By the time you read this, I will be slumped over a cup of tea, deliriously jetlagged, in Australia. Or I’ll be asleep or something. I don’t know, I get the time zones mixed up. But whatever the details, I will be over there, which requires thirty-odd hours on planes and in airports, and I’ll be cursing myself yet again for not stretching the trip by making a stopover halfway, or at least getting a heavy-duty prescription from a helpful doctor.
Once upon a time, when I was a small person… Okay, not that long ago, but when I was younger, at least, all travel was ridiculously exciting. Airports were full of shops to explore, and people to watch, and even flights were amazing, because you get little meals, with mini cheeses, and biscuits, and cute little sachets of salt and pepper, and socks! They give you socks! Not with the meal, obviously. After. Although some of the airline meals I’ve had could’ve been improved by being served with socks.
Ah, the innocence of youth.
Or something, I don’t think I was very innocent. I read far too much to stay innocent for long. But travel really was much more exciting. That whole, “It’s the journey, not the destination,” made complete sense.
Now – interminable queues. Held up in security because I always choose the line where the person in front has seven sorts of electronic devices, twelve half-finished bottles of water, a dog and a metal arm. Overpriced, under-flavoured meals in soulless airport cafes that are styled to look like street cafes, and why would you bother because you’re overlooking a waiting lounge full of delayed backpackers sleeping on bags and humphing businessmen. Vegetarian in-flight meals that consist of mouldy-looking peas and lukewarm rice. Someone’s child kicking me in the back for seven hours, and someone with terrible BO falling asleep on my shoulder (I’m not making any of these up)(Okay, maybe the metal arm).
Allow me to welcome you to the world of the grumpy old woman traveller (GOWT. Has a ring to it, no?).
Seriously, whoever said it was about the journey, not the destination, hasn’t been held on the tarmac for three hours at the start of a fifteen hour flight, knowing you’re not going to make your next connection, or the one after that, and wondering if you’ll be given a hotel or end up sleeping on the airport benches. They have not had small twin boys sat next to them on a long-haul flight while mum sat in an entirely different row, ignoring the fact that her children were drinking their bodyweight in coke from the free trolley and jumping on the increasingly irate but painfully over-polite woman trapped in the window seat (”They’re just excited,” she told me when we landed. Yeah, sugar shots for eight hours will do that to you). And they certainly haven’t sat through 27 hours of flights and airports with a steadily worsening kidney infection.
When you’re talking air travel, it is most certainly not about the journey (this may be different if you’re in business or first class, and if anyone would like to provide me with an upgrade so I can test this theory, I’d be happy to accept. For research, obviously).
Whinge, whinge. Well, don’t do it then. And don’t complain, most people don’t get to travel so much.
I know. And I love it. I do. I hate airports, and I hate flying, and I hate airline food, but I love travel. So I do it. Because the destination – ah, that’s the thing, isn’t it? Somewhere familiar, where you know the feel of the sun and the smell of the earth, or so exotic that you’re bewildered and delightedly, intoxicatingly, lost in colours and scents and noise. Somewhere that makes you feel you’ve no right to ever be stressed again, or somewhere that awakens inspiration and quickens the heart.
I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere I hated. I’ve been places I’ve been ready to leave when the time came, and places that almost made me misplace my plane ticket. I’ve gone home as a tourist and called new places home, because they fit my skin so perfectly. I’ve been an adventurer in places just the next village over from me, and found the familiar halfway around the world. Travel’s what you make of it. It’s not limited to planes and trains and exotic locales, which is all good. With every flight I can feel my tolerance withering and the GOWT growing.
But the thing about travel, it that it renews. Not for everyone – I know for some that it’s more stress than it is joy. But you not only get to peek at other lives (even if it is just in the next town over), you come home and look at your own place anew again. You bring back ideas, and tacky souvenirs, and sand from the beach and dust from the streets, and somehow that makes our own place better. It makes it more home.
I’m lucky. I travel a lot, and for every flying horror stories, I have half a dozen stories of the adventure at the end that more than make up for it. So, for all my whinging, it’s worth it. Bring on the airport queues.
Although the next time I end up trapped by small children, I’m bribing the cabin crew to get me out.
How about you – any travel horror stories – or happy stories – to share?