination was London. The options to get there were plentiful.
Cross the Pacific Ocean and head through the US to the east coast then fly World Airways from the Big Apple to Heathrow; depart Auckland and head east towards Singapore then travel up through Asia; fly to Africa and journey north through the interior where you would, via bribes and baksheesh, cross the mighty Sahara and enter Europe by way of the Rock of Gibraltar, or, fly direct and land with a belly full of airplane food and a pair of legs in need of a stretch.
For years I had always known that I would travel; my mother had instilled that in me.
Without much thinking I booked a one-way ticket to Los Angeles, a scenic bus ticket from there to New York, and another one-way ticket on World Airways to London.
As soon as I got back to my desk I called the instigator of the days activities; planning to rush her back to the agent so we could sync up our plans. I got the words “I went to the travel agent…” out of my mouth and then she interrupted me with a “thank you but”.
But…what possible reason could she be using the word but.
It went like this. “I was so stressed this morning and I just wanted to get out of here. I spoke to my boss and things are much better now, I love my job”…WHAT!
I continued with my story and as I did, the excitement in me rose again. I was still going, of that I was certain. I told her I had booked my tickets and suggested she should either come with me or meet me in London.
Ultimately she would do neither but my life of travel was set in motion that day, by that phone call, so for that I thank her.
My office became a billboard of impending departure. I had line graphs and bar charts displaying real savings versus required, currency fluctuations, pictures of far-away places; my whole work area adopted a relaxed anticipatory attitude. Stress had been sucked out of my world and resided on the other side of the windows looking in from the Strand Arcade.
The build up to my departure was a full six months. Needless to say as the time neared I was ready to burst. Work had a big going away party for me and when one of the middle managers with a superiority complex told me “you will come crawling back in two months” the door was opened for me to get a lot off my chest. It felt good.
On April 12th 1986 I tearfully boarded my first solo flight. Leaving behind family and friends was bitter-sweet. I had no idea how long I would be away. All I knew was that I had no choice, the world out there was calling and I wanted to experience all I could.
It would be 6 years before I saw Mum again; I have trouble contemplating this today.