My father was an airplane mechanic for Air Canada. My mother was a stay at home mom until I was five, when she went back to work. I was born and lived in Montreal until I was seven years old. My father was injured and then later developed a disease of the spine and was no longer able to work. My mother who although was a high school graduate spoke no French and was unable to get a decent paying job aside from a fast food restaurant. A decision was made, and my parents, my brother seven years my senior and I moved to Ontario.
While my father worked for Air Canada, he would often travel for his job. One note able occasion was when he was working on a new aircraft that was being launched and had to live and work in Vancouver for a while, while my mother, brother and I stayed behind in Montreal when I was three. We came to visit. A benefit for working for Air Canada was that your family had free travel – but on stand by.
After 3 missed flights we finally were able to board a plane. At the time, I was supposedly potty trained so my mom never thought to put a diaper on me. Well as the story goes – a story told many times, especially when I bring a new boyfriend home – I peed on the seat to my mother embarrassment. After landing and refueling in Vancouver the plane would become an international flight. I want to say, if you were on an international flight leaving from Vancouver in the winter of 1987 and the seat felt damp; I’m sorry. Mom insisted aside from the peeing instantiate my brother and I were good flyers. She was also quick to add that she had “drugged” us both with Gravol.
From then on, when the family budget allowed we traveled as family on short vacations. Usually to visit relatives in other cities or the occasional trip back home to Montreal. Since Mom was the sole provider of the family, money was always tight. Although I’ll admit for a kid who came from a low income family I was pretty spoiled and my parents made sure we never knew how tight money was around the house.
We lived in the newer “rich” end of the town and growing up and making friends there wasn’t easy. I was a shy, imaginative, and a weird kid who lived in her own head who spent her time dreaming of far away lands. I was also poorer then most of the other students, when I first moved I had a Quebecois accent and most importantly I had a stuttered. A real bad one. It was fair to say I was an easy target and was bullied tremendously at every chance.
Being bullied growing up really effected me. It took an already timid child and turns her into an even more timid child scared to do anything to risk being made fun of even more. After years of speech therapy my stuttered was now triggered when I was nervous or tired. I was nervous and tired all the time. In later years of elementary school the bulling died down to only occasional jokes at my expense and I started to make new friends.
As a group of friends we were really dependant on each other. We never did anything on our own. We swore up and down never to part. High school came, and so did new friends. As teenagers you’re friends are your life and you are unable to see past anything beyond your little group. It’s amazing how dependant on other people you are when you are a teen.
My first trip without any parents (if you don’t include chaperones) came as a graduation trip with my grade 8 class to Ottawa. I knew right then I wanted to spend the rest of my life traveling! It was three days spent being escorted to and from Ottawa’s many sights and museums. Constance and I wanted to be the first people signed up for the trip. The night before we needed to be at school to for six am to sign up we slept over at her house. She lived the closes to our school. At four-thirty AM the next morning she woke me up, flinging the lights on and would have dressed me herself if I didn’t start getting ready. By five Am we were standing at the doors, freezing waiting until the teachers open the door and let us sign up for the trip.
In Grade 9, my parents sent me to Calgary by myself in between Christmas and New Years to visit my Uncle and Aunt and my cousins. My father took me to the airport with Airlink. My father doubted my navigational abilities and knew better that I would be too scared to navigate Lester B. Persons Airport terminals on my own and had arrange for a Canada 3000 (folded after the September 11th terrorist attacks) employee to escort me to my flight.
By grade 11, I hadn’t gotten a chance to travel much or at all since getting home from Calgary and spending that New Years in Niagara Falls. My shyness and nervousness had gotten worst over the years even though I was no longer bullied; I had plenty of friends and developed some self confidence. I had started getting panic attacks. My first one was when I needed to deliver a speech on Domestic Violence in Peer Leadership class.
At the end of the semester I decided I needed a change. At the time I didn’t know what I was having had a name or that it was a real thing not something in my head. I transferred schools. For the first time since I was stopped bullied and made friends I was on my own. I knew no one there. I sat in the back of the class, I talked to no one and no one talked to me. I was lonely and depression had set in. My panic attacks were getting worst but only any time I took a bus. The sight of a bus my heart started pounding, I couldn’t breathe, tears started to flow inconsolably. As it got worst I stopped taking the bus. Since my new school was a twenty-minute drive and no one to drive me I stopped going to school. By April I begged my parents to let me go back to my old school the same way I begged them to let me go to the knew school.
When I started school again the next September, my depression and panic attacks were still running ramped. I spent countless hours in my room dreaming of far away places I rather be then here. When I was 18, I sought out a doctor. Not for depressions or panic attacks (I thought I was going crazy no having a medical problem) but for another problem that was causing my discomfort. In that check up the doctor found abnormal cells and needed to send a biopsy to check to see if they were cancerous. A few weeks later I called the doctor and was relived that it was NOT CANCER!
The cancer scared made me realize something. Life has the possibility to be short and you need to live it while you still can. I decided I was going to get over what ever was going on with me and I was going to do all the things I said I was going to do. Travel being the first thing on the list, and finishing school.
I didn’t think of any of the logistics when planning this trip. I had been trying to save up money to travel but without much success other then a two province tour following my favorite band – The music around. I was working at a call center that employs most of the cities residents at some point in time. Amanda, one of my old school friends that I had lost contact with over the years had started working there and she had shown me a brochure for Contiki and what we thought were amazing prices for a European tour. I went home that night and put the deposit down.
The only money I had saved was just enough to cover the deposit. Without thinking out how much it was going to cost, I went for it. I had only 6 months to save enough money for a nine day tour, plus airfare, plus passport, airport transportation, extra hotel money, and spending money, while still paying my bills and buying new clothes.
When it came down to the day to go I had skimped and saved every penny I could. I put my airfare on my newly increased credit card 29 days before I was to go. I sat alone at my gate waiting for my flight; it only occurred to me a little that what I was doing might be crazy. I quickly shook the thought off.
When I landed at London Gatwick Airport and took the Victoria express train did it really sink in that this trip could either be a good thing or bust. I had panic attacks at the sight of busses let alone being on the bus. Here I am thousand of miles away from home for the first time 100% alone about to take a bus tour of Europe. What was I thinking? “This was a bad idea” I told my hotel roommate Leslie.
It’s funny thought. Because it wasn’t a bad idea. It was exactly what I needed. Solo travel although I took a baby step by going on a bus tour myself, is what I needed to get over my shyness, my nervousness, developed my self confidence. On the entire trip I had one small panic attack that didn’t last very long staying in a ex-prison now hotel with bars on the inside of the windows and 3 inch thick doors with number pad for a lock.
The skills I learned while traveling I brought back in to my life back home.