Google Earth And The Frugal Traveller


I am not a frugal person – but I admire those who are. The idea of conservative values and careful use of resources to live a good life seems to be closer to the ideals that my parents held than I have been able to attempt. I get distracted by a desire to own more and more things and I suspect that I lose out on a lot of inner peace thereby.

I’m not entirely lost, however, and I have hope for the future. Oddly enough it is a hope that somewhat limits me. Let me explain.

I emigrated to Australia in the 1960’s from Western Canada. Settled down here, got an education, got married, have a family. Became an Australian citizen, worked for 40 years, retired for 8 days, and am back in harness. State law grants me a big annual holiday and pays me to take it, and conventional wisdom tells me that I should use this opportunity to travel. I have been getting a lot lately from acquaintances who think I should visit Western Canada again…presumably to soak up the nostalgia.

Maybe – but this sort of trip also soaks up about $ 20,000 and I privately wonder if it would deliver more algia than I want for the money. I have happy memories of a good childhood, and I think if I were to try to recapture it I would fail. The chief actors in my childhood – my parents – are long passed away. Their brothers and sisters are gone. The cousins left are strangers to me and I would only expect to see them if they were passing through Australia and wanted a bed for a week…

The houses I lived in and the neighbourhoods I frequented might still exist, but would be 50+ years older. Time enough to go to hell or come back again – the buildings would either be gone or in terrible shape. The people I knew would be scattered to the winds all over Canada. It is hard to conceive of anything that would reward a trip.

Yet….there is always the curiosity…and the irrational little thought that you would find the old school yard…

Enter the Google Earth program. Whether you go for the sneaky vertical spy shot or the intrusive street view – or just the map view – you can look at where you were. I have done just that – walked to my third-grade school from our old house. And to the drug store. And caught the bus downtown. I was horrified at one stage to see the old house razed and a new two-story one go up but I have reconciled myself with the fact that I did see it in the old place before it went. Note that the Calgary school board have not improved the appearance of the school since I was 8…

It is interesting to see that in 50 years they have also not altered scrap-ends of streets where we tobogganed in winter – and it is impossible to remove some of the big hills and valleys where we played. It is also interesting to see which points of the city have not grown in 50 years…not fancy sections either. I guess unattractive land is just that.

The Google Earth takes me all over the western part of Canada and the US to find old haunts – I can trace my way as I did in my childhood, and in doing so most of the build-up of nostalgia goes away. The need to spend big to relive it is no more – I can be frugal and spend the $ 20,000 on toy cars and girls in sequinned costumes. Now who could argue with the financial morality of that?

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