16 July 2015

Top 10 travel tips for um, people travelling

Virgin Australia has posed a challenge to the Problogger community to put our top travel tips into a blog and share it with our readers.  There’s even some frequent flyer points up for grabs for a few lucky bloggers. 

There is not a man or woman in the world apart from my darling friend Kiralie who is not excited about free points to go FLYING. 

I’ve often read travel tips and thought how differently people travel. From those that love five star venues to those that prefer to sleep under a million stars – no travel experience is exactly the same. You can travel the same roads at the same time and meet the same people and yet have marvelously different stories to tell afterwards.

Red dirt, red rock, red face, red cardigan
I was adorable
Here are my top 10 travel tips for tip top travellers

1. Stop bitching about the time it takes

It took Columbus months to sail around the world and Captain Cook absolutely ages to get from Plymouth to Sydney – you’re doing it in a day or so at worst thanks to a century of aviation and technological innovation. In addition you don’t have to row, you’ve got non-stop entertainment that doesn’t involve flogging people, and the food, while generally variable, is probably not going to result in scurvy.

2. Kids travel just fine if you let them

Feed them, feed them some more and when they’re done feeding, give them some technology or take them to the back of the plane to do some ‘physical jiggles’.  And when they are bored with that, feed them some more.  It is boring. Why lie to them? – just tell them this too shall pass and here, have another cheese stick.  Kids are adaptable.  And yes, sometimes they cry.  The other adults can suck it up if it disturbs them. They were once small people too. A little life lesson in empathy and patience while your kids say out loud what everybody else is thinking is not going to hurt them.  

3. It’s travelling – it’s not supposed to be like home

The whole point of travelling is to experience something different. People will stand too close to you, they won’t speak the same language, they will dress differently, you can’t buy decent beer and they do drive on the wrong side of the road. And that’s just if you go to America.  If you don’t like things done differently from home, my hot tip is stay home. 

4. Always keep your passport current

Because you just never, never know where you are going to get to go.

5. Talk to people

Whether it’s a smile as you try out ‘thank you’ in a language that’s not your own, or a ‘hello’ to the people holding the bag of chickens sitting wedged in beside you above the big hole in the floor of the bus in rural Mexico, the people are what makes every travel experience different. And it’s also through the people that you will have the most amazing experiences.  Somebody always knows more than you, has a great insider tip or is just so completely hilarious you don’t know how you lived without them.

6. It’s okay not to love everywhere you go

Whether it’s Ulladulla or Paris – not everywhere floats your boat. Paris might be the most romanticised city on earth and I expected to adore it when I visited, but there is no getting around the fact that it’s expensive, smells of wee and there are far too many exotic things on the menu for my liking.  It’s not that I didn’t have a great time and see some cool things, but I’d never recommend it.  And that’s fine. Paris will get over it.  So will Ulladulla.

7. Text your mother

Or your father, or your partner, or the anxious friend who frets a lot. No matter how old you are or how grown up and independent you are, it generally turns out that a lot of people love you and worry about you. Whether you’ve driven up the inland road to Queensland straight into a bushfire or are wandering around Turkey blissfully unaware of random bombings occurring roundabouts – somebody you know is glued to the media worrying about you.  You might think it’s not important but it saves them the heartache and most delightfully, the lecture on your return. 

8. Never argue with people carrying Uzis

Even if they did just try to extort more dollars out of you to cross the border and even if technically you are correct and speak enough of the language to be calling them ‘thieves’.  This tip may be* for all little sisters with more chutzpah than good sense who are travelling with their less linguistically gifted big sisters who have no idea why people with guns are clustering around you, gesticulating wildly, and so will pretty much just throw money at them and pull you across the border anyway, which will make you mad but not as mad as mum would have been if I’d let you get shot.
The three sisters.
I'm the big sister in the blue hat. One of the others inspired this tip
9. Do ‘the thing’

We all have something we think is outside our comfort zones or our capability and mostly, it’s when we’re travelling that we encounter them.  Just do it. If you don’t like it you don’t have to do it again, but if you do it and love it – how absolutely cool will that be?

Trust me. The ‘thing’ almost always turns out to be the most brilliant part of your trip. And the most memorable. 

10. Take the photo

People talk a lot about memories and experiences being more important than photos and that’s not untrue, but memories are slippery little buggers and the amazing ones can hide behind the ones that remind you to pack lunch for work each day.

Everybody knows that a picture paints 1000 words so taking lots of photos is exactly the same as journaling really. The ability to record our journeys pictorially is one of the great marvels of modern technology and there is no shame at all in loving it stupid.  

So they are my snappy little tips for you dear readers. If you don’t feel that travel tips are complete without a packing reference I am happy to add one more.

11. Pack whatever you want

You’re the sucker carrying it.

Happy travels my friends.  May there be music, travel insurance and happiness accompanying you.

