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So this one time...'

Illustration by Arnie Bermudez
By Sabrina Noble
Arizona Summer Wildcat
Monday August 25, 2003

For most UA students, summer break means vacation. More and more, that seems to entail travel abroad. Just the other week, I showed up at a gathering of old friends, only to find them discussing their vacations. To my surprise, one friend had been making discreet trips to Mexico City for more than a year. When I asked her why, she explained that being a tall white girl with American money practically made her a celebrity in their bars and clubs. Whenever she needed an ego pick-me-up, she put in a few more hours at the coffee shop to buy her next ticket. Several other people at the table immediately said they'd done something similar at least once. And when we went to a bar that night, half the group flashed not their drivers' licenses, but their passports.

Now most of my friends traveled extensively on family vacations, but when did they become part of the twenty-something jet-setting crowd? That whimsical global travel is, it would seem, the pastime of my generation the same generation that seems to transfer from college to college and work as much as possible to pay its way across the Atlantic whenever a new city comes to mind. It's a restless, wander-lustful era; we often hear of the "global citizen," that to stay in one place feels painful. But is that what globalization is supposed to mean? That no one can sit still?

Sabrina Noble

Well then, I'm afraid the fast, confident stride of the global community is leaving me behind. Of all my friends and acquaintances in their early twenties, I'm the least traveled. I've never been overseas. I'd never even seen an ocean until I was a sophomore in college. For a long time, my geographical stagnancy was maddening. Now I'm beginning to think it's for the best that I didn't take care of my traveling so early.

Once, it was educational, inspiring and enlightening to see the ruins of the Roman Empire and the Great Pyramids. And it still is to some people. But to so many of my generation assuming they have the funding for their travel it's all about being able to start a story with: "So this one time in Amsterdam " (And that story always ends with legal prostitution, so please don't begin.)

Travel is about appearing cultured, even if backpackers across Europe eat McDonald's every day to "avoid the local food." Now people deliberately schedule flights with layovers so that they can list one more city they've visited, though they never leave the airport. For this breed of traveler, it's about who brings back the most stolen pint glasses with foreign beer logos. It's about buying Eiffel Tower snow globes and postcards they pack away as mementos rather than mailing. Or perhaps the experience is measured by how many ounces of legal marijuana it bestows upon its young and bright-eyed travelers. One of my friends went from London to Madrid in two weeks, stoned all but a single day.

Since I haven't traveled myself, I'm always curious about others' trips; it makes it easier to imagine myself one day going there rather than always being stuck in the Midwest, the Southwest, the U.S. But when I ask my friends how the people of Barcelona were, or how the French food was, there are long, blank pauses. From their vague and disinterested responses, you'd think all the streets of Western Europe were abandoned. Apparently, all activity except in the bars is at a standstill. No one has much, if any, recollection of where they actually were. It's no wonder that foreigners distinctly disdain Americans. We stand on one side of the glass and point out places of interest while drinking Pepsi and focusing our cameras. We travel without ever having to leave; we stay even as we go.

There are dangers to not watching where you're going, and I'm beginning to wonder what mentality of reckless viewing is being promoted by my generation's continent-skipping. By turning the great cities of the world into main stage attractions, Americans are beginning to underestimate them just as all the caged animals at a zoo, in our minds, come to like the camera flash and the little crackers. We're forgetting that they still have their teeth, their tempers and a will to not be our entertainment.

Europe, Africa and Australia are more than postcards. People live there, however they can get by. And with every touristy picture we take, Americans are insulting that endeavor and flaunting their own privilege to go, it would appear, wherever they want.

So I challenge you. The next time you take a trip overseas or down to Mexico, look about you. I mean really look about you, so that the next time you go to a party you'll really have something to say. I've heard the prostitutes-in-Amsterdam story a million times.

Sabrina Noble is a senior majoring in English and creative writing. She can be reached at

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