In 1967, my last year at school, I discovered that there was a bursary for classicists to travel to Greece. It was one of those things that no one told you about but I got wind of it somehow and applied. I was duly awarded £50 and with help from my parents planned a summer trip with a school friend.
I was a few months short of my eighteenth birthday. It was my first experience of travelling abroad as an adult, and I knew the minute I stepped off the plane in Athens and felt the heat, the foreignness of it all, that I had been bitten by the travel bug.
Over the next six years I travelled as much as I possibly could. I didn’t leave school till December 1967, having stayed on to sit Oxford entrance, which I failed. In early 1968 I went by sea to Cape Town and worked then travelled in South Africa, where I had a godmother, before starting at Aberdeen University.
The first year at Aberdeen I spent the whole summer driving from London to Tehran and back (via Greece, both ways) with three friends. The year after that I worked in France with a girlfriend, caught a boat from Marseilles to Piraeus and travelled the Greek islands, then hitch-hiked home. The following summer, 1971, after graduating, I drove out to Greece again with my younger brother. And then in autumn 1972, after a false start at grown-up life in London, I set off for Buenos Aires and a 10-month journey that ended in Toronto, the following September.
I was extraordinarily lucky. After leaving school and during the university holidays I worked when I could, though we lived deep in the Scottish countryside where jobs didn’t come readily to hand. But the cost of living in Southern Europe, not to mention the Middle East and Latin America, was next to nothing in those days and although I don’t now remember exactly, I can only assume that my parents funded a good deal of my wandering. My mother was certainly keen on it, having been brought up in a naval family that was constantly on the move. My father saw its value up to the point where he not unreasonably felt I should be settling down to work.
These were the adventurous, shaping days of my life and those many thousands of miles were packed with moments that were thrilling and awe-inspiring, comical and perplexing, frightening and dispiriting in equal measure. Although there were payphones, poste restante addresses and banks to which money could be sent in emergencies, I was incommunicado almost all the time and never gave it a thought (the same almost certainly not being true for my parents). I made my traveller’s cheques last and wrote the odd letter which seldom beat me home.
Caught up in the intervening years with the business of earning a living and raising a family, I have only recently started to think again about those travelling days, to try and put them in perspective and consider what I gained and lost by them. I’m also aware that I have a fund of stories which will one day be gone if I don’t capture them soon. Over the next few months I plan to tell as many of these stories as I can remember. I’ll post them here as regular blogs, but also collate them under the new tab, Travel Tales.
Next week, that first trip to Greece. I hope you’ll enjoy the journey with me.