Get me out of here!
It was after a particularly long week at the office that I found myself reduced to a puddle of tears and anxiety on my living room floor.
“I just need something to look forward to,” I sobbed, “I need a trip!”
I was inconsolable as my poor husband did his best to comfort me.
I go through this from time to time. The inevitable existential crisis I fall into if my life has been too mundane and predictable for too long. It was happening again. There I was, sobbing on the floor and detailing all the things that was wrong with my life.
But back to the subject of travel. That’s exactly what I needed to pull myself out of the dumps. I needed a great adventure to look forward to. Something far away, something exciting. I needed to go on a trip. It didn’t need to be right away. My pragmatic financial shyness fueled by years of student loan debt certainly prevented me from being impulsive in that way, but I needed a goal.
I needed to go to Australia. For years I had always wanted to visit the beautiful, sun-kissed lands of Australia. I wanted to snorkel in the warm waters of the Great Barrier Reef. I wanted to see exotic animals. I wanted to take in a show at the Sydney Opera House and to dine with a view of Sydney Harbour. I needed to do it. I needed to go to Australia.
So, the long process of planning and saving began.
The day had finally arrived…
It was in the wee hours of the morning on a Tuesday that I found myself delayed once again in the international terminal of LAX. My anxiety levels were high due to the fact that I had recently learned our destination was due to be hit by a major cyclone on the night of our arrival. After two years of saving a little bit of money per paycheck and months of planning and anticipation, the night of departure for our big trip to Australia had finally arrived, and here we were, delayed at Los Angeles International Airport and given no other reason than that the plane was “too hot”. Apparently the plane’s air conditioning systems had broken and would only work when the engines were running. Therefore, they had to turn the engines on and wait for the plane to cool down to an acceptable level. Should only take an hour or so.
All I could think of was how I was about to sit on a plane in the cramped confines of economy class for 15 hours and since the airport wasn’t much more comfortable, I was anxious to get it over with. Of course, we were scheduled to land in Brisbane and change planes for the final leg of the journey to Cairns, in the tropical far North of the country. Currently, all the Australian news sites were reporting a category 5 cyclone was scheduled to slam into the coast right around the time of our arrival.
My anxiety levels were high. We hadn’t planned for this eventuality. We hadn’t purchased travel insurance because it was going to cost more money, and more money was the one thing we didn’t have. My husband tried to calm me down as I worried out loud over what was going to happen, but it didn’t do much good. What if the cyclone destroys the town? What should we do? Should we stay in Brisbane? What is there even to do in Brisbane? How much was this going to cost? How will we pay for it? What if we get caught in the cyclone? I’m from Southern California. We don’t have cyclones, or hurricanes, as they are known here in the Northern Hemisphere. What should I do? What do people usually do in a cyclone?
Finally, my husband suggested we visit the airport bar and get ourselves a cocktail. This was an idea I could get behind.
Several cocktails later and we were still waiting. The airline once again announced that they are still working on cooling down the airplane and that if we would like some complimentary snacks and bottles of water they were available at the gate.
“I can deal with the heat. Let’s all just get naked and go. We’re all friends here!”, one man exclaimed and we all chuckled.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, we were all allowed to board the plane which indeed was quite hot. Stifling really, but I resolved myself to deal with it since what I wanted more than anything was to just get on with it.
If you, like myself, are not a member of the upper echelon of society and therefore have to worry about things like budgets when you travel, you’ve most likely flown economy class. However, I can tell you with authority that there is a quite a difference between flying economy class from, say, Los Angeles to Boston, and flying economy class on a 15-hour marathon session all the way to the other side of the world. If I were to describe the experience using only one word, that word would be brutal.
There are some people in this world who are blessed with the ability to sleep in any situation, no matter how awkward and uncomfortable. My husband is one of those people. I am not. As I watched him settle into a state of hibernation, I struggled with the problem of how to occupy myself for the next 15 hours when my only source of entertainment was an iPhone that was certainly bound to run out of batteries before the end of the flight. I had an array of books as well, but I realized I could no longer get to them as they were stowed under the seat in front of me, but the person in that seat had decided to their chair back so far their head was practically in my lap. This also prevented me from using my tray table or the in-flight entertainment system, since I couldn’t move and the screen on the back of the seat was buried somewhere in my lap as my neighbor in seat 24C snored happily in her reclined bliss.
Then came the moment I dread on every long-haul flight: the dimming of the lights. For those of you who sleep well on planes, you may think of this as the nice time where you can close your eyes and get a little bit of rest. For me, it’s the time where I have to fumble around in the dark to find things underneath my chair, which I can’t properly get to in the first place due to the sardine can nature of the seating, thus making fumbling around in the dark extra difficult.
After several frustrating hours of doing this, I decided to spend as much time as possible standing in the little snack area they had provided in the back of the plane next to the lavatories. This is how I found myself for most of the rest of the flight. It turned out to be an interesting experience as I was able to meet and chat with all the other insomniacs on the plane and it turned out a few of them were quite interesting.
There was the American man who was teaching at an Aboriginal school in Darwin, just returning from a visit to his family; there was the Australian woman who regaled me with tales of deadly snakes living in the brush of her backyard and how her children absolutely were not allowed to play back there, and also how kangaroo meat is quite gamey tasting, but that all the personal trainers in Australia recommend it to their clients since it’s such a lean meat. The most interesting fellow passenger award, however, went to the actual hillbilly I met on this flight. He was a very smelly American man from the Appalachian region who wore a huge beard and overalls with only an undershirt tank top beneath it. His teeth were so bad and his breath smelled so horribly that I actually had to excuse myself back to my seat, stating the desire to try and catch a little sleep as an excuse, so as not to vomit from the smell of his breath. I don’t recall why he was traveling to Australia, however, as all I can remember about him is that I met an actual real life hillbilly on a flight from Los Angeles to Brisbane. Go figure.
There is a phenomenon that only those who have flown on an absurdly long flight will be able to relate to. This is when you feel like you have been on your flight for an eternity and so you therefore must be getting close, only to check the flight tracker and discover that you are not even halfway there yet. You then sink into a mild state of agony where you rack your brain for what exactly you’ll be able to do to make the next 8,000 hours of your life bearable.
I may have exaggerated a bit there with the whole 8,000 hours statement, but it does feel that way in the moment.
Still, I somehow made it through the flight and as I looked out the window to see real, actual land rather than the endless blue of the ocean, I seemed to forget all about the pain of the long-haul flight. I was in Australia! That was Australian land! There is no feeling more exciting than looking out the window as you descend upon an entirely new place. I can only describe the feeling as a mixture of pure exhaustion and utter joy.
I had made it to Australia.