Hello Dear Reader,
Are you prepared for a travel experience like no other?
This friendly eccentric has thus far had the pleasure of drawing inspiration from 4 continents, 22 countries and 107 cities or towns.
I was born in Tripoli, Libya, and had my first 'safari' (meaning journey) by plane at 7 months old. My parents brought me back to their home country of Bulgaria, and I was raised in its capital Sofia until the age of 7 years, making frequent trips to the small town of Samokov - this was my first experience with the contrast between the urban and rural lifestyle, as well as my first exposure to the city vs. country argument (my mum is originally from Samokov, while my dad was born in the city - they met at a Bulgaria resort in Sunny Beach, hundreds of miles from either of those places)!
This brings us to 1990, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the collapse of Communism even in what had been one of its most faithful satellite states. During the totalitarian period of the Balkans' history, travel outside the nation of your citizenship was limited to the very few, and to certain locations at that. After about half a century, travel and immigration once more became possible for every Bulgarian, and my parents chose this moment to set out, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, Sydney on the island-continent of Australia.
There are many stories I could tell you about how different my life would have been if I had grown up in Sofia as opposed to Sydney. The ones I am going to mention may make it sound like Bulgaria is all-bad, and Australia is all-good, which is not the case at all, but I do find the differences in the cultures come out with Sydney on top.
Race was the first issue upon which I reconditioned myself, in the light of growing up in a multicultural environment and accruing many Asian and non-white friends and acquaintances. My parents and Bulgarian culture in general, being homogenously White, were suffering from racism, and I was brought up to be racist myself. I decided on a complete rejection of all the racist values my parents had instructed me to take up at about age 13, and immersed myself in the idealism of Civil Rights Movement rhetoric I learned in history. As a result, my closest friends tend to be Asian, and most of my relationships and bedroom partners tend to be non-White. I am inspired by and celebrate people's racial differences, and I'm glad I live in a city which informs the global notion of 'multicultural'.
Somewhat related was the negation of xenophobia. Learning to communicate with people of a different culture from seven years of age has left me with a love of talking to strangers and otherwise engaging with those who are unlike me.
Lastly, I grew to have a completely different view of heterosexuality, homosexuality and everything in between. Sydney is the most gay-friendly environment outside of San Francisco, so I quickly grew up to nurture my attraction to women (as well as my attraction to men, which came to my attention a few years later). At the time, the discovery that homosexuality was perfectly normal transformed many deeply fixed ideas of mine, and I conditioned myself to ask questions instead of taking anything for granted, no matter how many people thought along a certain line. And when you are open to non-Heterosexual orientations, you tend to get more creative and innovative (see the work of Richard Florida). There are a few labels with are more easy on the open mind than most: pansexual, PoMosexual, "just plain sexual"... but you can call me Epiphanie. ;o)
Most people may not see travel as more than a few weeks per year spent outside the place you normally conduct your entire life in. I see travel as a way of life. When I'm traveling from the suburbs to the city, it's a change of environment. I'm exposing myself to a subtly different emotional and intellectual landscape in the people around me. Dramatic changes (flying to Europe, Asia or North America) are the ones I prefer, but they can only be appreciated if I'm aware of regional, state and country differences.
Right now I am traveling at least once per year to an overseas country, and each journey enhances my awareness of the connections between the local and the global, the familiar and the not-as-yet-traversed, and deepens my appreciation of what I can bring to these places, and what they can bring to me.
By the time I had graduated high school in 2001 my parents had taken me to lots of different places (Thailand, Italy, Hawaii, California, Nevada, Singapore, France, Turkey, British Columbia, Germany, New Zealand and Queensland). I enrolled in university (UNSW) to study English literature, but I was feeling let down by the lack of postmodern theory in my classes, and unhappy with Sydney - I wanted to move abroad, or to travel, at the very least. A mind-bending three-week trip to Shanghai with my then best friend left me feeling more sure of myself than ever, and infinitely more curious about the world. I attended my first confidence as a presenter in South Australia, mid-2003.
In late 2003 I taught English in Opole, Poland, for a few weeks. It didn't work out, so I came back to Sydney via Greece and decided to try teaching in an Asian country instead. In 2004 I found myself working in Hong Kong for a tiny bit, before giving it up and traveling mainland China for a while. Coming back to Sydney, it wasn't long before I followed an American friend back to Stanford, California, and lived with him for the better half of nine months. I brought back from the San Francisco Bay Area a renewed interest in innovative travel, and the intangible souvenir of a Californian accent. 'Frisco' and its small town sister Santa Cruz remain two of my favourite places to this very day. While I was in the country I also visited Philadelphia and some other towns in Pennsylvania, and Buffalo in New York state. My sense of the competition between the West and East coast was thoroughly re-imagined.
I learnt that while Australia and the United States of America were similar in terms of landmass, the States was perfectly inhabitable off the coast, and in fact housed most of its cities there! No wonder, then that there were so many more people, especially when you consider its proximity to Europe and the rest of the American continent(s). Another thing that became clear to me was how different the university cultures were in these two nations - Australia's tertiary institutions were integrated into the city in most cases, while many of USA's were small towns unto themselves, connected to other places but with their own postcode and distinctive regional culture. Given the choice I probably would go back to San Fran, but Australia's awareness and appreciation of cultures outside its own, its universal health care and the higher level of friendliness it offers made coming back to Sydney quite alright, after all. Actually, Sydney, San Francisco and Vancouver have very similar urban cultures and environments.
When it was time to say goodbye to my extended exile in the States in mid-2005, I came back through Japan, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, a trip which was less enjoyable than I had thought it would be due to my inability to predict the humidity of South-East Asia before November, but incredibly eye-opening. I learned the secrets to traveling on a budget thanks to Lonely Planet, my own experimentation and a bit of luck. (I found myself quite unexpectedly taken in by hospitable Cao Dai followers in southern Vietnam and spent the night on the grounds of their religious site after chatting to the young kids who knew English.)
In between 2006 and 2010 I travelled extensively within China, Thailand and Italy, and visited England, The Netherlands and Spain for the first time. I fell in love with Barcelona at first sight.
In less than two months I will visit South Korea, the Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark and Sweden - four of these countries are completely new to me, and I can't wait to have my mind and heart opened in unpredictable ways by each... after that, I have New York City, Boston, Toronto and Montreal on my mind, but it may be that I visit India or South America (especially Argentina, Chile, Peru, Brazil and Ecuador) first due to finances.
Phew, I think that's enough for a first post! Suffice to say that if I could travel all the time, I would. (I'm actually looking into ways of making this happen as I type.)
I wish you the best of luck, and the highest forms of enjoyment on your own travels - remember, travel is a state of mind! :o)