Traveling has become very easy.
Plane tickets at Kayak. Check. Rent an apartment at Airbnb. Check. Don’t feel like taking a local taxi at the airport? Just take a damn Uber!
It’s so easy it’s almost laughable.
But it has not always been like that. As a matter of fact, just one generation ago it was very different.
When my dad was traveling in the 70s and 80s there were no Internet, social media, credit cards or smart phones. It could take weeks or months until his family heard from him.
My dad belonged to the last generation where travel was real adventure.
Today, his son becomes grumpy if his airport terminal doesn’t have a lounge. Or if the restaurant doesn’t accept credit cards.
He would laugh if he saw my comfortable travel style.
When I visit him in Japan, we always sit down with a beer and share travel stories. I have traveled to more places, but I can’t match the sheer adventures of his trips.
He tells me stories about the hardship of traveling in the 70s and 80s. He sometimes couldn’t find a room and had to sleep under bridges or in subway stations. How hitchiking was his favorite means of transportation. And that he earned money doing dishes at restaurants.
Once he even got attacked by a knife wielding maniac on a train in Spain! And he narrowly escaped being lynched by Indian villagers after he used their holy water to wash his clothes!
My guess is 99% of today’s digital nomads would return home crying after experiences like that.
But there is also stories about adventure and ingenuity.
I am particularly interested in his stories about former Soviet Union. I have always been attracted to that part of the world and have written several articles especially about Ukraine (here, here and here). But my dad got the chance to travel that region when the iron curtain was still alive and well.
It’s probably hard to imagine today, but back in the 70s plane tickets were very expensive. And the cheapest way to get from Tokyo to Moscow was using the Trans-Siberian Railway!
That didn’t stop my dad. He bought a train ticket, asked his friend to lie to my grandparents that he was still studying at the Tokyo University, and boarded a boat to Siberia.
He soon discovered that Soviet Union lacked all sorts of consumer goods. Especially from the outside world. My dad realized that his cheap Japanese ballpoint pens were hard currency. So he ended up using them to bribe guards to get access to closed areas or to pay for food.
I sometimes wish I had half of the old man’s adventure spirit.
So has my dad’s travel adventures taught me something?
Yes it did.
It taught me about regrets. And that life is short. We are all going to get old and die someday. And I don’t want to lay on my deathbed wishing that I did something differently or didn’t live my life to it’s fullest potential.
It also taught me about freedom. Freedom is the one thing that makes people truly happy. Slaving away in a boring corporate job to make someone else rich is not freedom. To live in an overcrowded, overpriced city filled with dull people is not freedom.
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