Our Grand Summer Trip by
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Prompted By That Summer

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I was still working on my endless project of scanning old photos and dismantling heavy scrapbooks when I found the passport my husband and I shared for our 8-week trip to Europe and Israel in 1969. Amazingly, in those days a married couple could have one passport, in the husband’s name, of course. My name does appear as “wife” but aside from our cute couple photo, they didn’t care about my vital statistics. So strange. That passport from 1969 made me my husband’s possession.

Thankfully, one summer 52 years ago my husband I made an impractical and probably irresponsible choice. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of our lives.

There were many other aspects of that trip that reflect a bygone era, starting with the fact that we spent less than $1,600 on a whirlwind tour of Europe and Israel, including airfare and transportation. We used all of our wedding gift money from the previous summer, which was a pretty reckless thing to do for a couple living on my teacher’s salary of $6,000 a year while also supporting my spouse through medical school. Yet we sensed that this was the last time we would both have the entire summer off, and sadly we were right. As we approach our 53rd anniversary this August, it is clear that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’m glad we took it.

Using Frommer’s Europe on $5 a Day as our bible, we actually kept a tally of what we spent each day, written in a small notebook that chronicled our journey. With only a vague itinerary, we made our way from London to Amsterdam to Paris to Geneva to Florence to Pisa to Rome to Naples to Capri to Pompei to Athens to Hydra to Mykonos to Israel and back to London. In Israel, we stayed with my aunt and uncle on Kibbutz Ein Dor and toured the north. On our own, we visited the area around Jerusalem. The only security we encountered was at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv when we flew back to London. While not nearly as intense as what we encounter today to fly from Chicago to Boston, it provided a small window into what was to come.

Going through our small 10-cent Penworthy notebook, I was amazed by how many other ways the world has changed since our trip. We took charter student flights that were incredibly cheap but also slept at the airport because they were so delayed. People were mostly friendly and tolerant of Americans who did not speak their language, with the exception of Paris. Aside from a couple of #MeToo moments in Rome, where I was groped by the owner of the pension where we stayed and by random guys sitting by myself on the Spanish Steps, I felt safe. In Israel, we even walked down Mt. Scopus through several Arab villages without incident.

Communication with our families was via a few postcards we sent to them. It’s a good thing we saved them because we have very few photos. We borrowed a relative’s bulky 35 mm camera as we didn’t own one. Sadly, we also didn’t know the camera was broken until the slides we had developed from those little canisters of film came back streaked with light and mostly ruined. The photo at the top of this post was our favorite, taken in Israel by a relative who had a decent camera and mailed to us.

Even without the hundreds of pictures we would have taken had iPhones existed back then, as we read through our little journal the memories were pretty vivid. Perhaps this is because we were so young and impressionable. Perhaps not taking so many pictures and seeing things directly seared the sights and experiences into our brains. As we scanned a handful of photos that survived the trip and the postcards our parents had saved and returned to us, we combined them with the notes in that 10-cent journal to create a memory book.

If a young person asked me today if she should spend every dollar she had to take a trip like ours, my instinct would have been to say no. It’s irresponsible. Hold onto that money as it is your only cushion against a catastrophe like job loss or a health crisis. Upon further reflection, if such a trip were possible in today’s world, I say YES. In 1969, we were so sure we would repeat the experience at some future date when we could afford decent meals and accommodations. But that time never came and now we would have a hard time physically undertaking a similar journey.

The world has changed and I have changed. Thankfully, one summer 52 years ago my husband I made an impractical and probably irresponsible choice. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of our lives.

*Some aspects of this glorious summer trip were described in my story Why I Missed the Moon Landing.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real, join my Facebook community, and visit my website.

 

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: right on!

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Laurie, your instincts are right – who would spent every cent on such a trip, even if you were economizing. But what precious memories and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for both of you! I’m glad you have the few photos that you’ve shared because you both are gorgeous and the landscape is wonderful.

    Clearly, this trip meant the world to you because your description, even all these years later, remains vivid and, as you say, seared in your memory. Smart to be frugal and see as much as you did. Those memories have lasted a lifetime. Thank you for sharing them with us!

  2. Marian says:

    Laurie, this is a terrific recap of a once-in-a-lifetime trip. And yes, how different travel was then compared with today! I had no idea that a married couple could use one passport–how strange. What if the woman wanted to travel by herself? I guess that was unheard of … Anyway, I think your advice to young couples today is right on.

  3. Suzy says:

    Wonderful story, Laurie, of an obviously unforgettable summer. So glad you took that trip. And despite having a broken camera, you seem to have ended up with some wonderful photos. But one passport for a married couple – that is amazing!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Suzy, I have to hunt down that old passport. I know I didn’t toss it in the move. Just put it in that mysterious “someplace special,” which could be in our basement storage locker. What I included in the story is pretty much all we had to show for that trip, but I did make a memory book in which I transcribed the notes from that tiny notebook, down to my husband’s calculations about how much we spent each day!

  4. John Shutkin says:

    What a wonderful trip, Laurie, and so beautifully described in all respects. And what a wonderful decision to take the trip — and, as Marian notes, wise advice to other young couples (subject to COVID concerns, of course).. Obviously, I’m not the only Retro-ist who can tell about The Grand Tour.

    And kudos as to your photo scanning project. Certainly from our standpoint and consumers of your stories it is worth it, and trust you feel the same.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      John, the photo scanning was so time-consuming. I know I could have sent them off to service, but (aside from the fear that they could be lost) I loved editing old pictures. In one, I found my grandfather in the background when I lightened the picture. I’m afraid the organization of them got away from me, but that’s a project for another time.

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    I was also shocked by the one passport phenomenon, which I had only heard of with my mother and her babe in arms. But am so glad you made the trip and preserved the memories. Whenever people ask me if they should travel, I always say yes!! Of course, with due precautions for safety. But 1969 was a particularly good time to travel, when you were young, the dollar was strong, and the world was less crowded. Precious memories indeed, and thanks for sharing them.

  6. Susan Bennet says:

    Laurie, a vivid recollection of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, I enjoyed it very much. And the photos are priceless — you look very hip in your sixties duds and hair style! It’s so easy to put off this opportunity or that. I’m glad you and your husband took the leap with such memorable results. Thank you for sharing.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, Susan. After reading your wonderful story, I was reminded that we were in the midst of great turmoil in 1969. Perhaps part of the motivation for our trip was to escape the very dark times in the US that were about to become darker as Nixon escalated the war in Vietnam and we lived through what we thought then was the worst president ever. Guess we were wrong there because I have come to believe that Trump was far worse.

  7. Good one, Laurie! You paint a vivid picture. Glad you had that experience and glad you remember it so well. Great photos, too.

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