When I was 17, I traveled by myself for the first time and didn’t do things by halves: my journey took me from Auckland to London for a month via a one-day layover in Japan. I remember feeling incredibly excited by the trip but not at all nervous about being as far away on earth as I could be from my family. I never considered how my parents might feel, having their oldest daughter flying to the other side of the world. If they were worried, I never noticed it.
I found myself unexpectedly reminiscing about my trip to London when I traveled to Boston and New York twenty-two years later. It was my first time traveling alone since having children.
The experience of parents and children being far apart has changed dramatically in that time. In 1995, email was new to the masses, and a novelty. I sent my first email from a friend’s laptop — also a rarity — in London, back to my parents. Another email was sent during my Internet cafe visit – a true hybrid cafe, bookstore and set of terminals. Internet cafes peaked then were replaced by phones. I didn’t travel with one then, but made one landline call home to let my parents know I had made it there safely. The long distance cost per minute meant the call was very brief. Postcards were the main way of communicating, albeit rather slowly. Today, I make live video calls on my phone with my husband and children. I can chat with my children via Viber on their iPad long before my husband wakes up (far too early on their Saturday morning). No postcards were sent home during my eleven-day trip away — I would have beaten them back to New Zealand. A single post to Instagram which auto-published to Facebook shared my moment with almost everyone I know. Being able to see my husband and children each day made a huge difference. Technology has made long distance not feel as far or, at times, lonely.
When I was seventeen, that first trip alone brought such a sense of freedom: a weird sensation that no-one in the world who knew me knew what I was doing right in that instance, or where I was exactly and in my mind I felt that I could do whatever I wanted. That sense of freedom as a teenager didn’t lead to anything wild in behavior. I was still me: choosing to spend hours flicking through cassingles in HMV, the world’s biggest record store at the time. I grew up immensely during that trip: having my first hotel room to myself (discovering all those Japanese toilet buttons, playing music loudly), trying my first (and last) Guinness, dancing in a club to Kiss from a Rose, and kissing a boy on a rooftop under the stars.
Walking the streets of New York twenty-two years later, I felt a sense of déja vu which took me back all those years — but this time I felt freedom from responsibility. I could do whatever I wanted without having children needing to find a bathroom, or getting tired of wandering around. I could browse the Strand Bookstoreˆ(17 miles of books!) in peace, or go out for a late dinner with a colleague without thinking of what time to get back for the babysitter. I was still me, thinking constantly of my husband and children, taking photos of little things from my day to share with them — Pokémon, candy stores, squirrels, the Home Alone hotel. Everything reminded me of my bonds to them.
Alone, connected. Still me.