I’m getting ready to go on a semi-big trip, grateful for these luxuries, but it all seems a bit absurd: I’m about to get on a plane to take me to a dot of an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, where I’ll meet my Calvin, the international man of mystery to some; a tall, sort-of dark, handsome polyglot… The dot of an island, apparently a haven for International partying and business dealings (I learnt only after booking)… We’re going to dive, to see nature, to soak in the azure sea. From the outside, one could write a totally different narrative; and so my colleagues think I’m much more interesting than I really am. And, possibly, that I’m a spy.
The adventure starts, as they do, at an airport: I’ve got leaving down to a T, but need to work on my packing skills. My own fault, for I’m travelling with equipment: cameras and dive gear and a sack full of adapters and wires for the electronic things. And snacks.
Taxi, bag drop, security, all go smoothly. Waiting, then boarding, then sitting practically upright for too long, as this metal bird wings me and 200 or so others over the Atlantic and across Europe. Captive for 9 hours, thankful to have been able to sleep on this flight. It’s been a long few weeks back in the real world.
The large international airport is something of a time warp; a black hole, where time and culture and language and fashion meld into a weird melange that’s like a 26-ring circus on amphetamines, but with more neon lighting and these uniformed guys weaving through the throngs on segues.
I’ve landed in Istanbul with a long layover in which to entertain myself. Instead of risking mishap to go exploring in town tonight – I’m only half-way to my final destination as is – I opt to go the lounge route: $30 or so gets you a quiet-ish place to wait out your airport time when you don’t have enough clout or smooth talk to make it into the Turkish Airlines lounge (tried, failed). It covers WiFi, food, drinks, the lot… I’d spend more than this at a crowded restaurant in the airport and wouldn’t be able to stay for 6 hours unbothered!
And so, where one might find this newly-jetlagged wanderer this night is the Milennium Lounge in Istanbul’s airport, while, interestingly enough, cultures and ideologies and politics don’t seem to clash at all here since everyone has better things on which to spend their energies.
[stay tuned for more adventures as Year of Africa continues if and when I have WiFi again]
Sometimes when the rain is pouring down outside and you’re on your last-minute packing frenzy for the next adventure, you pull up video from the last epic dive holiday and hope the Universe is kind and the water is clear and the land and sea critters cooperate and the forces of whatever conspire to allow the spaceship to fling you safely towards the little speck of an island in the middle of some faraway ocean…
Yeah, this is real. I took the footage myself. There are even some clips I should include but didn’t get around to editing (and, yes, at the end…the current was that strong!).
I’m through the planning stage and now clearly into the “getting really excited” phase for my next trip (Thailand, for the record!). And it occurred to me recently that each time I travel, I get less stressed-out over the getting-ready process. Somewhat miraculously, over the years I’ve learnt what pre-trip things to check, what bag to bring on what kind of trip, what to leave at home and (it’s a continuous improvement thing) what I really truly need to bring with.
I’m a planner. So there’s this process I tend to go through before and after tickets are purchased.
Pre-trip: Frenetic scouring of guidebooks, researching places to stay, reviews, attractions (and, for me, usually dive conditions and best dive sites). According to one survey, the best time to purchase plane tickets is 47 days before you leave (this is down from last year, which was 54 days!). I check US and foreign immigration websites to see whether or not I need a visa. A lot of countries now have Visa-on-Arrival or online visas available, which is huge, since it’s stressful to put your passport in the mail, fingers crossed that it comes back intact, avec visa, in time for departure (note: also check your passport’s expiration date, as many countries require at least 6 months left on your passport for entry).
There’s a slight lull right after the tickets are purchased… the initial accommodations are booked and the countdown begins. I try to book at least the first few nights’ hotel in advance so I know where I’m landing, and where I can get a shower and (my bearings) when I get there!
Then there’s the compulsive checking of news and weather. I’ve had Thai, Indian, Burmese and European news sites on my Twitter feed for years – keeps me up to date on what’s going on (politically, environmentally and socially) in the area(s) and gives me a head’s up on what to expect when I get to my destination (extreme heat/cold, coup attempts, special events: all right there on my Twitter feed!).
And then there’s the packing… About 3-4 weeks before the trip I make a preliminary list of things I always forget (sunglasses, adapters, chargers, reading glasses, etc.)…can’t say enough about having the right equipment! Most things you can get wherever you’re going, but some random things I always try to bring with (in no particular order):
Assuming you’ve already gotten the vacation time-off approved and you’re ready to go, here’s a rough timeline:
2-4 months in advance: Research destinations, weather, visa requirements, check your passport expiration date (renew if necessary!), start watching flights, subscribe to news feeds, start getting excited about travelling somewhere new (or again)!
6-7 weeks in advance: Book flights, research hotels, book accommodations and special activities if you think they will sell out quickly.
4-6 weeks in advance: Look for sales on things you might need (travel luggage? off-season clothing? gadgets?).
3-4 weeks in advance: Start your packing list. Begin a “to-pack” pile (include things you know you’ll need but might forget). Confirm plans for dog-sitting, begin to solicit rides to/from the airport (the promise of exotic gifts works really well as payment). Visit the travel clinic or your doc if you need any immunizations/medications. Figure out what kind of plug/adapter(s) you might need.
2 weeks in advance: Start packing in earnest. This gives you an opportunity to pull out your off-season clothes, do laundry, figure out what you need, what fits, what doesn’t, and do some quickie trips to the dreaded mall if necessary. Check with your cell carrier on overseas rates/plans; set it up in advance so you’re not frantic at the last minute.
1 week in advance: Finalise dog-sitter and airport drop-off (esp. if you’re travelling at a wonky time of day). Finish packing and weigh your luggage (many airlines require your bag to be lighter than 50lbs/23kg…check with your airline, esp. if you’re going to be on a smaller connecting flight). Buy travel snacks (suggestions: nuts/dried fruit/trail mix, energy bars, turkey jerkey and other things that are easy to carry, high in protein and won’t melt!) Ginger chews may be my favorite travel snack of all time, as they are tasty but also doubly-good for the tummy.
Travel week: try not to brag to your immediate universe that you are going somewhere really cool. Get to a good stopping point with work (you don’t want to be thinking about that where you’re going!), remind your emergency contact person of your trip details, finish packing (removing at least one thing per day; re-weigh luggage), confirm flights/check-in online, and relax… anything that can go wrong [might], so go with the flow and things will work out!
And some general things I’ve learnt along the way:
Pack less than you think: re-wearing stuff isn’t nearly as taboo as you’d expect (nobody cares and if necessary, you can always do laundry there; underwear washed in the sink dries remarkably fast except in the rainforest)
Wear (vs. pack) your heaviest shoes
Read up on customs and laws before travelling (some tips here)
Bring +/-$200 emergency cash; stash it somewhere and don’t touch it unless necessary
Take photos of important documents (credit cards, passport, dive certification cards, etc.) and download copies of your flight itineraries – store on your phone just in case you don’t have WiFi when you need it
Your friends and family may think you’re a little obsessive about the planning, but they’ll secretly envy your packing cubes, and will certainly turn to you when they need a travel snack or band-aid.