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Someone once asked me how I came to be so keen on travel.  I guess, relatively speaking, I was a late starter.  Before I graduated from University at the age of twenty-two, the furthest I’d been from my home in Sheffield in the north of England, was Cornwall in the south west.  As a family we were quite close and the four children rarely went without a summer holiday, which was usually to a caravan park on the nearby Lincolnshire coast.  Even then we rarely stayed in the hot spots like Skegness, we’d go for the cheaper (and ultimately far better) options of Ingoldmells, Sutton-on-Sea or, if we were really pushing the boat out we once stayed in a six-berth static caravan at Caister (near Great Yarmouth) and we even made it to the South coast staying at Christchurch (near Bournemouth).  Although these were far from glamorous holidays they were what great family holidays should be – memory builders, and some of my fondest childhood memories are of exploring what seemed like wonderous new environments, full of sand, sea and amusement arcades.

When I started my first proper job in the autumn of 1992, I was a graduate-trainee software designer at BT’s laboratories in Martlesham (near Ipswich – there’s a definite theme building) it was with a mix of trepidation and pure excitement when I was told I was to travel to Glasgow for a training course.  First of all, I would be flying.  No long car journeys getting hopelessly lost on secluded country lanes, or breaking down and dad cursing and swearing at the car as he burned his fingers on an overheating burst gasket.  Secondly, I was to be travelling alone, no help or guidance from anyone. I had to make my own way from Suffolk to Scotland.  However, the most exciting part was that I would actually be leaving the country. Scotland is a different country right?

To add to my delirious anticipation, the company’s travel agent arranged for me to have a hire car that I would drive from my home in Ipswich to Stansted airport.  They also issued me with a paper ticket for the flight.

The day soon came.  It was a Sunday evening.  The hire car had been left outside my house the day before and the keys posted through my letter box.  It was only a Vauxhall Astra or something similar, but it was practically brand new, I’d been lucky enough to have owned three cars before, and none of them had been less than eight years old.  Not even realising that the insurance wouldn’t be valid until the day the rental actually began, I’d already taken joy rides around Ipswich and the Suffolk countryside, so when the time to leave arrived I jumped in the car, threw my overnight bag on the back seat and set off for Stansted.  My manager had given me useless verbal directions which didn’t seem too helpful and were mainly about knowing I was going in the right direction because I’d see the planes taking off and landing in the distance.  However, I was just over two-thirds the way through my hour and a half journey when the taste of metal gathered at the back of my tongue and a cold sweat beaded on my forehead.  I’d left the plane tickets on the table at home! 

I pulled over in the nearest layby and contemplated my next move.  In those days we didn’t have mobile phones never mind the internet, so should I find a phone box and call my manager and ask him what I should do?  No, he’d think I was an idiot and, besides, it was Sunday and I didn’t have his home phone number.  Shall I turn round and head back to fetch the tickets?  I looked at my watch and decided there was not enough time. After fifteen minutes of sheer panic, I decided there was nothing to lose by continuing onwards to the airport and ask the airline what my options were.

On arrival, I parked the hire car in the short-stay car park and posted the keys into the yellow box by the entrance as instructed and, glancing at my watch for the umpteenth time, began sprinting to the terminal as I was rapidly running out of time.  

Remember, these were the days where you didn’t have to arrive two, or even three hours before your flight departure time.  “It’s a Sunday so the airport will be quiet, aim to get there an hour before”, my manager had suggested.  There were now only forty minutes to take off, and I still didn’t have a ticket.  I ran through the terminal, spotted the Air UK counter and fidgeted from foot to foot whilst the guy in front was attended to.  At last my turn came and I explained my predicament.  “Don’t worry” I was reassuringly told, you can just buy another ticket.  I bought one and, assuming that because I’d left the company issued ticket at home, the £120 would be coming from my own pocket, but what else could I do?  I bought the ticket and was told to hurry as the plane was already boarding.  Thankfully, I sat down in my seat, seating and panting just as they closed the doors and readied the plane for take-off. I was sitting next to another guy who was also late and we’d raced through the airport and along the air bridge together. It turned out he was a professional speedway rider and was on his way to ride for Scotland in an international meeting.

The next day, I rang my manager to give him the bad news, worried that I’d be in big trouble.  I needn’t have worried.  The ticket I’d been given was fully flexible.  If it wasn’t used, the company wasn’t charged.  I was told to submit an expense claim for the ticket I’d had to purchase.  All was good.  

Thankfully there was only one other comical episode on this, my very first proper travel experience.  

