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On catching a flight and letting it go

For five weeks in Nov/Dec I will be travelling in the US (west coast only) and a little bit of Canada, staying with friends and meeting up with family, but largely exploring and touring solo.  
Smallest Soul is on an adventure. Hope you'll come along. x
It finally came; the time to leave.
It shames me to admit that there was the smallest part of me that doubted if I would actually get on the plane, despite having talked about it for the better part of a year and booking a ticket all those months ago. Excitement had been mounting and I had been counting down the months and then weeks, the final ones rushing past as I got caught up in the chaos of the to-do list, all the things that must be done before one departs.
It was 11pm the night before and I had packed my bags and hugged my friends and was lying in bed too nervous to sleep.
There's a weird shift that your brain has to make when you travel. When you plan the trip you spend so long in the anticipation phase, imagining how it's going to be; how it will look and smell, dreaming about how it will be, or how you'll feel when you finally get there. Your mind, in anticipation, goes straight to 'being there' and manages to filter out much of the 'getting there' process,  the unexpected moments that happen while we venture across oceans and into foreign lands. Alain De Botten wrote in 'The Art of Travel' that paradoxically "we may best be able to inhabit a place when we are not faced with the additional challenges of having to be there". Or having to get there for that matter.
I have to agree with him in a small way. For while my imagination had conjured up visions of Los Angeles, it could have never have imagined the journey getting there.

I woke up at 3am and got dressed in the dark trying not to wake the house while wondering if in fact I had really slept at all, falling asleep had proven nearly impossible.
I zipped up the last of my things and carried them downstairs and out the front door at 4am and waited under a dark starry sky for my taxi.
And waited.
And got nervous.
And waited.
And after ten minutes past the time I was supposed to be collected I called the shuttle company, the operators voice far to cheery for such an ungodly hour. We had a quick conversation about the situation and he informed me the taxi was indeed two minutes away. I had a view point from my driveway from which I could see the roundabout where the cars would turn to come up to the street. After 4 minutes of anxious waiting I saw a taxi turn right at the roundabout and begin to come up the street. I started walking down towards it, then began running down towards it with my suitcase because the panic had set in by this point.
I turned the corner at the bottom of the street only to catch the tail lights of the taxi heading up the hill to the other half of our street (The street I live on is divided in two halves - it appears I live on the less popular half and taxis don't know how to find it).
It was at this moment I realised I had to chase that damn taxi.
I left my 20kg suitcase on the corner and silently begged for nothing bad to happen to it before sprinting up the hill, back pack rattling and me sweating from the stress of the situation. Panting,  I waved like a maniac for the taxi driver to see me in the dark from the end of the street. I must have looked like a crazy person and sounded like one, for I got in the car and practically yelled "Lets go! My suitcase is down the street and I HAVE to get to the airport!!"
After a car ride with small talk I can't remember because I had one eye on the time and one eye on the speedometer, I made it to my check in with just enough time to spare.

And you see its these kind of details that you really don't imagine when you plan a trip.

The first leg of my journey is a three hour flight to Sydney in a medium sized plane. I sit next to a Filipino teenager and her mother who are cute. The mother is tiny and wears bright red lipstick, and laughs out loud watching the 'Minions' movie on her screen. Her daughter looks mortified every time she does it and the whole situation makes me giggle. They are surprising her grandmother with a visit and are looking forward to having purple yam ice cream when they get to their destination.

I get off the plane and walk into the steel cage of an airport that is the Sydney international terminal.
I walk around feeling foggy and strange in a way that I've found is specific to journeys taken in the early morning.
There are too many lights and too many people and the air is warm and cool in pockets of humidity and air conditioning and I pace between the two, from gate 54 to 8 and back, just trying to get my bearings and some sensation back into my cramping legs. The strap of my carry on backpack has torn already, I think it got caught in the x-ray machine earlier and I carry the weight of it unevenly not wanting to tear it further.
I buy a bottle of water with a few Australian coins I have and find a quiet, cool gate in some corner, miles away from where I should be for my next flight but there's an hour to kill and I need the space.
In my cool, quiet corner of the airport I spread myself out, go through my belongings again, write out my itinerary for a friend, touch base with home to tell them I got away okay.
It still doesn't feel real that I've really left, or that I'm really going anywhere. Airports are not destinations, they are some sort of in-between, some transitory space that belongs to the traveller and the people who service them; checking the masses in and out or selling them over-priced sandwiches and cheap perfume.

I go to the gate, I get on the plane, I spend 14 hours next to the best aisle-mates I could have asked for. A gorgeous couple from Perth who are very obviously in love in the most comfortable and sweet way. He is tall with insanely blue eyes (apparently every one comments on them) and she is small and blond and just adorable, curling herself up into her seat every time I need to get out of mine. They both have a great sense of humour and we spend the flight talking about what we are most looking forward to about travelling, watching movies and giggling every time our French pilot speaks over the intercom (his accent is amazing).
I do all of the normal plane things - actions and activities so specific to this giant metal machine flying through the air. I walk the aisles and talk to Americans headed home. I eat meals on tiny trays in packages, their novelty not yet lost on me. I look at the flight path, I go to the bathroom, I get annoyed at the Asian man in front of me who insists on pushing his seat back. Unavoidably I probably irritate the person behind me by being forced to do the same.
At some point during the first four hours, I curl up towards the window and release.
Maybe it's the fact that when I get off this plane I will be somewhere new, removed from the environment and the routines and the relationships that create my 'normal' life.
But curled up with my headphones on, in my seat six rows from the back of the plane, I quietly and mentally release my self from my 'normal', from the things that would worry me at home, from the strings I left un-tied and the plans I left unfinished for my return.
I release myself from the expectations I have for this trip to be anything other than what it will be. I release the expectations for my plans to work out exactly as I have planned them, and open myself to the opportunities and the unexpected situations I know will arise.
I release the fear. There's a part of me that knows a token gesture of it will stay with me to keep me safe, but I understand it's purpose and it's presence and I release the rest.
There's an unexpected thing I find I have to release too. I think there's a part of me that never really imagined travelling by myself, because I imagined sharing this trip with someone. A friend or a family member, I imagined doing this as a part of a team. It's been an inconsequential factor to me actually booking the tickets or taking the trip, but it's been present as a quiet niggle, a tiny voice that wishes I had someone else to navigate this with, or to keep me company in long airport lines.  I acknowledge all of this and release it all (with a couple of silent tears in the process).
It might be the altitude or the recycled air or the sentimentality that travel invites, but I think I needed it. I wanted to land fresh, to reach a new place with a changed heart, an open and honest one that was ready to fully enjoy and absorb every experience this trip has to offer, every lesson waiting to be learned. I wanted to clear out the clutter and make way for new stories and people and adventures.

As I write this it's half an hour until I land and I think I can do just that. The sun is coming up and I can see the city in the dusky light of the morning from this airplane window. I drink my coffee and listen to Otis Redding and begin to feel excited. It's actually happening.
I think I'm ready.

1 comment

  1. I love this so much. Love the honesty, openness, the truth. The brilliant poetry of your words. The experience (apart from taxi dilemma, that had me freaking out, even though you clearly made the flight). So inspiring. So exciting. Finally, a writer friend! Xo