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7 July 2015

7/7 - A reflection

Ten years ago, after a couple of years living in London, I was living in Dublin and working at Microsoft while my then boyfriend, now husband, Nick lived in London and worked at NADFAS. We maintained our relationship by telephone and contributing significantly to the profits of AerLingus and Ryanair.

On the Thursday morning of 7 July 2005, Nick was running late to work and had called me after his train to Bank was diverted to Tower Gateway.  He was hotfooting it across town to his office which was located just around the corner from Russell Square and thought he'd fill the time by chatting to me sitting at my desk across the Irish sea.

He was hoping to jump on a bus if one came by but doubted his chances due to the volume of people being spewed up onto the streets due to closed train stations. We chatted for a few minutes, idly speculating about the train diversions and the other kind of irrelevancies people discuss with their lovers on an ordinary morning.

It was a number of hours before I spoke to Nick again. Shortly after I flicked between my work screen to the BBC news and read the first reports about a bomb on a bus in Russell Square.

I can still recall the sick feeling in my stomach when I read about the bus - described as 'packed with people' diverted from the trains.  I started dialling Nick's number, desperate to connect with him and hear that he'd relied on the good fortune of an understanding boss and stuck to walking rather than catching a bus.  But nothing.

The phone lines were down. Or jammed. Or hijacked.

The simple fact was I had no idea what was going on beyond what I could find on the internet.

Conversation flowed between me and my colleagues as we sat glued to the news sites.  My colleague G (who had a younger brother and two sisters living in London) and I fretted.  He started dialling their numbers too. We joked about what they were doing instead of calling us to reassure us that they were okay. G joked that his younger brother had probably headed straight for the pub with his mates, excited about an unexpected day off.

To begin with, we only knew about the bus.  As the news about the trains started emerging, our fairly nonchalant conversations became peppered with some very black humour as we attempted to cover up the fact that while we knew the chances of them being hurt were slim, we didn't actually know.

And that not knowing was gut wrenching. The knowledge that you could do nothing but wait was paralysing.  It is not a feeling I have experienced before and I never want to experience it again.

Finally Nick called. His work had been evacuated. He was fine but he couldn't talk for long as he needed to free up the line for his colleagues to ring people. He loved me but he was fine.

I cried and cried and cried.  So much relief.  And guilty with it.  Because the scope of the disaster was becoming very real and I knew that there were many who were not going to to be so lucky.  G located one sister. And then the other.  But still no news of his brother.

I had a very odd woman as a boss then, she could not understand why I cried so much that day or why G would worry without what she considered proper cause.  "But he's fine, she said of Nick. He's going to be fine, she said of the brother", and drew my attention to some deadlines for the day.  G kept trying his brother's number. Until he got a call to say that his brother had been in the same carriage as one of the bombers.  He was hurt but he was alive in a London hospital.

I felt visceral anguish for G and his family because it could have just as easily that day been Nick's family getting that call. He and his mother were unable to go to his brother because all flights and ferries were banned until further notice in and out of England.  He had to rely on news bulletins and the kindness of friends and strangers to care for his brother and support his sisters until he could be there.

Other friends and former colleagues were on the trains that day.  One was evacuated from a bombed train and despite a head injury walked 2.5 hours home because he knew his pregnant wife would be worried.  Another spent hours sitting in a train waiting to be evacuated and then had to walk past the bombed carriage to leave and can never unsee what they saw that day.  The stories multiplied - London might be big but the centre of it is quite small.

So many lives that day hinged on the complete random occurrences of missed trains, waking early, sleeping in, having to queue for a ticket, spilling their coffee on their jackets, arguments with partners, sickies, popping to work to finish one last thing before holidays, delayed connections, people pushing ahead of them in the line.

I am not in anyway trying to compare what I felt that day with the feelings and experiences of the people that experienced the bombings personally, or were impacted by the death and injuries of their family and friends. I do not assume to understand how they felt then, or how they feel now. I honour their courage and their rage and their pain and all the details that make up each and every story.

But 7/7 was in a small but definite way, a life changing day for me.  It reinforced for me how much of life was down to chance. It underscored for me how strongly I felt about Nick. It showed me how resilient and supportive people could be in the face of uncertainty and hate. It filled me with a deep and lasting sadness that people continue to justify violence by hate, and it made me love London, and the seething mess of humanity within, even more than I did.

I even moved back later that year.

But most of all, ten years on, I do live more empathically.

Despite occasional acts of hateful madness manifested by extremists in the countries I have lived in I have not had the misfortune to lose somebody through acts of hate and violence. I do not live daily with bombs and gunfire. I go to sleep knowing where my children are and that they are safe. I do not live with pain. I do not live a fearful life.

I try to live purposefully in that lucky life. I acknowledge that I am not more deserving. I am not more loved. I am not a better person. I am not, in any way, MORE than any other person.  Nor less.

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