I’ve written several posts lately about getting away on my own, sans bebe, and I’ve finally committed to doing it. I’m off to London this afternoon and I’ll spend the weekend near Edinburgh with good friends, G and S and their twin girls. This is my second trip to the UK, but given that the first was 11 years ago, I’m expecting things to be a little different.
When I was young, growing up in a small town, all I wanted to do was see the world. I knew it was out there waiting for me, and I couldn’t wait to be a part of it. Three years at uni, learning more about the world, and life, than I had in my previous 18 years of existence, only increased that desire to be somewhere other than where I was. I didn’t have the financial backing to follow through with any of my plans so I worked, and I waited, and at the tender age of 21 I had enough in my pocket to buy a return ticket to London and a 2-week tour of Europe. I did plan to live and work in Ireland for a few months, but the announcement that my 18 year old brother and his younger girlfriend were “in the family way” made me think that perhaps it wasn’t the right time to be worrying my parents with an extended stay abroad…
I left home one very cold September morning, feeling slightly ill at the prospect of finally achieving one of my greatest ambitions. It seemed I had spent so much time convincing everyone around me that I was going to do it, that I forgot to think it through. My mum said I was positively green as we waited at the airport. I said my goodbyes and arrived 12 hours later in Tokyo, where I spent a night before flying for another 12 hours to London. Thanks to a very helpful travel agent my airport transfer and hotel had already been booked and there really wasn’t too much I had to think about. I spent two days seeing the sights of London on my own, and the most adventurous thing I did was buy a ticket on one of those red double-decker buses that travels all day in a loop, and you can hop on and off when and where you like. I was blown away by London, but somewhat disappointed too. I found the people quite rude, and when I was charged 5 pounds (back then the equivalent of $15 AUD) for soggy cereal and burnt toast I wondered why on Earth I had wanted to come all that way.
My first Grand Tour took place in the year 2000. It was a new millennium and it seemed like everyone, everywhere was ready to party. I was 21 and everyone kept telling me the world was my oyster. I had the time of my life on that trip, despite being completely clueless, and I can’t believe that I made it as far as I did back then. I always give myself a pretty hard time about the sheltered life I lead, but looking back I have really come a long way. I was so naïve then that I didn’t know that the airlines offered transfer services from the international to the domestic terminal, instead I rushed out looking for a taxi to get me there for an exorbitant fee. I remember getting off the flight at Heathrow and seeing people heading for the Tube station with their backpacks. They seemed so intrepid and I was envious of their ability to so seamlessly blend in with the locals. I’d never been on a commuter train before, so even something as simple as that was beyond me. I’ve since mastered the Hong Kong MTR and the New York Subway, and it might seem crazy, but I’m incredibly proud of myself for it.
I might know more of the world these days, I’ve certainly seen more of it now, but if anything that makes me more apprehensive about getting on that plane. There’s an ignorant sort of bliss that comes with the naivete I possessed 11 years ago, and it cushioned me while I travelled alone, filled with wide-eyed wonderment. It was a world before 9/11 and the attacks that came after, a world I had very little understanding of but one that seemed benevolent enough. Now the world is a little darker, people are less trusting, and I have a whole lot more to lose. It took a lot of courage (and a pinch of stupidity) to do what I did all those years ago, but I’m feeling pretty damn brave for leaving my boys behind and heading abroad on my own again, even if it is just to the Scottish countryside for the weekend. I can’t begin to tell you how high my levels of separation anxiety are right now!
The first time I travelled there was no such thing as Facebook, no iPhones, no constant link to the rest of the world (which may not have been such a bad thing). I was so thrilled to be on a plane that I didn’t care that I was squeezed between two rather smelly, hungover strangers. I doubt I even realized there were other ways to travel. But today I’m travelling in business class no less. I have the Tube app on my iPhone, pounds in my pocket, and I’ve booked a nice hotel in South Kensington (no more backpacker's hostels or bed bugs for me). And there’s not a travel agent or safety net in sight. I have lunch and dinner plans with friends on Thursday and just the fact that I now know people who live in London feels like an achievement. Turns out the world was my oyster after all.