My first international travel experience was a trip to Europe with a friend in 1966. After paying for our airfare on Icelandic Airlines (their slogan was “We are the slowest but the lowest”) I had $1,000 left, saved during two years of working first as a department store department manager then as an assistant buyer. As a graduate in fashion merchandising, I made my entire wardrobe, so I could look stylish as we hitch hiked around all of Europe, Morocco and Turkey, lodging in youth hostels, some costing .50 a night. We began in the summer and managed a six- month stay, the funds lasting as far as my return to New York, where my parents had to wire me the money to get a bus home to the Mid-west.
When we landed in “Swinging London,” where we stayed with a friend whose husband was doing a medical residency, I had my hair cut, short and styled geometrically, at the hair salon of Vidal Sassoon. (See Audrey Hepburn’s “do” in Wait Until Dark.) In Ireland and Scotland, we found that getting rides often entailed getting fed at ancient pubs by kind locals. In Spain we discovered the beach in Ibiza, then went to Morocco, for me very exotic. Cultural attractions in France followed, then the natural wonders of Switzerland. The highlight though was southern Italy, where we visited my Grandfather’s youngest brother, who he had never met, and his large family. They welcomed us like royalty. This set the tone for my lifelong connection to Italy, later reclaiming my Italian citizenship and always connecting to Italian organizations and cultural offerings.
After a tearful farewell to Italy, we visited Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, and the former Yugoslavia as winter was setting in. Border crossing officials got us rides with truck drivers through the snowy roads of Germany and Austria as we made our way to Amsterdam to take our slow flight home. A half year of exciting new experiences paved the way for a long life of travel. Nothing since, however, can ever come close to what I learned on that journey.
Note: the photo is of me in front of one of the elaborate display windows at the upscale department store Galleries Lafayette in Paris.