My first trip out of the country was when I was about ten years old. My family and I took a day trip across the Mexican border with an old man in a white van.
No, we weren’t being smuggled.
We were on a vacation to South Padre Island, Texas, and my parents heard about a guy who took groups on day trips into Mexico. This was in the simpler days before a passport was needed to cross the border. My parents, brother, and I all thought it would be neat to say we had been out of the country since none of us ever had been. So, as sketchy as it sounds in hindsight, we climbed into the old guy’s van and headed for Matamoros, Mexico.
While there, we ate at a restaurant that was highly Americanized. I ate spaghetti in Mexico, something I am now thoroughly ashamed of. I should have at least had a taco, but I was ten, so I’ll forgive myself for not fully immersing myself in the culture. I do vaguely remember walking through a kind of open-air market and my dad haggling with one of the merchants. I remember the stop signs looking the same but saying ALTO. And I recall being bombarded with children selling stuff as soon as we stepped out of the van.
Other than those vague memories, my first experience out of the country is a little hazy. After all, this was about ten years ago when I was in elementary school. My mom has pictures somewhere, and I’m sure if I dug them out, more memories would come to me. And it’s not as if we spent very long there at all; it was just an afternoon! But this was where it all began for me.
I can’t remember exactly when I decided I needed to go everywhere, but I do know it was early on. Even though I didn’t know the word for “wanderlust” when I was a kid, I do always remember being fascinated with other cultures. Anyone who spoke a different language was immediately interesting to me. In my first grade Spanish class, I won a prize for something (no telling what, I was a total nerd even then). The prize was a handmade doll from Mexico. I remember the doll, unique and colorful, had newspaper stuffed in her skirt so it could retain its shape. Realizing the newspaper was in Spanish, I was entranced. I just wanted to know more.
You could say that’s truly where my fascination with learning about other cultures began: seven years old, looking up a doll’s skirt.
But that would be weird…so we won’t say that.