With a lot of blank spaces on my January calendar, I figure it’s time to get back into a writing project I started in the Fall. First-draft got as far as March of 1979, as we’re about to travel to northern India after spending three months in the state of Kerala. Before continuing, I wrote a little prologue today and so I share it here as an article of faith that those interested might someday read the whole book. Publishers, take note— I’m open to all offers!
In August of 1978, my soon-to-be wife Karen and I left our teaching jobs in San Francisco to take a year off and travel around the world. With $6,000 in our pocket, off we went—from San Francisco to Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey and Maine, from England to Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Greece, from India to Nepal, Thailand and Singapore, from Java, Indonesia to Bali and Japan. We returned to San Francisco on my 28thbirthday, resumed our jobs at our school, found an apartment, got married and pregnant and began the next phase of our life. That trip echoed on into our future in many significant ways. We named our first daughter Kerala (from the southern state in India where we settled for three months), incorporated much of the visual and musical arts we learned into our teaching and helped create a school ritual life that included Balinese flags and gongs, Indian drums and cymbals.
The world in 1978, though a mere four decades ago from this writing, was a markedly different place. San Francisco’s City Council passed the most comprehensive Gay Rights Bill in the United States, California voters passed Proposition 13, the property tax initiative that killed funding to schools, libraries and other vital services, China lifted its ban on the works of Aristotle, Shakespeare and Charles Dickens and Starbucks was a single store in Seattle. Computers were enormous military machines, the Internet did not exist, long distance phone calls were expensive and most luggage still didn’t have wheels. To journey away from home was a different beast altogether from what it later became.
Now in 2022, it’s tempting to look back nostalgically at that lost time when travel was more adventurous, more challenging, more difficult — and thus, more memorable. When English was not that widespread, all signs were in different languages and sometimes, different scripts, all communication with folks back home was on thin blue aerograms sent from post offices and received at American Express offices. Finding a hotel often meant wandering the streets, with or without the help of locals offering their service hoping for a “finder’s fee,” train tickets were bought at the station and travelers checks were your portable bank. Each day was often a plunge into the unknown, calling on all our resources and counting on the kindness of strangers.
Today, travel is easier and more comfortable. Flight, train, bus tickets or rental cars purchased at Orbitz.com. Hotel reservations also, with photos of the rooms. English spoken more everywhere and Google translator at your fingertips where it isn’t. Loved ones back home a text, Facetime or Zoom click away. No need to give up your Starbucks coffee or fast food addictions. No waiting days, weeks or months to see how your photos turned out. Banking on your phone or with a credit card— goodbye, traveler’s checks.
In spite of the ease and comfort, travel today can still hold surprises and memorable moments. But I am grateful beyond measure to have taken this trip around the world in a time when it meant something altogether different. With a short look at beginning travels as a child and then as a young adult in my early 20’s, this book tells the story of just how different it was in that one-year trip around this most extraordinary planet. Drawing from my memory and my extensive journal writing from that time, it converses back and forth between my younger and older self. It has been a pleasure to dive back into those old yellowing pages, to re-live that life we lived and to invite you along on the journey. Draw up your armchair, prepare a cup of coffee, tea or chai and enjoy the trip!