Cultural Experience | Germany

How to Raise a Traveller: The Story of How I Was Brought Up to Fall In Love With the World

My parents were in their early twenties the first time they had the freedom to travel wherever they wanted. They had grown up behind the iron curtain.

My parents were born and raised in a country called the German Democratic Republic (GDR for short), more commonly known as East Germany. When I was born in 1992, this country had ceased to exist barely two years prior. After the wall came down the West German government gave every East German traveling west a gift of 100 Deutsche Mark in cash, the so-called “Begrüßungsgeld” (welcome money). My parents spent that money on plane tickets to Finland to visit a friend who had come to see them in the GDR but whom they hadn’t been allowed to visit in return. When they visited Finland for the second time I came with them. That’s how I went on my first plane trip at two years old.

Finland old school nineties tourism

The original college tourists – my parents on their first trip to Finland

East Germany was a country that found a simple and effective solution to keep its population from flocking to the more free and prosperous West. It closed its borders and built a wall around them. Travelling was limited to countries that belonged to the Eastern Bloc and even to those you couldn’t Just up and go. But my parents had travelled before – to Russia, the GDR’s neighbor states Poland and what was then Czechoslovakia. They had told me stories about their first trip together; going to Bulgaria on the train, a journey of several days via Hungary and Romania. However, after Reunification, when they finally had the freedom to travel wherever and whenever they wanted, their Wanderlust became unstoppable.

I grew up seeing a different country almost every summer. My childhood vacations were spent in traffic jams at the Austrian border, eating gelato in Venice, exploring ancient Roman ruins in Croatia, getting lost in Moroccan souks, getting rain soaked in the lush green Irish countryside, slurping virgin Pina Coladas in Cuba and reapplying layers upon layers of sunscreen on the beach in Southern France. Before graduating high school I had already been to 16 countries on three different continents. I am intensely grateful to my parents for exposing me to the joy of travelling at an early age, for letting me grow into someone who has always been comfortable with getting a little lost, who learned early to embrace different cultures and follow the adventure.

southern france family tourism

My family in Southern France, ca. 2002

Entirely without intending to my parents raised a kid who is hungry for the world. They raised a traveler. So when it came time to set out on my own I’d like to think I was pretty well prepared. I prioritise my spending largely around saving up for the next trip, I find friends to travel with or make some along the way, I know how to be safe and responsible, but am open to spontaneous adventure. Most young travelers learn this along the way during their college years, but I sometimes feel like I just inherited it somewhere between chasing my brother down a ski slope in the Alps and getting lost on Toronto’s public transport system.

Epic canoeing Canada lake tourism

Epic canoeing with my brother in Canada, 2009

My parents have also been hugely supportive of my endeavors of living abroad for long stretches at a time. When I was sixteen I spent a year going to high school in Canada and recently I spent six months studying abroad in the United States. And even though it’s kind of a scary thing for everyone involved, every time I get overwhelmed or homesick I can hear my mom saying: “I wish I had been able to do that when I was your age. What an amazing opportunity!”

However, it’s not just my parents who have encouraged me to travel. My grandmother seems to always be planning her next adventure vacation. Her recent destinations included Mongolia, Uzbekistan and Japan. My uncle, having been a passionate backpacker in the nineties, took me aside once after a few beers at a family party and very intently told me to, “Travel as much as you can. And do it now. Once you have a job, limited vacation time, a family, it just gets a lot trickier. Make the most of the time you have now!”

Capturing the California sunset 2014 big sur pacific coastal highway

Capturing the California sunset, January 2014 (Photo by Rafael Eggebrecht)


Remembering where my roots are and the limited freedom my family had, especially when it comes to travel, makes me that much more appreciative of being able to see the world and travel as much as I do these days. As a kid from eastern Germany, having been raised a traveler is not so common, but my parents always made travel a priority no matter what our financial situation was at the time. To explore this beautiful world with the people you love most – it’s a gift and I’ll never forget that.

Ontario Canada travel

Taken during my most recent trip in Ontario, Canada, July 2014

Julia Rabe

Universität Leipzig | 9 stories

Julia is an American Studies major at Leipzig University in Germany. Currently she is studying abroad at Ohio University. This summer she will be traveling through the United States and Canada before returning home to Germany in the fall. In addition to travel, Julia is passionate about video-making, her internet addiction and trying not to fall off her pennyboard.

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