I am happiest traveling when I have friends and connections where I visit, entrees into the actual world and life of the inhabitants. When I went to England four years ago I spent a few days on my own in London before heading to Nottingham for the UK Shape-Note Convention, and I realized that until connecting with the shape-note singers (who later became friends of mine, but were strangers to me at the time) I had gone three days without having a single conversation with anybody who wasn't paid to be pleasant to me. When I spoke to Ruth Cooper on the phone to verify my Nottingham arrangements, her warm response and enthusiasm and here-you-are-at-last air filled me with happiness, and helped me realize how alone I'd been in a foreign land until that moment. When I went to the Netherlands two years ago, I very much enjoyed all my time alone in Amsterdam, but the deepest pleasures of my trip were being hosted and shown around by my friend Marina in Utrecht and my friend Ruud in Amsterdam and also, most significantly, spending an evening dancing and drinking with the Utrecht Morris team.
Over the last few years I have come to know a few of the folks who are active in SAGE-AU, the Australian branch of the USENIX System Administrator's Association (SAGE). They attend the same annual LISA conference as me, and last year there was a small friendly campaign to get me to return the favor and attend the SAGE-AU conference in Australia. This put the idea of the trip in my head somewhere.
The other week I was thinking about the fact that if my employment situation stays the same, I am eligible for a 3-week sabbatical next summer. It struck me that this would be a nice time to attend the SAGE-AU conference, which is held in August, and to visit what I can of the country. While my company is not currently in a position to pay my way to the conference, we can still allocate my travel time and my conference time as work days rather than sabbatical days.
It's possible, even likely, that if I begin my trip with the conference I might meet people who can help me plan out the rest of the trip. More contacts and connections! There is also Morris dancing in Australia (I've heard that one year there was even Morris dancing at the SAGE-AU conference.) There is even some shape-note singing in Australia; I have to check on the details.
I can't start to plan the specifics of my trip until I know where the conference will be, and that won't be set until September or so. In the meantime I have bought my first travel book about Australia and I'm reading up on the country and its history. I'm imagining and romanticizing the country, as one should before such a major trip. It will be my Year of Down Under, I hope.
Now to find myself a nice copy of the works of Henry Lawson.
For time means tucker, and tramp they must, where the plains and scrubs are wide,
With seldom a track that a man can trust, or a mountain peak to guide;
All day long in the flies and heat the men of the outside track
With stinted stomachs and blistered feet must carry their swags Out Back.
Henry Lawson, 1893