Everybody remembers their first time.
I had been to Florida before, closer to the age of 6, when mom and I visited Disney World. Whenever my mom reminisces with a “remember how much you played with your Pocahontas doll?” or “when we saw The Little Mermaid on stage?” I’m left blank, only faintly remembering being on a cruise ship and a mist that cooled the crowd when Ariel cried 500 rows in front of us.
My childhood was filled with travel, however, my memory only really kicks in around fourth grade. My mother, although now a police officer, was a travel agent up until I finished elementary school. This meant I got to tag along for adventures to the Caribbean, France and anywhere else her fabulous job sent her (or wherever she wanted to go – we’re talking the OG independent woman of the 90s here!). However, I fail to remember most of it.
But to throw you into my world as we kick off Passport Perspectives, my Florida story is a good introduction to the essence of silly ol’ me, and how independence and travel nurtured me into the woman I am today.
Yes, I realize I’m talking about Florida. It ain’t no Dubai, but it’s 2006, I’m in eighth grade, and escaping my hometown to anywhere is a thrill.
I was traveling with my two best friends, Charlotte and Emily. (Note that Charlotte is still a best friend almost 20 years later and I have the tattoo to prove it.) Somehow, Charlotte’s grandfather has convinced our mothers that it would be a “great idea” to send three boy-crazy pre-teens to stay with him over our March break from school. It took some serious convincing on my mother’s part (I had the strictest mother out of anyone – hence, POLICE OFFICER), but eventually she bought me the ticket. I was so excited, I screamed all the way to school that day and made sure my crush knew as I flipped my hair and batted my eyelashes at him in the gymnasium.
In middle school, which is seventh and eighth grades in Canada, Emily, Charlotte and I were part of the coolest crew of girls in school. Which means we thought we were the coolest and no one could tell us otherwise. We called ourselves the “Sexy Seven”, which included the three of us and four other beautiful girls. (Are you cringing yet? I am recounting this.)
But, it was middle school. We were all full of ourselves. We were the seniors of the school (the school was only two grades), we were in the arts program (which for some odd reason meant we were above everyone else), and we wore thongs (which we made sure everyone knew by slightly lifting them up over our pants). I straightened my curly hair every day, I had a new boyfriend every week (note that I was a virgin until my last year of high school), and I had a pink flip phone (which no one ever called). Jenny from the Block was my favorite song and I had pink Phat Farm sneakers with monkey faces across the laces.
Okay, so now you know I was THE shit in 2006.
Our flight was from Buffalo, New York, about half an hour from the Niagara border and roughly two hours from my home in Mississauga, Ontario. I pumped myself up the entire ride there with the High School Musical soundtrack on repeat. Unfortunately, the night we were supposed to fly out, a massive snowstorm hit as we drove into the U.S. and our flight was canceled. I bawled. My entire spring break fantasy came crashing down before me. Once past the drama, we were rescheduled and flew out two days later, miserable that our vacation was cut short.
We landed in Fort Myers bright eyed and bushy tailed with visions of sexy Miami keeping our spirits alive. A few hours in, we realized there was absolutely nothing to do.
Fort Myers is where old people go to die.
No good looking boys and a 45-minute drive to a shitty beach. Memories that stand out: a St. Patrick’s Day parade of grandpas with green beer, mini putt, and buying yogurt at the grocery store.
The week was a blur.
Charlotte’s grandfather, realizing how bored we were trapped in their snow bird community, surprised us with a trip to Orlando Studios for the last two days of our trip. We were ecstatic and drove to the city full of renewed hope for a wild story to take home with us.
We checked into our motel and dashed to the fair grounds adjacent with rides, games and shops to explore. I remember walking the strip with the girls, looking to buy all the things that a 12-year-old would buy – gum, t-shirts we’d never wear again, a shot glass I’d never use – when I spotted a cute boy following us, peeking in and out of shops hoping we would notice.
I turned towards him.
“Can we help you?” I put my hand on my hip and popped it to the side. I looked very intimidating in a baby blue co-ord of a skort and tank top that read you can never have enough shoes. An hour later, we had ditched the grandparents and were suddenly sixteen hanging with four college boys on a Lacrosse trip from New Hampshire.
The sun had set and it was ready to call it a day, but with so much flirty energy in the air, we couldn’t help ourselves but stick around. When the boys invited us back to their motel for a swim, we leaped at the opportunity. On our brisk walk back to ours to ask for permission, we brainstormed how we could get a thumbs up from gramps. So, we left out all of the details, and said we were going for a swim in our own motel’s pool and would be “back in a bit”.
