Travelling. My experience of travelling kind of goes like this.
First, you pack your bags, you’re sweaty, nervous and you’re cramming in an extra towel, some more jeans and maybe one jumper too many considering you’re off to some hot oasis – a place where jumpers look like some form of extra-terrestrial object.
Next, you recheck your bag, perhaps squeezing your hand into the tightest space to try and feel the silky material of your nicest underpants, or to try and feel that you’ve actually packed your malaria pills. Then, you leave your bag, your clothes for the plane neatly packed on-top of it; your passport sticking out of one shoe, a pair of socks stowed away in the other. Your toiletries lie on your bag ready for that abnormally early wake up tomorrow morning where you once again find jelly legs whilst brushing your teeth.
You walk downstairs and sit down, quietly, from the outside you look like a stale piece of bread, while on the inside you have a traffic jam of thoughts – like cars on a New York street hooting and jostling for position. – This is step one - I call it ‘The Pack-nic’ phase – a mix between packing and panic.
You sit down in a bunch of clothes you haven’t worn since you were at least three inches smaller – your newest, favourite clothes are crammed in your backpack. Your long sleeve shirt barely touches your wrists; you roll your sleeves tightly up your arm and take a seat at the table. Your loved ones, friends, family or even colleagues sit down and your favourite meal is served.
Sombrely, you reach for your knife and fork and dig in, or perhaps you lose your appetite, either way you eat differently. Some drinks are poured and the music comes on. “Have you got your passport?” “So where to first?” “Are you all packed and sorted my love?” Questions add to the congested thoughts in your brain and you smile them away, your mind far from the Spaghetti Bolognese small talk!
The drinks continue to be poured – you now find yourself at the pub listening to a man called ‘Graham’ performing his best rendition of ‘Hey Jude’ on the karaoke machine – the same faces occupy the same spaces of the pub and you take yours next to the pool table. ‘Is this the last time I see the pub?’ you ask yourself. ‘I wonder if Graham will be there when I’m back?’ ‘I wonder if Zimbabwe, Egypt or Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (the longest named train station on the planet) has its own Graham singing somewhere?’ ‘Do they have walkers crisps and coke there?’ ‘I’m going to miss walkers crisps and coke!’
You lie awake, and watch her dreaming (the lyrics to a Ronan Keating song have never applied to you before). She’s lost in peaceful sleep, so I turn out the light and lay there in the dark. Graham’s wife Mrs Walters (she insists on the Mrs) sang that tonight, and now it’s stuck in your head. All night long you’ve sought to think of things other than impending travel doom – and now that’s happened, you’re not thinking about anything else, other than Mrs Walters’ leathery lips bellowing out one of Ireland’s unsung heroes – typical! Your night has been good in the end, your Dad mugged the microphone from Mrs Walters mid-verse to wish you ‘goodbye’ in front of everybody at the pub, and after a few more pints, you and the loved one went home to bed.
How is that even logic? You’re awake, your alarm goes off, but your arms are so heavy you let the annoying sound of a tin can being kicked down the road play on whilst you snuggle up in bed. Your Mum comes in, nudges your head, puts the coffee/tea on the bed side and says, “come on love, time to get up!” It’s as if you’re thirteen again and it’s a school day, but this time you actually won’t come home for months! You stand in the shower, your eyes heavy but you somehow find the motivation to get sorted, you dry, put on your clothes and take your bag downstairs by the door. “DID YOU BRUSH YOUR TEETH?” Mum shouts downstairs from her bedroom. You will miss this.
Almost forty minutes of silence until you’re entering the airport complex, and the dreaded question comes – “have you got your passport sweetheart?”
This is the moment when your brain tells your body to do two very different things at once. We are all actors, so you nod your head as cool as ice; meanwhile your hand searches frantically brushing aside the silk underpants in your bags and once again you feel as though you’re delivering a calf. You find your passport in your shoe – you must not have noticed when putting on the shoe - because of the impending travel doom.
Your Mum, Gladys, [Insert Name Here] can’t bear coming into the departures lounge with you because she’ll erupt, so she justifies making your Dad, Nigel [Insert Name Here], park in the five minute set down bit by claiming airport parking is extortionate – standard Mum.
The car stops and it’s like an anti-terrorism unit, quicker than you can say holiday your Mum is out of the car on the first syllable, ‘hol’ and your Dad’s out on the second ‘i’! Your bag is thrown onto the floor like an unwanted piece of belly-button fluff and you slowly get out, checking your seat for any debris you might have left behind. This is it.
You try to pick up your bag but Mum is on you like a flash, her arms around you tight and the tears flowing down your neck – later they will crystallise during the flight. Nigel, pats her on the back, “it’s alright love!” He goes to the car to fetch a crowbar to release you from her grasp and then gives you a diplomatic hug. He sniffles, but doesn't cry, before saying something really awkward like, “protect yourself, make sure you use protection”. At this stage you pretend he’s talking about sun-cream until he says, “don’t forget that stuff will come home with you”. Sunburn, you persist on the sunburn idea.
That wave. Mum doesn’t know whether to rub her nose, wipe her eyes or wave with both hands – generally it’s the double-handed awkward wave that does it. While you’re holding back your own tears, and by this I mean you can’t see anything but salty water droplets, you see your Dad driving away and Mum hanging out the window, both hands at it, leaving a trail of wet face liquids behind them.
It’s a funny old thing, life. You’re travelling to break free from the norm, yet on your last day before an adventure you’re like a rabbit in the headlights – it’s losing the norm that causes the trepidation.
It’s almost as if your brain floats up out of your head full of angst, the change is too much, while your physical self patiently smiles and laughs off the most trivial of things. Every adventure begins with the goodbye. And it’s particularly the goodbye that makes you realise what it is you have in the first place. The idea of change is daunting, but for me, the poignant and emotional goodbye makes travelling invaluable. It’s an excuse, a license to return, a permit to leave knowing you’ve made a difference in your life – an achievement in broadening your horizons and leaving behind a lasting impact.
I’ve thought about the many reasons as to why we feel nervous and often a mix between sadness, happiness and eagerness and I concluded my thoughts upon two notions. First, the element of the unknown is what gets me nervy. Thinking about that bloody plane journey, the contents of my mind shooting around my brain like a Mumbai road junction at rush hour. The unknown is why we become anxious, nervous and apprehensive. But the other notion was more important for me – it was the goodbye I thought about most – the importance of a goodbye is what constructs the excitement, the anxiety, the trepidation, the challenge and the adventure of travel.
Once you’ve said goodbye, as I did to home five years ago, it will keep occurring until you arrive back home, where you’ll be taken to the pub and sit down by that pool table. Graham will still be there, and Mrs Walters will still be bursting out Ronan Keating songs. What would you have learnt? How important is the goodbye? It’s the biggest hurdle on your adventures, and it’s the building blocks for the construction of your experiences. In my opinion the more heart-breaking a goodbye is, the more meaningful your trip will be.
Be adventurous, challenge yourself, and explore – you will always have the norm to return to and better still, those who you love the most will stay in touch no matter what – do more, see more, be more!
This guest post is courtesy of Booms Magazine by Booms (Matthew James Kirk).
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