There are so many quotes and writings about the almost ‘magical’ thing called travelling. Much is said about the wonderful things you see and hear and how it opens your eyes and your mind and broadens your horizons and gives you insights into how the world works that you would otherwise not have had. So much so that when you dream of visiting France for example, you unquestionably expect to hear beautiful French theme music starting to play in the background the moment you set foot on French soil.
Most of the things one hears and reads about travelling are certainly true. It makes a difference about how you look at and think about the world. It does broaden you horizon. And it gives you insights you would probably otherwise not have required. The reality about travelling though is that there is reality. Surely, sometimes you hear French music play in the background (when you sit in a restaurant) and you may have a holiday romance with an Italian heartbreaker or you might travel without any trouble, lost luggage or stomach bugs and you will meet people who will stay friends with you until the end of time. But most of the time, travelling can be very, very hard. So, if you haven’t travelled much yet, here is a shortish version of how a typical day of a travelling transpires.
Even if you knew the day would come for months in advance and planned accordingly, you will still have a hundred and three things to do on the day before you leave. Somehow visas can be the main devil in the traveller’s Garden of Eden and you sometimes have to wait until the very end for the British Embassy to open again after an unexpected closure in Cairo to get your UK visa. Or it can be the Colombians or Algerians or Mauritian authorities causing you problems. The fact is – visas are the traveller’s number one enemy – and friend, because without them, you’re going nowhere.
On a normal day of travelling you will eventually leave for the airport by car, taxi, bus, train or whatever, armed with you passport, your ticket – or the electronic confirmation of a ticket, money, your luggage and those precious visas safely stamped or pasted into your passport pages. You will arrive and queue to book in electronically at a machine or otherwise at a counter, depending on the airport you fly from. While you stand in the queue, you will pray that your bag is within the weight limit. You will ban the question out of you mind of how you are going to manage not to go overweight after ten days or three weeks of buying cute, but in a year’s time totally forgotten memorabilia. You will be thankful when the bag goes through with no problem and you are awarded with your boarding pass.
Then you get out of the line, say the goodbyes to those who brought you, if you didn’t come on your own, and you enter the door leading to the world! But first, you will have to queue for passport control. After the customs officer stamped you out of the country, you are as free as a bird in that wonderful no man’s land called ‘Duty Free’… We normally like to be there long before we have to board, just to get the emotions of the goodbyes behind us and have a coffee or a beer while breathing the busy day out of our bodies and starting to focus on our tip ahead. This is where you realise for the first time that you are on your way.
Your next queue is when you wait to go through the security check to your boarding gate. You remove your camera, jacket/s, shoes and belt, take your wallet and cell phone out of you pockets, remove your laptop, tablet/iPad and your other cameras from your hand luggage, put it in a tray with your passports and walk through the scanner on your still-clean socks, hoping there is nothing left on you that will make it bleep. If you’re lucky enough to go through without a bleep, a person of your own gender awaits you with a hand scanner and two gloved hands. In Europe, this search stops just short of a gynaecology examination. Literally. Then all your scanned stuff and those of the people behind you causes a traffic jam on the x-ray machine, while you try to grab your camera, belt, shoes and jacket’s all at once and try to get dressed while going through the checklist in your head trying not to forget anything:
- Other camera
- Cell phone
You make sure to look back to see if you left anything and check the person behind you to see if he may have taken something of yours. When you are certain of this, you are perspiring a little bit and ready to board your flight.
Note: Sometimes this step occurs after leaving passport control and before you enter Duty Free. It depends on the airport. After this you are happy that it is over, yet you know that this is going to repeat itself over and over during the course of your trip in every airport you visit – when going in and when going out.
Another note: If travelling in or out of Egypt add double the amount of passport checks mentioned above, add two more and multiply the sum by three.
Your next wait is in the room at the gate before boarding. When you finally hear the boarding call, you get up excitedly, because you know, that the journey is finally to begin. You queue in the boarding line, get you passport checked again and your boarding pass scanned. Then you follow the line to the airplane. Finally.
Depending on how far you have to travel, you will be caged into a small space (except if you fly business class of course) where you will try to watch a movie, try to sleep, don’t like all the food the airline serve you (except if it is KLM, then you would want to try the tray too) and probably be stuck behind or next to an unmannered co-passenger or one who’s breath really pongs. This is the less enjoyable part of travelling, especially if you travel five hours and longer.
