Even though I spent my childhood floating back and forth across the U.S., it never really felt like travel. When I became an adult my travel consisted of moving between San Francisco and Tucson, with the occasional weekend trip to the woods or beach. Occasionally I would take a flight to Denver to see old friends, but never places. I never travelled to cities (except for one business trip to Missoula, and a job interview in Chicago), and I rarely traveled for pleasure. It was more that I was smart enough to take advantage of the times when I had a need to travel, and fill it with little bits of exploration. My most luxurious trips included a night of camping in Yosemite, and a road trip up to Oregon. Then I started branching out. I moved to Guam for work, and I thought about traveling in Asia. I went to Tokyo for a week with my friend, and although we stayed on the floor of another friend’s apartment, and kept to mostly unpaid attractions, it was the most extravagant trip of my life.
When I joined the Peace Corps and moved to Bulgaria everything I knew about travel changed. Because I was used to living a basic lifestyle I was able to save up money from my living stipend and fund a few weekend trips. Although I didn’t have the time or money to see much of Europe, I began what I like to call, “Marathon Tourism.” Because I had no idea how to go to a city just to be there, I found marathons to run, giving my trip a sense of purpose. Through marathon tourism I was able to see Athens, Rome (with a side-jaunt to Venice and Skopje), and Paris/Cheverny. However, I find myself watching travel shows on the history and science channels (now that we have a television) and I realize that I have never, and will probably never travel the way most other people do.
When I travel I am always concerned about money. I find the cheapest hostels to stay at, and I research how to eat cheaply. I avoid taxis and walk as much as possible. I budget to splurge on one meal in a decent restaurant, and perhaps buy a small souvenir for under 10e. Yes, I can afford to buy the plane tickets to get to places on occasion, but I cannot afford to view them as a tourist. I cannot jet from one site to another, pay admission fees, rent beautiful apartments, and eat where ever I happen to be passing by. I somehow doubt that will EVER be in my budget, and perhaps that is why I have never had much fun exploring cities. Everything costs, and I have been trained to feel each slight cost. I can’t afford to get drunk and blow 200e on a single evening, monetarily or emotionally.
This makes me consider the way that travel has opened up to a lower class of earners. People who cannot afford to be tourists are traveling. It is almost like travel has become a right instead of a privilege. Everyone needs to make it off the continent. Everyone needs to have an adventure. Websites like couchsurfing and workaway make this even more possible, but they tend to either connect people who have a lot of money and want to meet new people, or people who have no money and want to be part of the traveling scene. I find that I am neither of those. I long to be able to travel how they travel on the television shows- renting cars, going on cruises, not having to ask three times how much something is before making a purchase… part of me can’t help but imagine what it must be like to be able to book a weekend in Paris and go out to any bar or restaurant, walk into any museum, and not have to sacrifice another part of your trip to do so. I have traveled, but I feel like I have still not breached that upper-middle class experience of being able to travel in style.
Of course, I would not trade my marathon weekends for anything.