I’m getting ready to leave home for an indefinite period of time. My retirement gift to myself is to get on a plane without a return ticket, with no specific destination and with no certain notion of when I will return – something I’ve always dreamed of doing. Preparing for this kind of travel is a lot different from getting ready for a two or three week junket. For one thing, an open ended trip with no real limitations on where I will go presented me with some interesting challenges at the local travel medical clinic. A question on the application that asked “Destination” afforded a thrifty space of about eight characters to respond. I had to ask for an extra sheet of paper.
If anything can deter a person from traveling extensively it might be the consultation with a travel medical doctor. I’ve always considered myself to be an intrepid traveler but by the time I’d been briefed on yellow fever, typhoid, malaria, e-coli, hepatitis A and B, dengue fever, rabies (apparently several Asian countries are over-run by stray dogs), influenza, norovirus and something called chikungunya, I was mentally calculating just how much money I would forfeit by cancelling non-refundable bookings. On the other hand I rationalized that the good doctor probably holds shares in the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture a veritable cornucopia of ‘just-in-case’ medications, and that it may have been in her best interest to paint the bleakest assessment of my chances of survival. So I relinquished some CA$250 and my right arm to be inoculated against the most common calamities, and went home to fill my calendar for the next few weeks with dire reminders like “Booster Shot” and “Typhoid Med Today” and “Malarial!”.
Packing also presents some interesting dilemmas. It’s a habit of mine to travel light in all respects. Closet-cleaning is a blood sport at my house, where anything not worn in the past six months is decisively and ruthlessly cast aside – recycled, actually to a number of people who are delighted to be on my hand-me-down list. Having too many options or too much ‘stuff’ creates an unease bordering on claustrophobia. In that same spirit burdening myself with corpulent suitcases as I shuttle through airports is something I just cannot bring myself to do – no matter how long the journey. Wherever possible I travel with one bag, small enough to be carry-on. I’m almost-famous among friends and colleagues for making a three week trip around the world with only one carry on bag. This achievement was featured in an article in Grand Magazine (September/October 2011) titled “The Basics plus Pearls” where I quipped about it being so unseasonably cold when I was in Rome that I wore everything I had packed, all at once, every day. What I didn’t mention was that I spent at least some of my precious evenings there doing laundry in the magnificent Italian marble sink in my hotel room.
An extended trip is a challenge, not so much for the length of the trip but for the likelihood that I will travel through several different climates, and will have an odd melange of experiences. In Australia alone I will need to be appropriately costumed to camp in a desert, stroll the deck of a cruise ship, climb up and over a very large and famous bridge, and mingle with the upper crust at a horse racing event roughly equivalent to Ladies Day at Ascot. At least one of these escapades will require a spectacular hat, and I wonder if I will have to count my hiking boots as one of the three pairs of shoes I generally allow myself. I will typically pack about a week before a trip, re-pack several times throughout the week and then, within minutes of leaving I will re-pack again – something that a plethora of how not to pack web sites will tell you not to do. Those last minute inclusions and exclusions always make for excitement when, on reaching my first destination I realize that I should have brought what I packed in the first place. And I wish briefly that I was one of those people who are comfortable traveling with mounds of luggage, such that one whole suitcase can be allotted for just shoes and handbags. But it passes.
I’m currently in that first phase of packing where I decide that I will only take things I really love – the soft grey, pearl-trimmed dress I picked up in Halifax, my favourite skinny jeans and a flowy pale-yellow beach cover-up. I can see all of these working very well in the Australian Outback. Can’t you? I will limit myself to no more than three of anything – three dresses, three skirts, three pairs of jeans, three pairs of shoes. (Do I have to count the hiking boots?) At some point I’ll revise the selection process to ‘only the most comfortable’ and in the end I will likely scale back to two of everything, so as not to overstuff my bag. The battle between fashionable and practical will rage on until the morning of my departure when I will predictably and recklessly pack one last time, entirely contingent on my mood at that moment. And yes, I never travel without a string of pearls, which can make the shoddiest get-up look more respectable.
I have mixed feelings about leaving. Leaving anywhere is not my favourite thing but leaving home is always more poignant. Perhaps it’s an affliction of growing up in a place like Vancouver – a stunningly beautiful city, rich in cultures and natural wonders – but for the twenty or so years that I worked and lived away from it, I was homesick for Vancouver every day. So spending the past weeks quite literally at home has been a great gift. I’ll miss sipping my freshly brewed morning coffee in the sparkling sunlight of my deck garden and I wonder if, as I wander the planet over the next few months I’ll find someplace as enjoyable to write as at the desk that my favourite (and only) brother helped me convert from an old television cabinet.
I’ll miss my family here like crazy but technology now provides an abundance of options for keeping in touch. I’ve spent hours – hours! – scouring the ‘self help’ site (a misnomer if ever there was one) for my cell provider trying to find an understandable explanation of roaming charges for international travel. I’d like to avoid, if at all possible the nasty surprise of a $5,000 cell bill when I get back. But I know I’ll be unable to resist the temptation to forward photos of deadly reptiles in the Australian Outback, and I’ll assuredly want to text the love to my kids and grandkids with unreasonable frequency. I am seriously grateful to the folks at Starbucks who make wireless internet available at every location in the world. I’ve accordingly mapped out every Starbucks at every stop across five countries – so far. I wonder if there will be a roaming charge to access the list on my iPhone???
Ten days to departure! Almost time to start packing.