30 years ago

Natalie again… Thirty years ago this summer (so, 1987) I did an internship in French-speaking Belgium, after completing an intensive university program of French. It was an amazing experience; I learned so much, and not just about French. I traveled for 2 weeks before beginning work, to London, Paris, Dijon, Geneva, and Interlochen. On weekends I traveled with friends to other places in Belgium like Brussels, Bruges, and Luxembourg. I had two consecutive jobs: one at a grocery store in Bastogne and one teaching English in Thiaumont. I’ll write more about Bastogne later — we head there tomorrow!
In this post I want to reflect on some things I’ve noticed are waaayyy different about this Europe trip for me.

Finding your way around: “Fodor” travel book and paper maps vs GPS and Google maps. What a world of difference. Can’t even compare. Seriously, I don’t know where to begin to compare these two methods. Technology is amazing despite its “problems.”

Google translate. You can hold up your phone’s camera to text in other languages and it translates right there before your eyes. It even matches the fonts. I would never have believed that was possible 30 years ago. We had little pocket dictionaries and hand signals.

Euros. Once again, go E.U.!! Soooo nice not to have to be trying to use up your cash before you leave each country so as not to lose too much with the exchange rate. Or just trying to find somewhere to exchange all your different money all the time. Boo Brexit. And 30 years ago I just had a pile of traveler’s checks (and an emergency-only credit card). Did ATMs even exist 30 years ago? Haha, I forget!

Of course my mode of travel is completely different this time. A recumbent tandem orange bike vs trains and buses. That affects where you travel and of course speed and what you are able to notice and experience.

Eating simply:  In 1987 I had “no money,” so I ate simply out of necessity. Now we are eating simpler by choice (vegan and mostly gluten-free for going on 8 years, and what a difference it has made in our health). I have been eating a little bread, sometimes out of necessity. So far I’m doing ok. But I am worried about long term effects, as that is what I have noticed mostly in the past. This time, 30 years later, despite eating simpler than many people would in Europe, we are enjoying some very nice meals in fun restaurants and cafes. Again, a big plus for 30 years later.

Contact with the U.S. In 1987 I wrote paper letters to family and friends. I think I called my parents 3 times the entire 3-month internship (remember how crazy expensive long distance calls used to be?) This time we have social media, texting, and email at our disposal and if we want to call it’s much cheaper.

Photos! 30 years ago I had one camera and a few rolls of film. You never knew if the photos turned out until you paid to get them printed (which I didn’t do until I got back to the US). Sadly, the film was not advancing in my camera due to user error all the time I was in London, Paris, and Interlochen so I essentially lost all my photos from that time. It was a devastating feeling. I only had postcards and my memories. You had to “conserve” your shots/film. Now we are taking a ridiculous amount of photos and videos everywhere we go. It is great!

And saving the best for last: Being a 19- and 20-year-old woman traveling alone (and with another young woman I didn’t really know very well) is also obviously very different from traveling as a 49- and 50-year-old woman with my husband/ best friend! That is definitely the biggest win of this trip by far!!!

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