On the other side, you will have this whole process at the airport again, just in in reverse. Then you have to find transport to your place of accommodation, travel there, queue to book in, move in, unpack or not, get cleaned, connect to Wi-Fi, contact home to let them know that you are safe and try to get a good night’s sleep.
If you travel for ten days to three weeks, the pace can get to you, because you will wake up every day, get cleaned, go for breakfast and travel by car, bus, train, tram, boat, taxi, motorcycle, bicycle, plane, underground (also train) to your next destination. You will queue, you will buy tickets on busses, in museums and on boats. You will always be looking for coffee or beer and wonder where the next toilet will be. You will run not to miss your next bus ride, train or plane, and you will hope you and your luggage arrive at the same place. Which sometimes don’t happen and then you have to spend a night in your day-old undies and a t-shirt from Heathrow’s ‘overnight’ pack. You will queue to see the small, insignificant, but well-marketed painting called the ‘Mona Lisa’ (in English) and take selfies with known landmarks in the background.
You will ask strangers to take a pic of your family, so that you are in some of the pictures too. You will search the map and the Internet for directions and you will learn how a country’s public transport system works within hours after arrival. You will walk or ride from site to site, drinking coffee or beer or wine in between with ‘n light lunch and take more pictures, because you never know if you will ever see it again.
It’s not that these places are so important to you personally or that they speak to your heart, but that you have seen it with your own eyes. There is something in seeing well-known places and things with your own eyes. Even if you feel too uneducated to appreciate every old painting in the Louvre or the Rijksmuseum – or know who the painters were. It is a weird kind of privilege to visit places and share the soil where so many good and bad things happened in the past and to know that somehow your life had cross the paths of those who lived there so long ago.
In the evening you put your photos on Facebook and Instagram and WhatsApp and chat with your family and friends and go to bed too late, because you don’t want to waste a moment and you want to try and put what you have seen and experienced in perspective. The next morning you wake up and the routine repeat itself – but in spite of the repetition, one day is never the same as the previous. So, you get up, brush your teeth, go to breakfast, start travelling, drink coffee, go to the toilet while you are in a restaurant, travel to a site, take too many pictures, walk, ride bus, ride boat, walk more, eat lunch you can’t really afford, drink beer, go to the restaurant toilet, walk to the next site, take more pics, ride bus to the next, take even more pictures, look for a place to get food, have more beer or wine and go to the toilet, ride bus or underground or walk to your place or accommodation, bath, download photos, upload photos, chat to family and friends, go to sleep too late.
And you repeat this until the tour is over. There is no rest, because what South African can afford to go to London for three days and lay on a hotel bed for a day’s rest at times 18 of your currency for everything you do. No, there will be no rest. You will pack in, no matter how tired or sick you are. You will go on. You will get every cheap South African cent’s worth out of your too-expensive trip!
Sometimes while travelling it feels as if you are not taking it all in. You think that you just travel and look and see and don’t think. But when you get home, you realise how much you have thought about. You learned that you never stopped thinking. Your thoughts were transformed somehow by experiences you didn’t realise your brain had recorded. You are a changed/changing person. You realise how much you have learned and how little you really know. Even now. No, especially now that you know how much there still is to learn. And you realise all over again that all of life is a journey. That this little piece of your life, called a holiday, is part of that journey to make your life expand. And you appreciate that you may never, ever see those places you have just visited again. And you are also confronted with the very real possibility that you may never travel to all the places you still dream about seeing. That’s a reality of life.
You also find that being home, is the biggest part of the journey. And you realise that it is a privilege to have a place to come home to. Even if we have never travelled, or is just a couch traveller or if we don’t want to travel, we are on the trip of our life, because being alive and living life is the journey.
So, are the endless, tiresome movements from one place to another just to see it with your own eyes really worth it? It is. Because you learn a lot about the world, but you learn even more about yourself.
What a curious phenomenon this thing called ‘travelling’ is.
© 2015 – I, Fielies (Riëtte) De Kock tries hard to be a Proverbs 31-woman – excellentest wife, finest mom, greatest lover and successful ‘wordpreneur’ all at the same time. I temporarily share my living space in Cairo, Egypt with my husband, young-adult son, the building’s ginger cat – and the space in my head with way too many ideas and multitudes of story characters to live as a normal functioning human being.