Today youngsters take a gap year, back in the 70s we did the Big OE (overseas experience). The differences between now and then falls within the parameters of the theme of more with less. The 70s was a time when everyone did more with less and was oblivious to the fact that they had less or how far they made it stretch. It’s just the way life was for most of us. When it came time to spread our wings and travel to distant shores most of us had read James A Michener’s book The Drifters – which could have been sub-titled “The Almanac of Youthful Excess on a shoestring”. Every backpacker had either read the novel or had it tucked into their backpack to read. It was the 70s equivalent of The Lonely Planet Guide.
Not many of us backpacking around Europe were doing so on our parents’ money which was why we were doing it with less. It seems we had grasped the concept of saving money and the choices we made were dependent on both the value and cost. If we were invited out to a night on the town we weighed the cost of the evening and whether or not we would have enough cash left over to see parts of the city in which we were staying. More often than not we opted for a night in and we reasoned that we’d be up early for a fresh start, wouldn’t be slowed down by a hangover, and that we would have money in our pockets to enjoy either hiring bikes or taking the train to see the countryside. We could get wasted without leaving home, if we missed the opportunity to see the sites the chances of being able to return were scarce.
Back in the 70s we shopped for fresh food in the town markets which were the first stop on the way into town. I couldn’t say if there were takeaway joints because when we did eat out , instead we chose places that offered local dishes and we experienced the cuisine and wallowed in the ambience of quaint family restaurants. There were no McDonalds in the parts of Europe I travelled to – something we should all hark back to but that’s perhaps another blog. The food we ate was wholesome, cheap and fresh and there was nothing fast about it. We waited while the speciality dishes were prepared from scratch and delivered to our table with pride by the beaming garçon. We soaked in the atmosphere taking in the language, mannerisms of the locals, and culture while we enjoyed the food. We learned something new every day, every hour and it cost very little. After dinner we retraced our steps to the backpacker’s dormitory and curled up for the night in our sleeping bags.
We didn’t need pockets full of money to have a good time. When money ran out we stopped and got busy at whatever jobs were available. We picked fruit, served in bars, waitressed, worked as housemaids in small hotels, we did whatever it took to earn enough to fund the next leg of the journey. The 70s were days of telegrams, letters and post cards and the latter took weeks to arrive anywhere in the world. There were no cell phones or computers on which to contact the oldies for a cash top up. If we ran out of money we worked, it was that simple. No one was going to rescue us and by the time we’d written asking to be pulled out of whatever mess we’d gotten ourselves tangled up in, chances were we had already rescued ourselves. We stuck together and helped each other, there was (maybe still is) an unspoken rule amongst backpackers that we don’t steal off each other; it just didn’t happened.
My backpack carried one of everything (except undies of which there were three): one jersey, one hat, one pair of shorts, one pair of swimming togs, one pair of jeans, one pair of socks (could have done with two), one pair of hiking boots, one towel, one face cloth, one cake of soap … My big OE lasted 2 years and I returned home with most of the clothes I’d left home with plus a couple of extra items. We washed our clothes in the shower or bath with us and dried them overnight. If they didn’t dry we wore the cleanest of our dirty clothes. We managed – we didn’t go out and buy more. Today packing for a two week holiday I’m struggling to come in under 23kgs. For some reason I now need a pair of undies for every day we’re away, plus some spares, clothes for every season even though we’re away in the middle of summer, two pairs of swimming togs because it’s horrid to put cold wet togs on for that next swim.
My wardrobe is certainly something that needs attention. The mix and match fashion hasn’t helped keep the number of pieces to a minimum. We have a washing machine and beautiful warm weather that dries clothing in half a day so why do we need all these clothes cluttering up our wardrobes. Excess and more excess. We have family members who would be shamed if they wore the same dress to any two occasions even if those occasions were a year apart. I’m not that bad but I do have clothes to which I am sentimentally attached. Like the big old green mohair jersey that my sister-in-law finished knitting for me. It’s fifteen years old and gets an outing once in a blue moon. It is so big and stretched and has no shape at all; if it weren’t for the arms it would look like a body bag. Now there’s a thought and going with the more/less theme. How would it be as a shroud instead of having a coffin. I’ll have to work on that idea – or maybe not.
I have done much more in my past with so much less than I have now. This month’s blogging challenge is relevant as I’ve become impatient with all the stuff and clutter around me. It’s everywhere: on the walls, table and bench tops, in the study, on the desks, we’ve got three desk, two computers, two laptops, two smart phones, two tablets, fifty tea towels and five bedrooms and two of us. Reflecting on how little we had when we married compared to all the material possessions we’ve gathered during the course of 33 years of marriage makes me cringe. Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not hankering for a return to upturned tomato boxes covered with material for coffee tables, or fourth hand sofas with mouldy blankets thrown over them to cover the holes. I enjoy our lounge suite that still has its springs on the inside rather than having to ride them like a pogo stick or worry about them impaling someone. In downsizing over the next year or so the more might be interpreted as better: less stuff but maintain the quality.