My first real self-guided tour came when my new wife and I took a driving trip through northern Mexico on our honeymoon in 1976. We picked up a free guidebook customized for our itinerary at a company called Sanborn's which specialized in selling Mexican automobile insurance to American tourists. We visited Monterrey, San Luis Potosi, San Miguel de Allende, and Guanajuato.
Over the next four years, we traveled independently in Mexico almost every year, usually flying in and renting a car to drive around. We visited Mexico City, Acapulco, Puerta Vallarta, Cancun, and Cozumel to name some of the most well known.
In 1981, our international experiences really took off when my company, a major multinational, transferred me to Brazil to work on design of a new plant. We moved to Sao Paulo, which at that time was the third largest city in the western hemisphere. We lived there for almost three years, learning to live in a language and culture that were both very different from that of the U.S.
While living in Brazil, we took the opportunity to travel there, and to Argentina and Paraguay as well.
At the beginning of 1984, we moved to Sao Luis, capital of the Brazilian state of Maranhao. This was very different from Sao Paulo. Although its population was around 500,000, the physical infrastructure suggested a city of about 50,000. There was one hospital and one supermarket. Most of the population lived a subsistence lifestyle in huts constructed from wattle (mud packed around a lattice of sticks) or scrounged materials.
In late summer of that year, we returned to the U.S. to live in Pittsburgh. After almost four years of living overseas, we were glad to confine our travels to trips to see family or to the beach in Florida.
But another relocation moved us to Indianapolis, and me to a job that required occasional international travel. The division I joined had plants or offices in Britain, Germany, Spain, Hungary, China, Japan, Singapore, and Bahrain. My duties took me to most of these places, but only for a couple of days at a time.
In 1997, I was scheduled to attend a meeting in Germany for almost a week. In a departure from the norm, the meeting was scheduled far enough in advance to plan a vacation around it. My wife and I arranged to fly to Germany a couple of days early, and stay in Europe for two weeks after the meeting. We arranged rail passes and hotels and planned our grand tour.
On that trip, we visited Rome, Florence, Venice, Nice, and Paris (as well as Worms, Germany where my business meeting was held.) We've been Europe lovers ever since. Each of the last four years, we've returned, becoming more bold each time. At the beginning, we used travel agents to arrange flights and hotels and traveled by rail on Eurail passes. Now we buy our tickets on the web and FAX the hotels directly. We rent a car at the airport and take off on the highways. We're very comfortable being on our own. Perhaps our experiences can be of help to you.
Copyright 2001 Harry B. Rowe