It wasn’t the hotel that was the problem, that was absolutely luxurious compared to my previous holiday accommodations.  I didn’t dare touch the mini-bar though as I’d heard the stories of being charged the equivalent of a bottle of Bollinger champagne just for touching a mini-sized can of Carling Black Label.  For the same reason, I didn’t use any of the hotel supplied toiletries in the bathroom.  I did, of course, enjoy bouncing on the bed and I stole the plastic laundry bag as I thought it would be useful for something at home.


The only other calamity was more a “newbie’s” misunderstanding than anything else.  The first evening, I went for a Chinese meal with some of the other students from the training course, who were all also BT employees, though they were much more experienced in company travel policies and procedures than I was. I recall the restaurant in a rather plush basement and of there being a huge fish tank set amongst the tables. I was so excited as I remembered seeing this exact eatery on an episode of the much loved Taggart TV crime series – “There’s bin a murrderrr” – that one. On opening the menu my eyes bulged, and those unwanted palpitations and sweats returned. There was no way I could afford these kinds of prices on my graduate trainee wages! I feigned a sudden lack of appetite and lied to my fellow diners saying that I could only manage a starter.  Later, someone explained to me that when traveling on company business, your meals were paid for by the company via the expenses system. Of course! The next night I returned to the same restaurant, this time alone, and absolutely went to town, ensuring that I ate, and drank as much as I could until the total bill was as close to the maximum expenses allowance for one night as I could manage.

It was an auspicious start to my new life as a traveller, but there was something about the whole experience, the many new and mysterious things I learnt, touched, saw and tasted that hooked me for life.

My next trip, about a month later, was even more exciting as this time my manager was sending me to Washington DC.  I was apoplectic with excitement and anticipation.  This trip generally progressed really well and the experiences were even far greater in number and excitement levels than my Glasgow trip, feeding my addiction, reeling me into the traveller’s way.  I loved the blood stains on my hotel carpet (it’s what you’d expect in what back then was notoriously known as the murder capital of the world, though it being a four-star Hyatt in a very respectable suburb of the US capital, it was more likely to have been an innocent ketchup stain).  It was amazing how my glasses steamed up when I walked out the hotel’s automatically sliding doors and left the freezing cold air-conditioned lobby and went out into heat and humidity I’d never experienced before (it just doesn’t get that warm in Mablethorpe). I even loved the only real cock-up of the whole trip.  My travel agent had booked me a rental car to get from Dulles airport to my hotel, but when I arrived at the rental car desk I was informed that in the US I had to be twenty-five to hire a car.  I’d been told to get the car, a map and directions to my hotel when I arrived, so I now had no transport and also I didn’t even know where my hotel was, or its address.  A kind airport security guard advised me to catch the shuttle bus to my hotel and pointed me in the direction of the bus stops.  However, he forgot to mention that I had to use the phone on the wall inside the terminal to firstly request that the shuttle bus came to pick me up.  I waited patiently at the bus stop for almost three hours.  I even tried to get a taxi, but the driver wouldn’t take me as it wasn’t far enough away and suggested I get the shuttle bus – back to square one. As it wasn’t that far away, should I try walking?  I’m glad I didn’t as though I could have walked the distance in a straight line in about an hour, there would have been several eight lane highways to cross in order to get there. Besides, I had no clue where I was supposed to be going either.

In the end, luck was on my side.  Someone from my hotel, the Hyatt Regency in Reston, had needed to get to the airport, so the shuttle bus brought them to my bus stop and I climbed aboard and within ten minutes I was safely checking into the Hyatt, discovering new and wondrous things like room-service, never to ask the waitress at breakfast what the options are when she asks how I’d like my eggs (who knew there were so many ways to cook an egg), the stress of tipping, that I needed my ID to buy a beer at the bar and it is absolutely true that everything is bigger in America – how I managed to eat a 5 stack burger I’ll never know!

Those were my first two proper travel experiences and I’ll never forget them, not even the smallest details.  I was lucky enough to travel extensively after that, both on business and for pleasure, seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and feeling many different places around the world.  Strangely, these first trips were also about travel as it should be, working things out as you go along, going with the flow, not letting little mishaps spoil your trip.  Sometimes the best experiences are the ones that were not planned and that you least expect to happen. 

After this I was lucky enough to spend all of my career travelling for work, including living in Rome for a year but also shorter trips to Milan, Madrid, Amsterdam, Silicon Valley, Tampa Bay, Munich, Kuala Lumpur, Dhaka, Kuwait City, Dublin and many more.

Let me know how you got into travel using the comments section below. I’d love to share your experiences.

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