My Mother has often reminded me that the first time she put me on a plane I was six months old. I’m not entirely certain of the details – as you can imagine, I have no recollection of the actual event taking place – but it seems she handed me over to someone (an acquaintance of hers) who flew me to see my grandparents in Zimbabwe.
Don’t get me wrong, my mother is neither neglectful nor has she ever (to my knowledge…) tried to get rid of me by handing me to near-strangers on airplanes. I was actually born in Zimbabwe, at the end of 1990. Mozambique was still involved in civil war, which would go on until 1992, so my Mom went to Zimbabwe to have me.
The point I’m trying to make with all of this is that I have never been a stranger to flying. It neither bothers nor scares me, and I feel rather at home when jet-setting around the world. I travelled on my own for the first time when I was eight, and numerous times since then.
Currently I’m on a flight from Amsterdam to Seattle, which will be followed by a short connection to Vancouver. As I’ve been on and off of planes today I have been doing some thinking about what a strange, surreal experience it always is, really.
Generally, the moment I wake up on the day I am to leave, wherever I am, I shut off and go into my own form of autopilot. Flying doesn’t bother me so much, but goodbyes do. It doesn’t matter how many times a year I have to say goodbye to people, it always sucks. So today when I woke up, I went into my little alternate mindset in which all I can focus on is being organized, and ready to go.
Probably the best technique I have is to picture very clearly where I want to be at my destination. If I feel myself starting to feel that little string tugging at my heart where my feelings should probably be, I attach it to something else. For example, as I write this, I’m attaching my imaginary string to my bed in Vancouver, and convincing myself that that’s the only place I want to be right now.
It’s not necessarily true, but if it keeps my mind off of what I’m leaving behind – in this case a house full of sisters, cats, and my Mom – then so be it. This is top-secret information here, by the way. I’m revealing the secret as to how I can remain stone-faced when everyone else gets emotional. I am just as emotional as anyone else, but I learned early on that knowing how to hide it will get you much further than sniveling on the shoulder of the poor person sitting next to you in the aisle seat you wish you had remembered to check-in in time to get. Trust me. This works.
There’s nothing quite like sitting next to a (couple of) stranger(s) for 10 + hours, all up in each others’ personal space. Elbows knock, shoes end up under the wrong seat, someone inevitably spills something (usually me, and my apologies if you’ve ever had the misfortune of receiving my apple juice in your lap because you ended up next to me)… Awkwardness all around, basically.
Oh, and here we go, turbulence. This is the moment when everyone around you gets tense, but tries very hard to hide the fact that they’re tense, because, well, it’s embarrassing to be the one freaking out when there’s a bit of turbulence. People attempt to make jokes about turbulence and then laugh nervously as they look out the window, and probably say a little prayer in their heads.
I’m usually able to sleep a little on flights, but there’s always that person sitting nearby who falls asleep before takeoff and does not stir for the remainder of the nine hours and forty scheduled minutes, plus the fifteen minutes they add on – because, whoops, we had no idea so many planes were coming in today, so we’ll just ask your trans-Atlantic flight to fly in circles over the airport for awhile – what’s fifteen minutes to people who have been shut in flying can of sardines for nine hours and forty minutes anyway?
– Anyway, that guy, the one across the aisle, who would even be kind of cute if he weren’t drooling, has been asleep since takeoff, and I’m willing to bet he doesn’t wake up until the plane makes that awkward first bump of the tyres on the Tarmac. Yeah, that guy annoys the hell out of me. What did he take? What does he do to be able to shut down like that? I’m so jealous! My sister is one of those people actually… Suddenly I look over and realize, that even though she’s there, I’m basically traveling alone.
Instead of sleep, I get bursts of inspiration. I write, draw, start planning things… I started writing my grad film on a flight from Amsterdam to Vancouver two years ago. I guess it’s because when you travel alone you end up with lots of time to think. Also, I always choose those lovely tear-jerking breathtaking films to watch on these tiny screens. – I never, ever cry when I watch movies. Never. But every time I come close, you can bet I’m on a plane, sitting next to someone who doesn’t need to have me sitting here rubbing my eyes and looking over to make sure they haven’t noticed that The Help nearly made me cry. Nearly.
Another thing I’ve experienced today – I do not travel light. I’m a photographer, so I travel with at least two cameras, lenses… also my laptop, some homework, extra socks, medication for every symptom I may ever experience on a plane, a sandwich graciously prepared by my mom, and all the shoes I couldn’t put in my suitcase because I bought another three pairs and my suitcase was suddenly two kilos too heavy. Seriously. I’m carrying heels, boots, and sneakers today in my hand luggage, aside from the sneakers I wore on the plane. That’s four pairs. If we end up Lost-style on a deserted island I’ll be winning in the shoe department. And the sweater and medication department.
Back to real life. My suitcase was slightly heavy. So, after repacking at least twice at the baggage drop counter, I end up with twice my weight in hand luggage (which, by the way, ends up on the plane anyway, so what was the point of displaying the insides of my suitcase to the entire terminal?)… Thanks a lot. Once this ordeal is over, I somehow get through the security check (after unpacking my laptop, iPad, and sometimes cameras), and I wobble to my gate, backpack, suitcase, purse in hand, as well as laptop precariously wedged under my arm, and two extra sweaters because I’m paranoid about being cold on the plane. You get the idea.
Ahem. This, by the way, is all totally misrepresentative of my usual, graceful, organized, poised self, of course!
My conclusion after rambling on about all of this, is that it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve done it, doesn’t matter that I was practically raised on a plane, that I’m used to it and not scared (except when watching Prometheus on my little screen). None of it matters because in the end, traveling is a pain, the experience is always unpleasant for some (or multiple) reasons, and it doesn’t matter how many times you decide to get on the plane wearing makeup and looking good, you won’t encounter any attractive men until you step off the plane, hair in disarray, yesterday’s mascara flaking on your face, and are attempting to gracefully make your way through the airport with a load that should require a pack mule. Nope. Such is life. Happy travels, everyone!