I like to envision myself on the world map when I travel.
Here I am, at the northern tip of Iceland. Along the southeastern tip of James Bay. Sitting on the edge of Canada in Tofino….
The first time I did this was accidental. The first time I took a plane and went overseas, I took off solo. With a bookbag full of not-quite-the-right-gear, some borrowed money, a Rick Steves guidebook, and one night booked in a hostel in Greenwich.
After flight delays and cancellations, and a funnel cloud at the Philadelphia airport, I arrived at Gatwick 36 hours after leaving Montreal, in June 2006. I didn’t realize, when booking my ticket, that Gatwick wasn’t in London. It definitely wasn’t Heathrow. In the pre-wifi, pre-smart phone era there was no quick way to Google some directions to my Greenwich hostel, or hail an Uber. So, I jumped on a train and hoped it was the right one. I couldn’t figure out how to pay, in my jetlag/sleeplessness, so I didn’t.
I eventually spotted Tower Bridge and realized I was, at the very least, in London, and got off to ask someone how to get to Greenwich. The hostel was, luckily, basically in the train station, so I found my way.
I had read somewhere, in the early days of travel blogging, that one should fight off fatigue and stay awake until its local bedtime. So, I decided to drop my bags and keep going for 12 hours until night. I headed to the park and proceeded to pass out and sleep under a tree for at least 3 hours….
I woke up and wandered into the Observatory. Back then, snagging a picture of my foot on the Prime Meridian was pretty high on my bucket list (was the term bucket list even a thing in 2006?) There was a world map with Greenwich lit up. You could press a button for different cities, and it would also light up. I made the mistake of playing, pressing the Montreal button.
And then, it hit me. I was far. I was alone. I didn’t really have plans, an itinerary, contacts until I would get to Germany later that month.
It made me dizzy, and I had to go outside and sit down. (Yes, I went back later to get the food on the Prime Meridian picture, don’t worry). It was feeling somewhat like fear, somewhat like disorientation, but not really either.
I’ve been seeking that feeling ever since. I thought, maybe I’ll feel it in the far north, or Iceland, but no. Now, I want to feel it. I chase it, but I guess it’s a first-time-only kind of deal.
Incidentally, the cure for my Greenwich experience was a Java Chip Frappucino from Starbucks, my beverage of choice at the time. (Now, 7 years into a teaching career, my caffeine of choice is dark, strong, and intraveneous). I followed the flow of people with mermaid cups in reverse, found a Starbucks. Used some precious overvalued pounds, bought my frapp, and headed to a bookstore where I found a guidebook on my home town.