Travel memories in emails: Why I can never give up my dodgy old Hotmail account

The city is Nakuru, in western Kenya, nestled in the Great Rift Valley on the shores of its eponymous, flamingo-filled lake. It's nothing to write home about – though ironically, I am actually here to write home about it.

I'm on an overland tour of East Africa, a bumpy three-month journey in the back of a truck that will take me from Nairobi out to Kampala and on into the DRC, before returning to Kenya and heading south to Cape Town. By now we're only a few weeks in, and this is a stop to refuel and replenish, to buy food at the supermarket, to pick up firewood, and to spend half an hour at a local internet café to communicate with home.

It's 2004 – the good old days of email. You open your account after about a week without checking and find a grand total of five unread messages. Several are from your mum.

So I take a seat in the first internet café I see, all whitewashed walls and plastic chairs on polished concrete floors, computer terminals the size of small cupboards humming away. The place is filled with local Kenyans tapping on keyboards and chatting in between.

I take a deep breath and type in the address I want: http://www.hotmail.com. The deep breath is because you never know what's going to happen in most of these places, whether your email account will gradually appear on the screen, pixel by pixel, or you'll just get nothing. Frozen nothing.

There's been plenty of chat on this trip about which email account works best with African internet. In 2004 there aren't many options. The Yahoo users all reckon theirs works most times. Hotmail is iffy at best. Some people have Fastmail but that seems pretty useless.

I hit enter, fan myself with my travel diary because it's baking hot in here, and wait. And… success! The page loads. The four emails from my mum are there. I manage to click through to a new message page and type out another one of my group-email opuses – several-thousand-word updates, the prelude to the blogging era – that I'm convinced my friends back home actually care about.

When it's finished I click "send" and hold my breath again. This is the moment. If it freezes I've wasted my time. I fan myself again, look around at that packed room, and check the screen.

I love this memory. It's a pretty innocuous story – nothing much happens, it's just normal life. But those were some of my favourite moments on that first African adventure, the normal stuff: exploring local supermarkets, navigating roads, making fires, pitching tents. And sending emails from my old Hotmail address.

Advertisement

I still have it, too. The address. I can't bring myself to give it up. I understand that Hotmail is now tragically uncool and that my ownership of a Hotmail address dates me terribly and that I can't possibly give it out to potential business contacts, or even new friends, because they'll think I'm some bizarre anachronism – but still, I can't give it up.

It's my travel address. It's my first email address, the one I made specifically because I was about to go away overseas for a year or two and I wanted to keep in contact with everyone back home. And get all those messages from my mum.

(The first address I tried to register – ben182@hotmail.com – was an equally tragic reference to one of my favourite bands, though it had unfortunately already been taken by, I have to assume, another Blink fan. My brother managed to nab an address with a reference to the equally daggy pop-punk band MxPx. He's since changed it.)

And so my Hotmail address is now like a time capsule, a link to my travelling past that I could never part with. In researching this column I went back to the very beginning of my inbox to see what was there, and I found that first-ever trip to south-east Asia, to Africa, to Europe, laid out before me in message form.

The first-ever item in my inbox is a response to my booking request from Manh Dung Guesthouse in Hanoi. "By this e-mail," it says, "we inform you that we have free room for you on these days. The price of our guest house are from USD6 to USD8 per night."

According to my reply, I went with the $6 room.

The next email is from Phoenix Expeditions, the now-long-defunct tour company that took me around East Africa, confirming my booking. The next is from the Grand View Guesthouse in Phnom Penh – they had rooms for $4 a night. The next message is from my mum.

For every journey since that first one, I have used my Hotmail address to book my travel. My inbox is a diary, a snapshot of who I was and where I was going. Sure, I've got a Gmail address now too, which is on my business cards and which I tend to give out to new friends who I don't want to reveal my shame to. I've also got a fancy, official Traveller email that you will see at the bottom of this page.

But I will never give up my Hotmail account. You'll have to pry it from my cold, dead digital hands.

It may date me, it may reveal that I'm hopelessly uncool. But it sent that message that one time in Nakuru. I hit "send" in that humming internet cafe and my novella of a travel email went out to all of my family and friends back home. And I've been showing my thanks to my Hotmail account ever since.

Do you have an email account that you created for travel? Do you still use it? Do you remember using internet cafes around the world to communicate with home?

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

See also: Twenty-one things you'll only understand if you travelled before 2005

See also: The 21 things in travel that no longer exist

LISTEN: Flight of Fancy - the Traveller.com.au podcast

To subscribe to the Traveller.com.au podcast Flight of Fancy on iTunes, click here.

Join the Flight of Fancy community on Facebook

Comments