Posts Tagged ‘travelling as a young man’

Travel: youth vs age

September 20, 2018

I’m in the middle of reading Klaus Mann’s (son of Thomas Mann) autobiography; in his early twenties he travelled quite widely, fairly randomly, with an open mind and a free spirit. I was reminded of myself at that age; I’ve been travelling again recently – in my sixties – and I also found myself thinking about the differences in my experience then and now.

In my twenties I was carefree and poor. As a student, I saved my pennies and a hundred quid would sustain me abroad for a month in the summer vacation, once I’d got myself across the Channel; then I’d hitchhike wherever the whim and my lifts took me. I travelled light: tent, sleeping bag and rucksack with a few clothes and basic kit was enough. I met lots of different and interesting people who gave me lifts to all sorts of places, and some of whom were generous as well to a not-very-well-off student. I saw a decent amount of France, Germany, the Low Countries over several summers. I fell in love with Provence, and the Loire Valley, and Hessen in Germany. I treated myself to a different cheese every day, as well as cake and ice-cream.

In my sixties, as back then, my time is my own and I can go where I please, but I crave – and probably need – rather more comfort, using basic hotels for overnight stops and renting studios and holiday apartments for longer stays; obviously I drive and I take rather more kit with me nowadays: phone and tablet keep me in touch with home – never bothered about that in the old days! – and I take music and books with me, and a selection of maps and guidebooks… as a student I allowed myself one doorstopper of a novel for my entertainment in the evenings, by candlelight, in my tent. I still treat myself to a bottle of beer in the evening. And what I want to see is still the same: I go for places with a history, and an atmosphere, that I can explore in a leisurely fashion, taking as much time as I like. There’s nothing like spending a couple of days wandering around a town or city for really getting the feel and atmosphere of the place, and I think of all the places I’ve done that – Carcassonne a couple of years ago, where I deliberately got up early to walk the place and take photos before it was swamped by hordes of tourists; Lübeck, GdanskLeipzig, Arles very recently, and I’ve lost count of the amount of time I’ve spent over the years walking the streets of Paris just to see what would turn up around the next corner.

So, organised tours are not really for me: too quick, and being marshalled off to the next place before I’ve got to grips with where I am today is not for me. I like to be able to spend ages wandering around looking for the perfect spot for photographs, and I like to be able to get up early for a photo session before a place gets crowded out with tourists. Yes, I know I’m one, too!

When I was younger, I think I stored up mental impressions, along the lines of, “I really like this place, I’ll have to come back one day!” whereas now it’s all rather different. Without being too maudlin, there is more of a sense of, “Well, let’s enjoy this place because I might not see it again…” And there is a developing perspective, from all the stunning places I’ve seen (and I’m not that widely travelled, as I don’t fly) that humans have made beautiful and wonderful things and live in such a beautiful world, so why are we ruining it, and treating our fellow humans so abominably? It makes me rather sad, really.

And there are almost no hitchhikers any more: they vanished in the mid-1980s, as I recall, with the advent of cut-price coach, train and air travel, and sadly, as a driver I’ve never been able to repay all the kindness I was shown back in my student days; I can count the number of people I’ve picked up on the fingers of one hand…

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