I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to travel. I was always ready to go anywhere. I spent most of my childhood wanting to escape the small suburb in San Diego where I grew up. I remember a few car trips when I was little, mostly in small travel trailers. I don’t think I stayed in a hotel until I was in high school.
The first major trip my family took was in a travel trailer from San Diego to Illinois when I was 10 years old. We had never gone anywhere but Southern California, so I was surprised to find that the world was a very different place. I had always imagined that the US was basically like it was in Lakeside, CA.
Traveling through Arizona and the painted desert, New Mexico and its Indian Trading posts, the huge state of Texas. Forgive me loyal Texans, but I thought that was the ugliest place I had ever seen, brown as far as the eye could see. For some reason the route my Dad took was east along the border and then north to Oklahoma where we saw more Indian Trading posts and Stuckey’s restaurants. I loved that place because of the hamburgers, fries and chocolate shakes. Surprisingly I was stick thin which didn’t catch up to me until my early 50s!
We went through Missouri and then to Southern Illinois where my English ancestors had settled and my father grew up. We got to see the house that his great-grandfather had built. William Gravett was his name and he and his brother Thomas moved there in 1852 with their girlfriends family, (yes they married sisters). William did many things after he arrived in Illinois, he learned to read and built a successful brick yard business. He became Justice of the Peace, which was his stamp on the envelope to his brother in England that connected me to my English cousins.
We then headed north to Kewanee, Illinois where my mother was raised, then back across the US hitting the states of Kansas and Colorado, which I thought was the prettiest place I had ever seen, up until that time!
When I was in junior high, my parents had friends that had access to a cabin in the mountains. That was such an adventure to me. It was an hours drive back into this hill country and very rustic. The cabin was built in the 1940s with a separate cook shack that was attached to a long, screened in dining hall. The main house was full of old furniture, oil lamps, and a big wood stove. There was no electricity and no running water. There was an actual outhouse, and you had to throw rocks at it before you entered to scare off any critters inside. There were sleeping halls on each side of the main rooms. I was enchanted and I loved it all, roughing it, hiking, exploring and cooking.
The cook house consisted of a giant wood stove with a flat grill under a roof, sort of like the kind you find in American diners. My mom and her friends cooked breakfast and dinner on it. My favorite was bacon and corn pancakes. Basically you took pancake batter and added a can of creamed corn, but cooked on that outdoor wood fired grill with maple syrup, it was the best thing I had ever had!
Let me tell you, sleeping in those screened porches was the coldest I’d ever gotten! But it was all fun and I loved it. I’m so glad I had the experience.
It was just before my 18th birthday before I ever got to fly anywhere. My sister Cathy and I flew into a small airport in Moline, Illinois to visit our cousin who then drove us back to San Diego. I can still remember the excitement of packing and making sure I was in just the right outfit. It had to be comfortable, yet stylish. I chose a pantsuit that I had made out of a new knit fabric that didn’t wrinkle, at the time it was amazing!
I still get those butterflies in my stomach when I’m going anywhere. I still carefully pick out an outfit that is comfortable. My first flight over to England I wore a denim jumper that didn’t have much structure because I feel if you’re comfortable you can get through anything. I just checked my journal and that first trip took us 15 1/2 hours from the time we left San Diego, stopped over in San Francisco and landed at Heathrow.
Packing for that trip was a big lesson learned. I used a suitcase on rollers that I could have seriously fit into, it was huge. I was so worried that I wouldn’t have something that I needed. I took at least 4 pairs of shoes and so many clothes for any occasion, I didn’t use them all. Here I was, tramping around England having to pull this albatross everywhere we went, and that’s not all. I also had a backpack, a purse and a tote bag! I now take the bare minimum, one medium rolling suitcase and a tote bag or backpack.
My mother in-law and her friends used to go every couple of years and one of her friends told me she would buy all of her clothes at thrift stores and then as she wore them she would throw them away to make room in her case for things that she had bought over there. I always thought that was a good idea.