Green light. But, there was one condition: “be back by 11”. It was only about nine. Seemed like a reasonable request.
However, as I’m sure you can guess, that didn’t happen.
Splashing around, giggling and trying liquors we’d never heard of, we were in pure teenage girl bliss with three cute American college boys. Grandpa, on the other hand, was near heart attack. Literally. As we stargazed on the laps of our hot studs, wrapped in fluffy pool towels, one of the boys pointed to a helicopter cutting through the silence of a weekday evening. He joked, “that one’s probably looking for you girls”. We all giggled but a small lump came up in my throat. Midnight had long gone. I remember catching a glimpse of someone’s watch and reading 2 AM. We said our goodbyes, agreeing to meet later on the next day. We had an early wake up call for Universal Studios after all.
(Like we needed more adrenaline.)
As we flip flopped down the dark road back to our motel, thinking of how to sneak back into our room, we were stopped dead in our tracks as a police car came racing towards us. The blinding headlights left us breathless. The car screeched to a stop. Two towering police officers stepped out of the vehicle.
“Are you Charlotte, Jazzmine and Emily?”
“Yes…” I still can’t remember who answered.
“Get in the car!”
I’ll never forget how he said it. Sometimes I remember him saying, “get in the fucking car!” It was an exhausted, annoyed tone that I had only known my mother to use.
We scurried our cute butts into the cruiser without a word. I don’t think we even took a breath. The car made a swift U-turn and zipped towards our motel. We were in shock as we observed the dashboard. Our names were plastered across the screen ahead with the exact amount of minutes we’d been missing. Three cars and a helicopter were on the lookout for the three “children” last seen in bathing suit tops and shorts at 9 PM: two blondes and one brunette with braids (guess which one was me).
We hung our heads as we walked behind the officers into the motel. My mind raced with all the different ways we would be disciplined, nevermind what our parents would have in store for us when we returned home. We walked into our motel room. Everything was a mess. Our wallets and bags had been literally ripped open. Every photo, card, and piece of clothing we owned was scattered across the floor of the motel room. You know those photo booths you’d find in malls in the early 2000s? Well, how the kids these days take selfies, our crew would head to the mall everytime we got an allowance just so we could take photos. So, yeah, we had a lot of them. Every single one had been ejected from our wallets and taped to a wall or scrawled across the floor. The police were adamant that they identify if we were “sexually active”. Obviously they concluded we were not.
I can’t say I remember exactly what happened next but our last day was not spent at Universal Studios. We sobbed into my hair as we took out my braids and watched a six hour marathon of CatDog. I could already hear my mother’s voice and it was giving me a headache. I was surprised we were allowed to go out again that day. We somehow convinced the grandparents that the boys would “worry” if we didn’t see them like we promised. What a clever line.
After ice cream and sorrow, we brought the boys back to the motel to apologize – except the boy I liked. He had way too much facial hair to make anyone feel better about the situation.
When I got home, I was grounded for so long I can’t even remember doing anything fun until high school started in September. Luckily my mother couldn’t keep me from Charlotte’s house – three blocks from mine. And most importantly, as I look back at this story, now at 30-years-old, thank good ol’ Jesus those boys were not disgusting pedophiles who kidnapped us and locked us in the motel basement.
If I were my daughter…
So, why did I choose to start with this story? Well, firstly, because it’s what I categorize as the bridge into my teenage years. Secondly, that Florida sucks – choose California instead. And thirdly, and most importantly, I learned from this experience that travel could give me more. Freedom. Carefree-ness. New friends. Stories. Imagine the adventures in Nicaragua? Cuba? Across Europe? Asia? And Africa? And being a consenting adult at the same time?!
I scratched my neck and it drew blood. The travel bug had bit me.
About Jazzmine Raine
Jazzmine leads from a background of over 10 years in project management, social impact, and experiential education. She is the proud founder of Hara House, India’s first zero waste guesthouse and tourism organization, and has been recognized globally for her work in the sustainable tourism sector.
Her diverse career has spanned across multiple countries with a strategic focus on providing young people the tools and knowledge needed to solve global challenges. With a love for storytelling and leading social impact, she thrives when coaching students and young professionals in leading new, innovative ideas.
Jazzmine has been a key leader in many unique social projects such as Causeartist, Sustainable Travel Network, Studio.89, CanGap and Hara World. In her spare time, you will find her writing short stories and drinking chai on her balcony at 8000ft in the Himalayas.
You can read all stories under the Passport Perspectives Travel Column here.