Love at First Flight

immigration photo

My younger brother and I with our grandparents, at the airport the day we immigrated to the U.S.


When did my love of travel begin? As a 3-year-old.

I had just gotten settled into my assigned seat on whatever airline it was that serviced Seoul (Gimpo) in 1972 (I’m guessing Korean Air). As was typical of that generation and culture, my mother had all her energies focused on my younger, 10-month-old brother. Did I feel neglected? Did I suffer from first child regression? I don’t know. All I know was I was alone, and I didn’t know what you did on a plane, it being my first time and all. So I looked around. There was a man — was he white? It’s possible, but I can’t remember — and he was sleeping in his chair, his head bobbing. Ah, I thought, you sleep on a plane. So I took a nap.

When I awoke, umma was nowhere to be seen. Where did she go, I asked the young woman who was accompanying our emigratory flight. She’s in the back, changing your brother’s diaper, she said. I went to the back of the plane. And indeed she was.

Not only is this my very first memory ever but the seemingly inconsequential moment in time has ingrained in me a love of travel. No bad memories of plugged ears and scary takeoffs. Just … adventure. And for a 3-year-old — not bad, I have to admit.

And it doesn’t stop there. My entire childhood was filled with road trips in some iteration of station wagon or another, and I relished every single one. From New York to Michigan. From Michigan to Florida (hell yeah, we made that trip). And of course from Michigan to Ohio to Illinois, over and over again. No sweat. I loved being in the station wagon. We went to drive-in movies in that station wagon. We drove to Mackinac Island in that station wagon. It was like camping, but in mobile form and minus the bugs. (No car seats or seat belts required back then, either.) And boy did I love the road.

Mind you, there was no iPod, iPad, cell phone, whatever. My brothers and I passed the hours on the lookout for “Herbies” — the VW beetles that passed us seemingly every few minutes — and whoever counted the most Herbies (“Green Herbie! Red Herbie!”) won the biggest prize when we got to our destination. As the oldest, of course, I’d always win. I distinctly remember getting a maltese stuffed animal from one of my Herbie triumphs, something I cherished for a long time.

After my family and I moved to California, my brother and I took our first solo flight back to Michigan to visit friends when I was 13.  A year later,  I made the transpacific flight for the first time since I was a toddler to go on a government-sponsored tour of my homeland. And then every year thereafter, all through my teens and beyond, I have been on a plane or in a car headed everywhere from Seattle to Seoul, Kuala Lumpur to London, Rosarita to Rome. It’s a bug I can’t shake, and I don’t want to.

So as I prepare for my latest adventure — exploring the Turkish coast on a gület for a week before I get my tile porn on in Istanbul — I make lists and more lists, pack and repack (half the fun, in my book), research one too many guidebooks and practice my Turkish (merhaba! Bu ne kadar?). All so that when I finally get through security and settle in for the 13+ hour flight to Istanbul, I’ll know that I’ve done my research. And I can just take a nap.

3 thoughts on “Love at First Flight

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