June 19th, 2014. It was the night before my big, adult, first-time-leaving-Australia, solo European adventure! I hadn’t been nervous up until this point. In fact, I’d been working non-stop at two separate jobs, and completing exams and assignments for the semester at University. I’d barely had a chance to sleep or make myself another cup of coffee before this long anticipated day crept up on me. A mild panic attack may have occurred briefly that afternoon when I realized I would be on my own for the first time ever for five weeks hundreds of thousands of miles across land and sea from anyone I knew, but let’s pretend that didn’t happen.
All (over)packed up and buzzing with excitement, I insisted my family watch Eurotrip with me the night before my big flight. Thankfully, I didn’t run into any suspicious Italian men under dark tunnels in trains.
Three flights would get me to England. Leaving around 12.15pm Queensland time, and arriving around 6am London time the (technical) next day, my total travel time equated to approximately 27 hours. Brisbane > Singapore > Abu Dhabi > London.
There I was, a travel virgin, eager and overexcited to board the plane. Unfortunately, once you actually get on the plane, this excitement fizzles as you remember you’re going to be sitting for the next day or so, cramped in uncomfortable conditions amongst hundreds of (probably) flu-ridden passengers. With no one to talk to (I tried).
I was a different person up there, in the air. Halfway through the second flight, I stopped feeling very human.
How long have I been in the air?
Was I ever on land?
Did I just imagine land? Have I been here my whole life, and everything else was a figment of my imagination designed to escape this prison-like reality? Is this my life?
Who am I?
Look, there’s only so many movies you can watch before you start going absolutely, vividly mad. I thought I had this brilliant plan. Bring a book, watch some movies. Stay awake until the very last flight then sleep the last seven hours so I could wake up refreshed in London, ready to start the day and free of jetlag. Naturally, travel virgins always think they can escape the jetlag. Fortunately for me, I happened to be one of the rare who actually pull it off. Not quite how I planned, but regardless.
On the first two flights I had an aisle seat. Highly important on long-haul international flights. You do not need a window seat on such a long flight. What? You’re gonna look at clouds for seven hours? WHOOOOPEEEE! But really, you will damn well appreciate the extra aisle leg room, getting served food and coffee first, and having easy access to slip out and off to the bathroom as you please. Trust me, I know, because on the third flight, they stuck me smack bang in the middle of the plane. Surrounded by some very large individuals who promptly fell asleep, imprisoning me in my chair for the duration of the flight. To ice that delightful little cake of an experience, I had three screaming children in front of me, whose Mother thought it would be a great idea to pull their seats ALL THE WAY BACK into my lap, so that I couldn’t reach my bag on the floor or properly access my tray. My neck and back were also strained from the angle at which I had to watch the TV. The woman was asked several times by a flight attendant and myself to kindly move the seat forward slightly, but she was very rude and self-important, and I know when people aren’t worth battling. I endured.
I flew Etihad Airways. The seats weren’t overly comfortable, but not overly uncomfortable. The food was…interesting. I tried to stick to vegetarian options, just because I have mixed feelings about airline meat. I’m sure it’s fine, but I have mixed feelings. No alcohol either. So…damn…dehydrated. Tiny little 250ml bottles at a time, and what an inconvenience you are asking for more. Feeding time was still the highlight of my plane experience however. Something to break up the waiting, waiting…waiting. It took at least an hour to distribute all the food, and that kept me entertained. Then there was the clearing up, and the distribution of coffee. Another hour. People watching. Then everyone went back to sleep and things returned to being rather mundane.
Between flights, I was pretty much doing lunges in the waiting area whilst we refueled and waited to board. I didn’t have long stopovers, so by the time you went to the bathroom and sorted yourself out, it was time to get back on. Everyone else was sitting.
SITTING?! Are you people INSANE?! We’ve been sitting down for a good fourteen hours at least now. There’s another seven to go! HOW CAN YOU BE SITTING?!
Each to their own.
I did not sleep on my last flight, as planned. I honestly tried, I just couldn’t. So I twiddled my thumbs, and let myself go braindead as I watched sitcom after sitcom after documentary after movie pick-of-the-week. When I landed in London however, I was too excited and hyped up on travel adrenaline to care about my lack of sleep. Check in at The Royal National – the Contiki hotel of choice as it was the meeting/leaving point of our tour – wasn’t until 2.30pm. I dumped my bags and decided to go exploring.
I didn’t sleep for at least 49 hours, but I barely noticed. This was going to be one hell of a trip.