A Traveler’s Journal – Lessons Learned Abroad (Vol. 5)

The winding roads of Snowdonia National Park. North Wales.

The winding roads of Snowdonia National Park. North Wales.

After spending a week or so in London, it was time for me to get out of the city. I opted to travel through the countryside of England, Scotland, and Wales on a semi-organized bus tour with 22 other backpackers consisting of 7 Americans, 7 Australians, 4 New Zealanders, 3 Canadians, 1 Brit, and a girl from Taiwan. It was like the first day of kindergarten all over again. Where do I sit? Are the other kids going to like me? For the most part, everyone was in the same boat as me, with the exception of the few people who had a travel buddy or their significant other with them. And just like school days, there were the bad kids who sat all the way in the back of bus. In this case, it was the three wild Aussie girls who oddly reminded me of a cross between Charlie’s Angels and the Spice Girls minus Scary Spice. I must say, they definitely added character to the bus.

Now this wasn’t just any ordinary bus that we were cruising the British countryside in. First off, it was bright yellow, almost neon, with no markings of any kind to be found on its exterior. And it was actually more of a super-extended party van than it was a bus. The interior was a stark contrast to the otherwise non-descript exterior. From the seats, to the floor, to the walls and ceiling, the pattern was the same. I’m not sure exactly what effect the designer was going for, and I’m sure this will make no sense to you at all, but the only phrase that comes to mind when trying to describe the pattern is “disco tiger.”

I ended up sitting next to an Australian bloke named Jim, who was 28 and from Melbourne. Now Jim could have afforded to buy his own personal tour bus to take him across Europe, but instead he chose to travel in the ranks of us lowly backpackers. I immediately respected him for that. He was also, by far, the most fashionable backpacker I came across in my three months abroad. He was a walking billboard for Versace. But here he was, putting himself through all the same trials and tribulations as the rest of us. And not long after we were on our way did the Spice Girls start their trouble. While having drinks at the hostel bar in Bath that first evening, I learned that they had decided amongst themselves that the only reason a fashionable male like Jim and a young American lad like myself were sitting together on the bus was because we were lovers traveling the world together. I found that quite amusing. Jim decided to sit in the back of the bus for the rest of the trip. He was determined to prove them wrong. The Spice Girls, namely Angie, Sarah, and Cathy, turned out to be pretty nice, a bit chatty, but nice.

So now with Jim doing his best macho impersonation in the back seat, I found myself sitting with Kara, a 26 year old 2nd grade teacher from Toronto, Canada. I learned a lot from Kara over the next week. I never would have imagined it was okay for a teacher to show up for class with a tongue ring and purple hair, but Kara said her principal actually complemented her on her new “doo” and encourages his teachers to be “different.” Here in America, showing up for class with purple hair is a great way to make the five o’clock news and be the subject of an emergency parent teacher meeting. What’s wrong with a little self expression if it doesn’t hurt anybody? What is it exactly that we are all conforming to here in America anyway? Who wants to be the same as everyone else? Perhaps if Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris hadn’t been so alienated by their peers for being “different,” they wouldn’t have felt the need to open fire on their classmates at Columbine High. But of course that answer is too obvious to see. Instead, we place the blame on violent video games and insufficient gun laws. Perhaps it’s time we stand up and admit that our “All American” idealism is flawed. Our country was founded by people who wanted the basic freedom to do as they chose. But it seems clear to me that our children, perhaps our greatest asset, are not free at all. Perhaps a little breathing room to be who they wanted to be is all that Dylan and Eric needed.