I got inspired by another blog to write about my first ever big solo overseas trip, which was USA back in April and May 2001, when I was 20 and a month away from the legal drinking age (not that it mattered since I’m a boring non-drinker anyway). I’ve travelled a lot since then, but your first independent trip always remains a rather special memory. I even dug out my travel diary, which was an interesting read in retrospective. For one thing 99% of it is written in Russian, whereas now my travel diaries are 99% in English, and it’s a bit sad to see how much fluency I’ve lost. And good lord it’s overzealous with descriptions; I spent three whole pages listing all the things I’ve seen at the American Museum of Natural History.
My five-week route was Los Angeles – Phoenix – New York City – Washington D.C. – Las Vegas – San Francisco (one American lady I met a couple of years later remarked that I didn’t get to see the “real” USA at all). Another common reaction to my list of cities was, umm… Phoenix? Well, I planned my entire trip around my first ever U2 concert on the Elevation tour, which by the way never ended up in Australia thanks to our crappy dollar, so it felt even more special. Because I was very late with making up my mind and buying tickets, I was left with limited options and had to travel for the show to Phoenix, Arizona, which otherwise is not really an obvious place for the first-time visitor. I actually have no entry on Phoenix in my diary at all; I suppose I figured that I’d never forget the concert and there wasn’t anything else to write about. The show was amazing and as a bonus I got to see PJ Harvey open for the band. To be honest arena venues aren’t her natural turf, but I really can’t complain about seeing my favourite artist live one extra time.
My diary is pretty dry and factual, but I can vividly remember being in a mixed place emotionally during the trip. My parents split up just a short while before, and looking back I realise I dealt with it by not really dealing with it and shutting down. Putting a lid on it didn’t quite work; I was overcome with the blues and heavy feelings a few times while away, and had a big cry when alone in my hotel room in Phoenix. On the other hand, travelling by myself to a new country and opening up to new experiences was exhilarating. Before going, even the idea of being by myself at the Melbourne airport felt paralysing. What was I going to do and where was I going to go?? I remember it being a huge relief to find out that actually, it’s all pretty well organised. Other than the hotel in Phoenix, I stayed in cheap and cheerful hostels everywhere else, and got to meet many people, Americans and otherwise, who I can still remember today.
Though I wasn’t a stranger to the internet, I went shockingly unprepared by my standards today. I’m no go with the flow free spirit and I at least had my accommodation and flights sorted, but I did virtually no research on the places I was going to. So for instance it came as a shock to me that the area in LA I was staying at was extremely unfriendly to the carless people. To get to the nearest bus stop, I had to walk along the highway on a tiny sidewalk praying I wouldn’t get squashed by the roaring traffic. Another bad decision was staying in a small hostel in Las Vegas, in the dodgiest sleaziest area I’ve ever been to, rather than paying more for the hotel on the strip. You couldn’t step outside unless in a group and even then we had to put up with catcalls, obscenities and lip-smacking noises. Lesson learned.
I found Los Angeles too spread out for my liking; two weeks in New York still wasn’t long enough; Washington D.C. felt kinda dead after New York but I enjoyed the monuments and the museums; Las Vegas was fun and trashy; loved San Francisco. Out of all the cities I ever visited and imagined myself living in, San Francisco is the only place that made me think, yeah I could live here. One of the highlights of my stay there was meeting a fellow member of the Ultima Dragons internet club; the next time we saw each other was 16 years later at the special anniversary event! My only beef was that the fog obscured the view of the Golden Gate Bridge for the entire time.
Another big giddy nerdy moment was visiting the original set of Star Trek: The Next Generation at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum in LA. In New York, I got to see Chicago on Broadway, caught a glimpse of Beyoncé getting into the limo with the rest of Destiny’s Child at Times Square, and sat in the audience for the taping of The Ricky Lake Show (the classy topic of the day was, Stop posing nude on the internet, or we’re through!) I also decided to skip the view from the top of the World Trade Centre, since I’ve already gone up the Empire State Building some days before. A few months later… Speaking of September 11, it’s a sign of a far more innocent time that I seriously intended to take my decorative Japanese sword I bought in San Francisco Chinatown into the plane cabin as a carry-on. The guys at the security screening had a bit of a good-natured laugh, and sent me back to the counter where I had to pay extra $90 to check the sword in, and that was the extent of my trouble.
The funniest moment on the trip was when a taxi driver in Las Vegas asked me what language we spoke in Australia.