Fond Memories of Travelling Unaccompanied (Part 1)

Now as the name of this blog implies, I am supposed to be making a record of things that I remember – hence “memory jar”. I haven’t done a very good job yet, but give me a chance and I will get better …

Really, the title of this piece should be fond memories of starting to travel alone (excluding going back and forth to school, which started when I was very young i.e. walking to primary school with friends). In fact, that probably gives an indication of my age, because when I was a child it was not “unusual” for a small group (or even just two of us) to meet up and then walk to school and also just go to the local park or even play outside in the surrounding streets. Maybe that is still the case in many instances, but it does not seem so normal nowadays. Anyway, I digress – what I am referring to is when I started to actually travel both abroad and long distances on my OWN!

I think that my 1st memory is of flying to Italy to meet a lady that my father worked with and yes, I flew as an “unaccompanied minor”. Even more amazing to me now that I think about it, I don’t think I had even met the lady (Patricia) myself – I was just told that she was “very nice” and was keen for me to come and visit her in Italy. I think that I was about 7 or 8 at the time and it was very exciting, because my parents took me to the airport and then left me at the departure gate in the care of a stewardess. I had to keep my own passport and ticket safe and I had been bought a special purse for my Italian Lira (now that really does show my age) & I had a stash of travellers cheques safely stowed in my luggage. My parents had bought me an “open” ticket and assured me that they would keep in contact and if necessary I could come home whenever I wanted to. My other abiding memory of this part of my journey was when I was left in the company of a couple of other children, one of whom was a little boy (younger than me) who had a toy pistol that was taken from him at Customs, much to his distress and crying. He was very kindly told by one of the members of staff looking after us that he couldn’t take it on board the plane in his hand luggage, because it may be used by a hijacker and was therefore dangerous to have on board – how exciting do you think that was for me!

When we arrived in Milan (I think it was), at the airport I was accompanied through customs by the stewardess before being handed over to the nominated collecting party, Patricia, who was extremely nice and told me about all the exciting things that she had arranged for us to do including meeting up with her family in Crema and possibly joining them on a skiing holiday! Even better, she suggested that on our journey back to her apartment we would stop to pick up some real Italian ice cream – Gelato! I was liking this tremendously. However, when we got to the ice cream shop she told me to wait in the car to look after my luggage, keep the car locked & sound the hooter if anyone approached the car … now that sounded a little scary for the first time.

She lived in an apartment just opposite a lovely park and I remember going to the park (again alone) to play with a ball (probably football). Here I met a younger boy, who was interested in playing with me and the ball. We had a great time! (It’s amazing how when you are younger you can manage to play with other children even when neither of you can speak or understand the other’s language – I certainly did not know anything in Italian except for yes, no, please and thank you). Upon returning to her apartment, Patricia, who had been watching me from the balcony asked me whether I realised that the boy I had been playing with was the son of very wealthy people who lived nearby. Of course, I had not been able to have any conversation with him and so was totally unaware of this fact and I don’t think that I would have been bothered either, as it is completely unimportant when you are that age.

We did go to visit her relatives with children and it was great, but the planned holiday never came to anything and it was simply an enjoyable excursion to another place to meet lots of interesting people. It’s a shame really, because I cannot even remember any of their names – it was just a good day out!

So far, things had been going well, I had been out for pizza with Patricia and her boyfriend (I don’t remember his name) and I was feeling very ‘grown up’. However, whether it was the disappointment of not going on holiday with her family or just the pressure of not being with my parents – after little more than a week I think (if that) I became very homesick, particularly at meal times where I was used to always eating as a family. My parents had called a couple of times and I was ‘full of the excitement about my various encounters’, but then they called one evening and I just collapsed into floods of tears. In hindsight it was probably very upsetting for my host, because she really had done everything she could to make my visit enjoyable. However, very quickly my flight home was arranged and I was taken to the airport for my return journey.

I would summarise this first independent trip as a somewhat bittersweet memory at the time, but like everything as time has progressed I am now able to look back on it fondly!



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