By Rosemary G., 7-time traveler & 10-time Vacation Ambassador from Beverly Shores, IN
On a layover in the Frankfurt Airport, en route home from Indonesia, I realized it’s been 50 years to the month that I landed in Frankfurt to receive the first stamp on my first passport. A lot has changed in those 50 years. For one thing, you could arrive at the airport a half hour (or less) before a flight departure time, and count on getting on the plane. And, if you were too early or too late, you’d get put on another plane from another airline company with no hassle and no change in price.
The Frankfurt Airport is gigantic, and most of the service personnel are people of color: African and Asian. In 1965, a black person in Germany was assumed to be an American G.I. Another change: almost everyone speaks English. No need to use my faltering German. It’s a small indication of how times have changed—and not just in Germany. It seems that in nearly every county there are more tourists, more international students, more immigrants, and more refugees, and they’re a lot more likely to speak English than 50 years ago. Hotel reservations are made online, so there’s wandering from one hotel or pension to another asking in your best French (or whatever), “Avez-vous une chambre… ?”
In 1965 it was nearly impossible to travel to eastern bloc countries, and especially to China. Now they’re promoting tourism, and the U.S. State Department has no objections.
There’s less access to points of interest: for example, Michelangelo’s “Pieta” is behind glass, as is the Mona Lisa. Stonehenge and the Acropolis are behind barriers. The Mayan pyramids in Chichen Itza are closed to climbers. The pyramids in Egypt look like Disneyland with hotels, amusement rides, and even a zoo. Similarly, the “pink city” of Petra in Jordan is packed with tourists—compared to four of us in the whole city in 1967. Marmaris in Turkey was a fishing village that same year; now it’s packed with luxury yachts and condos. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is full of “kitsch” made in China, rather than the locally produced brass and copper of days gone by. Mega-cruise ships are ruining the quaintness of even the smallest waterfront villages of the world.
It’s more difficult (with globalization) to have culturally unique experiences, but it’s not impossible. It’s especially not impossible if you’re willing to go off the beaten track and just wing it. Some cite the fear of terrorism as a reason to stay home, but there have always been fears. Remember The Kingston Trio’s 1959 song dubbed the John Foster Dulles rag: “They’re rioting in Africa…”? Perhaps the best hope for a distinctive experience is to be cautious, to be sure, but to search out places that have no fast food chains, no menus, and no signs in English. And, most importantly, to be open to the traveler’s greatest ally: serendipity.
Our travelers are endlessly inspiring. To read more stories that will make you want to seek out new experiences, read more Traveler Insights from past editions of The Inside Scoop. Or, view entertaining and enlightening short films about our destinations in What We’re Watching.