Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Travelling bugs

I'm on the downhill run to my next overseas trip - in 8 weeks and 2 days I will be on my way to London, and I won't be home again for just over four weeks. It's been 5 years since I've been away (I don't count a week in Bali) - not that I'm counting the days or anything. It will be my second time in London, I went to Europe way back in 2005. It was my very first overseas trip and London was my very first stop. I was jet-lagged and a bit shell-shocked and I also arrived in the middle of a heatwave, so I'm probably the only person in the world who associates London with uncomfortable, muggy, sweaty heat. Ever since then, my feelings towards London have been pretty lukewarm. It wasn't the greatest experience of my life, and I'm so looking forward to going back and getting a "do-over." It's my chance to put all those lessons I learned last time into practice - and really, how often in life do we get to do that? (Don't answer that. I realise it's probably a lot. Just let it be rhetorical, okay?) 

1. Some details are really important.

Now, I'm all for not over-scheduling or over-planning before going away. However, because it was my first big trip, I didn't really have any idea what I was doing. I didn't bother to find out important information, like what time I could check into my hostel.  Cut to me landing at Heathrow at some hour of the morning that I'm not even going to mention, because it doesn't exist in real life, and then arriving at my hostel only to realise I had oh, about 7 hours to go before I could check in. Combine all those things with jetlag, exhaustion, and a heavy dose of first-time-out-of-the-country stress and what do you get? Tears. I'm not going to lie. I sobbed. I managed not to lose it in front of the check-in guy, but I the first phone call I ever made from one of those red telephone booths was to my mum. Which leads on to my next lesson...

Education on the tube (c) Four Letter Birds

2. Don't call your mum (or dad) in tears.

I want to make something clear here: my mum will disagree with this lesson, because she is loving and supportive and hates to think of any of her family being in distress and feeling like they can't talk to her about it. However, although a phone call home will make you feel better in the short term it is in fact, spectacularly unproductive. When you hang up the phone, you will still have a problem that needs solving, and not only that, you now have a parent who is probably at home fretting and worrying and wishing they could be there to fix whatever the problem is. Plus, you will probably feel kind of guilty about making them worry. I know I always did. So my advice here is to figure out your own catastrophe scale, and only call your parents when things are becoming dire. I mean, definitely CALL them, but don't deviate past "Everything is super great, yeah I'm a bit tired and man, hostels are noisy but I'm having SO MUCH FUN" unless you really have to. Find other ways to solve your problems like...

3. When travelling, fixing problems by throwing money at them often works.

Photo courtesy of Vogue China
This little gem was handed to me by my sister-in-law, and it's a travel-code that I live by. In this particular situation, I had a friend also in London (actually it was Emma!)  and my solution was to jump in a cab and go and spend the day with her until I could check in. I probably spent about $200 on cab fares that day (at least), and I'm certainly not sitting here now, eight years later, reprimanding myself for being so extravagant. I was upset. I was alone. I sought out a friend. At that time in my life, it was the right thing to do. Just remember there are problems and there are "problems." Wanting to buy all the clothes ever, is not a problem. It's definitely a "problem." I'm looking at you, me. 

4. Be better at making friends.

This might come as a surprise, but I was not always the charming, erudite, social butterfly you see before you now. One of my biggest regrets (yes, I believe in regrets) is that I wasn't more open to meeting new people in my travels as a younger me. To be honest, I was always slightly suspicious of people who tried to strike up a conversation with me. I'm sure suspicion was the appropriate emotion in some instances - after all I was a young woman travelling alone much of the time - but I wish I had been more confident and loosened up just a little. Because travelling is about people. When I tell people about my time in Dublin, I always tell the story about the friendly guy on Grafton street, who was signing people up to make monthly donations to Greenpeace. Once he figured out I didn't have an Irish bank account, he proceeded to spend twenty minutes chatting to me about Australia, my travels, and what I should do in Ireland. And the lovely woman who ran the hostel I stayed in near Waterford, who emailed me a photo of her two adorable kids after I left a positive review of the hostel on a website. People are, on the whole, inherently good. 

Dublin and the river Liffy... (c) Four Letter Birds

I'm not doing so much travelling alone this time, although I hope I squeeze some in as it has become one of my favourite things, ever. One of my main motivations for this trip is to visit some very beloved friends in London, and I am looking forward to seeing the city through a local's eyes. I don't know if I'll ever be able to shake that "I'm doing it all wrong" feeling, but who knows? Maybe London and I will get a second chance at love...

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