About to Leave on my first international trip

Passport, backpack, WWOOF member book, SERVAS membership, Amtrak ticket, Circle the Pacific air ticket and departure from Los Angeles


1/23/20236 min read

My wonderful kickass employer in downtown SF had been bought by a well known big company. Our fabulous work world was shattered by, to be honest, some crappy people, poor ethics and well many of us left either before acquisition or within a year or 2 after. I vowed to stay on a year, to give it a shot. I saw a lot of what I did not want to be or be around in that year. I ditched the suit and business cards and found myself teaching preschool in the East Bay area of the SF region. The gap between what I was taught and the reality in the school pushed me on toward other options. It was a good experience but not a career for me.

I found myself working as an apprentice electrician on construction sites. It was mostly physical labor and little actual electrical work. It was not a great fit either. I applied to work HR at the University of Santa Cruz. Weeks went by with no response from them. I was talking to mom on the phone one day and something in her voice seemed different. This time when she asked me to move back, I said yes. Never thought I would see that day. But there it was. The words just tumbled out of my mouth. She was beyond elated. I was the youngest. My departure from home and then my leaving the whole state left a big hole in her world. Literally 5 minutes after I hung up the phone, it rang. Yep, you guessed it. UC Santa Cruz extremely interested in interviewing me. YFKM right? No way I could jerk mom's chain that way. My dreams of taking classes at UC Santa Cruz, to retirement and beyond, up in smoke.

I landed a job as a consultant at a "nearby" (for the midwest - it was a 2 hour drive)office of the former big company that bought my wonderful SF employer. They had landed a REALLY big client - pretty much everyone has heard of them or used some of their products, and they needed help. I was a knight on a white horse riding in to help make this thing happen. I ended up getting hired by another behemoth corporation to launch their efforts to compete in that same sector. A year into this company (what an effing disaster this big corp was) I decided I needed to get the heck out of there. Crazy stupid business structure. I digress.

In the months leading up to my decision to quit I began hatching the long awaited global journey. I had most of the decisions fairly worked out by the day I went to the VP and tendered my resignation. My last week of work the VP was like gum on my shoe. The last week of work, he regularly followed me through the building. The entire time he kept saying "name your price." Now I was good at my job, but this was also about it being a rather niche position. I kept saying, it is not about the money. He couldn't understand. Poor fellow. Boy, was I happy when I drove off that day.

I decided, having never travelled internationally, that it made sense to visit a country with the same language and maybe a similar culture. Ease into it, get my feet wet before going to places where I could not speak the language. I hopped on the webtv. I got my mom a webtv console so she could use the internet without having to learn the intricacies of a computer. As the eldest girl in coal mining country, her education was cut short. She is a sharp cookie but did not get enough formal education. I decided Australia was a good place to begin my travels. I did not have a lot of thoughts about where to go after that.

I started searching for an agent to help me with my planning. I ended up talking to Air Brokers International and told the lady I wanted to go to Australia and then some other places after that. I wanted to be gone for months, heck maybe as long as a year. She pulled up a flight from Los Angeles to Australia. Then she said "for an extra $50 you can stop in French Polynesia on your way to Austrialia" to which I said, "say what?." She explained I could get off the flight when it landed in French Polynesia, stay there a while and then resume my trip. Huh? whoa. Yes please. Next she says, for $50 more you can stop in Fiji. Ok, I thought French Polynesia was an OMG. Fiji was so far out of my realm of reason that I was absolutely stunned by that prospect. YES! Next this lovely woman says... Cook Islands and immediately I belted out "never heard of that but gosh YES! Then she says "New Zealand" and I am like, well of course. We rounded out the ticket with me having to get my own transit out of Australia to Bali and then I was on my own until I found my way to Bangkok where I would fly back to SF with a plane touchdown in Taiwan. $1400 in 1996.

Full steam ahead now. I had successfully become a member of SERVAS, an international peace group. This provided me with a directory of other vetted people (an in person interview as well as lengthly application was required) that would either act as local info, local tour guide for a few hours or offer a night of accommodation. I had also joined WWOOF - willing workers on organic farms, where you worked for something like 4 or 5 hours a day in exchange for a bed and a couple of meals. There were options beyond farming. I worked for a month in Australia helping around a yurt farm that hosted 4th graders from the city. taught them about farm life. It was one trippy place. I stayed a month, a drama filled month.

I had to secure my passport and buy equipment. Not that easy to do in a small city in the midwest. I was going to stop in SF on the way to LA to visit some friends and knew I could pick up some items then. When I lived in SF, I regularly haunted travel related stores. I had to work out how I wanted to get to SF. I decided to have an Amtrak experience. And that it was. It really set the tone for the trip.

The first night of the Amtrak experience, just trying to get on the damn train ended up being one of those "travel tales." Long story short, the agent messed up ticket and ticketed me the ONE night the actual train did not depart from the train terminal in the nearby city. I had taken the Greyhound bus to the bigger city, about an hour away, where there was a lovely Amtrak station. I took a cab from the bus depot to the train station. It was dark. Parking lot empty. Cabbie is like "lady I don't think there is a train tonight" to which I am like, I have a ticket right here. He was right. I cabbed it back to the bus station in a rather derelict part of town. I am being charitable here.

It is 2 am by this point. January. Midwest of USA. COLD. It was cold. I was headed to warmer climates, no winter jacket in sight. I sat in a bright orange plastic chair surrounded by drunks and unhoused folks, snacking on soda and chips, freezing cold, until 8 am when the Amtrak bus departed for Chicago. One hour from home. I decided to be amused when nearly 20 hours into my journey I was now only 2 hours due west of my home. Roll with them punches, roll, roll, roll.

Outside of that, and a few other station based problems, the Amtrak train trip from Chicago to SF on the California Zephyr was magnificent. On board was smooth and professional. I probably spent a total of 30 minutes in my coach seat. The rest of the time I was installed in the view car. Being super social, I met a whole host of interesting people. I was slender then, so trim that I slept on a camping air mattress on the floor where you would put your feet when sitting in the seats that face out the side of the train. Yea, can't do that now. The view car was my home for those 3 days. Fabulous trip. Glad I did not spring for a sleeping compartment. I had too much fun sleeping out there.

I spent some time in SF, picked up some specialty travel items, ditched a few things, visited friends and then took the Amtrak to Los Angeles to catch my outbound flight to Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia. I was beyond giddy. It was happening. That little girl, staring out her bedroom window, over the corn and soybean fields, straining to make out the images of the city in the distance, had a backpack, passport and airline ticket. The world was hers for the taking. California and Alaska were places she could hardly fathom seeing one day. Now having lived in California for over 10 years, she held air tickets to Fiji... FIJI and some place called the Cook Islands... wow.

On the Amtrak trip to LA I had started reading Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl. It worked out that as my flight was nearing the island of Tahiti, Thor was arriving there by raft. The contrast of that, along with the pure emotion of this life changing trip, was overwhelming. My eyes were awash in emotion. A flood of tears rolled down my cheeks as I looked on the lights of Papeete. Awe. Adrenaline. Excitement.

Never had I felt more fully alive.

Visit my French Polynesia entry.