Everyone knows I’m not the World’s best traveller. There was that one time I turned up at Bristol airport when I should have been in Birmingham. Then, the two times I turned up for a flight that was booked for the next month, (nb have always had trouble remembering that July is month number 7 when booking tickets. July seems much more like a number 6 sort of a month to me). The infamous time I turned up at Dublin airport with the wrong passport and missed my flight to America and, as a result, missed Mike and Jesse’s wedding, (sorry about that guys). The numerous times I’ve had to sleep in airports, (Amsterdam, Luton, Bristol, Dublin, Luton again), due to a mixed bag of circumstances: some bad luck based, mostly my own stupidity. Also all the things I’ve managed to lose in transit, (passport, Collected Katherine Mansfield, red tartan scarf, laptop with entire unbacked up manuscript for my next novel, many, many individual gloves). Yes, it is safe to say I am pretty unfortunate when it comes to getting from A to B and yet, this year I have ended up spending around a third of my waking hours away from home. I am traveling a lot. I don’t need to tell you this. You can see it in the enormous grey bags semi-permanently looming beneath my eyes.
Right now I’m in New Zealand. I leave for home tomorrow. I’ve been here for a whole six days. I came from Norway and before that Belfast, though I’ve also been in Birmingham, Bristol, Cheltenham, San Francisco, Portland and Salt Lake City during the last month. My inability to travel well, seems to have morphed into an inability to function properly when abroad. I am currently wearing a mixture of the top half of my pyjamas and a number of not very clean items of clothing turned inside out to convey the air of cleanliness. I packed so badly for this trip I actually run out of socks six days in to a twenty day adventures. I have, however managed to pack so many hardback novels my back is permanently throbbing from lugging this ever-growing haul from one airport terminal to the next. I’m not great as this traveling malarkey, but the next phase of my life looks like it will involve a lot of being away from home so I’m trying to learn from my own mistakes and tighten up my game when it comes to jet setting. I am hopeful that I will soon have worked out a formula for calculating just how many pairs of socks I will need for X amount of days spent in various different climates, and I will learn how to sleep when lumbered with the middle seat in a plane aisle and I will develop the miraculous ability to resist ordering pancakes for breakfast every day, simply because pancakes are an available option. For what it’s worth, here are a few hard learnt lessons from my last six months on the road. Please feel free to learn from my own, (mostly self-inflicted), mistakes. Happy travels everyone.
1. The combination of two large glasses of red wine and a spot of Melatonin is enough to render an elephant comatose for about eight hours. (Eg. partake of said remedy half an hour out of San Francisco, wake up ten minutes from the runway in Dublin with no memory of the horror inbetween).
2. Always keep your passport/tickets/important documents in the same pocket. This will help to avoid that standing at the check-in desk, unable to locate your passport, stomach lurch of a feeling I have grown oh so very accustomed to. (Nb. The back pocket of your jeans is not the most reliable storage spot, unless you want to leave a trail of important documents behind you every time you sit down).
3. Use the completely useless mini pillow they give you on long haul flights as a rest for your feet. While, nothing short of swaddling in circulation constricting bandages can entirely stop your feet from swelling up like enormous sausages, this will help to cushion your heels against the plane’s vibrations and might even mean you can actually get your shoes back on after a 16 hour flight.
4. Drink as much water as you can. Drink less water if you are not seated in an aisle seat. Water consumption is directly related to how often you will need to empty your bladder/clamber over the sleeping Germans seated next to you. There’s a fine line between hydration and pissing off your fellow passengers.
5. Be careful who you talk to. Sixteen hours is a long time to be stuck next to a complete stranger, and whilst traveling solo can be a strange and oftentimes lonely experience, and it might have been up to twenty four hours since you last said anything more meaningful than, “I’ll have the chicken please,” to another human being, prematurely instigating conversation with the person seated next to you can leave you trapped in a very long version of that, “oh you’re Irish. My family is originally from Ireland,” conversation, every legitimately Irish person abroad has come to know and loathe. I recommend resisting all forms of communication including eye contact. It is better to appear surly and unapproachable than spend the better part of a day listening to how a complete stranger once visited the Cliffs of Mohr.
6. It is perfectly ok to watch any old crap while trapped on a plane. Terrible movies starring Tom Hanks. Frat boy comedies. Romantic rubbish with that girl from The Princess Diaries. The sky is like a different kingdom where the normal rules of taste and decency do not apply. Exploit this for all it’s worth and afterwards pretend you spent your in-air viewing time catching up on subtitled world cinema and old episodes of Seinfeld.
7. Do not purchase a Kindle: it will seem very tempting and/or sensible to buy some sort of E-reader when traveling. Logic will tell you consolidating all your inflight reading material into one hand held reading device will be a lot more convenient than lugging twelve hardback novels half way round the world. Logic will be wrong. Kindles are never the answer. Kindles kill booksellers and cannot be arranged in a satisfying alphabetical order along a bookshelf. You will thank yourself later for not taking the moral high ground on this one.
8. Do not eat the complimentary bread rolls. They are not like normal bread rolls. They are made of concrete and despair and will sit in the pit of your belly, like a fist-sized brick for up to six weeks after consumption.
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9. Bring easy to read books in your hand luggage. I once very earnestly hauled a copy of Faulkner’s “Absalom Absalom” all the way round America, telling myself lack of other reading material would force me to read it. I still haven’t read “Absalom Absalom” but I did end up buying an awful lot of crap in airport bookstores. (Insert similar story about Iris Murdoch/Kafka/Thomas Pynchon).