Getting To Know Australian Wildlife

 

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I recently had the pleasure of escaping normal life, jumping in a canoe and floating down one of Australia’s finest rivers- The Murray.

I had every intention of writing a thoughtful blog piece about how peaceful it was and that it was the kind of relaxing experience that everyone should try and have at some point in their lives. Sure, I was with a group of well behaved, if not quiet, teenagers and I was getting paid to do it but that did not detract from the tranquillity of the journey.

What I found instead was that I was increasingly drawn to thinking about Australian animals and how unique and completely absurd they really are.

Let me explain.

We had pulled up on to a sandy river corner to camp for the night. After setting up, the group sat in a circle, ready to cook dinner on small camping stoves. This in itself is not noteworthy, but the fact that a koala- an icon of Australia- descended its tree and proceeded to walk past us, most definitely was.

As I watched this increasingly pissed off, fluffy grey ball of fur and claws stare us down, I truly realised how deceptive Australian animals are. Take the koala as an example. They are the animal equivalent of cranky, old men. They constantly need naps and hate loud noises. I watched one wake up and grunt like a pig when a passing helicopter ventured too close. As soon as the chopper disappeared, he glared at me like it was my fault and went back to sleep. I actually felt guilty. If he was a human, he would have called the police and made a noise complaint.

Although they look cute and cuddly, they are more than willing to rip your face off if the need arises, not to mention the fact that they make noises that sound something more reminiscent of people having loud, aggressive sex in the bushes rather than something more memorable or soothing. I can see the advertising for Australian tourism now- “Come to Australia where the animals look cute but make noises like sexually inappropriate sounds effects”.

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It almost feels like Australian animals are mocking you. Kookaburras are the prime example. They conveniently congregate on tree branches like a group of bullies and laugh at you as though you’ve done something wrong but haven’t quite figured out what it is yet.

All of these thoughts were compounded by the news during the previous week that a banned episode of Peppa Pig aired on Australian television. In the episode, Peppa’s dad encourages her to play with spiders, implying that they are harmless and that this is a normal thing to do. That it was banned for fear of small Australian children thinking that it’s fine to handle some of our deadly arachnids (red backs, funnel webs and white tails to name a few) without consequence explains Australia better than any documentary or public service announcement ever could. It’s a testament to the international perception that everything in Australia is trying to kill you. It’s a miracle that anybody even manages to live here at all. For a country whose largest predators live in the water (crocs and sharks), there are a significant amount of land based animals willing to inflict injury as well, both big and small.

Look at Kangaroos; they sit on our coat of arms and are the most recognisable animal in our country yet possess a kick that can rip a person’s stomach open. Not only that but some of them have bigger biceps than half of Australia’s male population, myself included, and seem to channel their aggression more productively. It’s as though they are secretly abusing steroids whilst the tourists aren’t looking.

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A wallaby. Not as healthy as he could have been.

 

It’s easy to joke about and something we Australians love to embellish. The only thing we enjoy more than telling a story is pretending Australia is a death trap. In reality, no one is really going to rush over to a koala and try to give it a cuddle and think that it’s going to be happy about it. Just like no one is really going to ride in the pouch of a kangaroo; as much as we all secretly want to know what it’s like. But they are all harmless from a distance- except magpies during nesting season (seriously, those birds are soulless. I’m more terrified of walking past a nesting magpie in a tree than I am of any other animal).

Jokes aside, providing they are not jumping out in front of your car, as some Australian animals are prone to do from time to time (ruining your insurance premiums along the way), it is a beautiful thing to see animals in the wild. It might seem like I am complaining about all these things (poking fun, more accurately), but I’m merely trying to point out how unique our wildlife actually is. The truth is that it can be easy to take your native animals for granted. You see them often and sometimes the appeal can be lessened, affected by an over saturation from a lifetime of exposure to them. But they are something that you should love and respect.

If paddling down the river has taught me anything it is to appreciate seeing an animal in the wild. Floating past koalas sitting precariously in the forks of small trees, overhanging the water is a special thing. How such a heavy looking animal can balance on the smallest of branches amazes me. You feel as though the slightest breeze is going to throw the animal from its perch into the water below. But there it sits; comfortable enough, waiting for the sun to go down so it can wander safely around the bush again, searching out a new tree to inhabit, new eucalypt leaves to gorge on. That’s not something you get to see every day. That is what makes it memorable.

Wayward Tip: Avoid a zoo and see an animal in its natural habitat- it doesn’t matter what country you’re in. Step out of your comfort zone. You’ll appreciate the experience.

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Dealing With Stopovers

 

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I had an epiphany a few years back- airport stopovers are a pain in the arse. It’s not a new theory nor is it a particularly deep thinking problem but it’s taken me some time to come to terms with. It’s not so much the short stop that drives me nuts, it’s the long, half day or overnight job that really gets me charged. You know the one- you land in the evening and your connecting flight doesn’t leave until 7 a.m. the next morning so you are left wandering aimlessly over the meticulously buffed floors of the airport for the night; the kind of arrangement that makes you realise how you got those flights so damn cheap in the first place.

This all came to a head as I lay on the floor of the Singapore airport.

We had landed late and our connecting flight didn’t leave until the following morning. I won’t try and pretend it was all terrible; the flights were cheap and the Singapore Airport is probably one of the best airports in the world in which to be stuck for an extended period of time. It is basically a shopping centre. There is a hotel at each of the three terminals and other forms of entertainment littered around. It sounds like it should be an easy wait, no matter how long the duration.

But it isn’t.

The place lights up like a stage on Broadway, light searing through your eyeballs like walking out of a nightclub as the sun comes up. It made trying to find a dark corner about as easy as correctly guessing who’s going to needlessly be killed off next in Game of Thrones- you’ve got a rough idea but in reality, you’re only guessing. While they had banana lounge type arrangements available for people to comfortably lie down and have a quick kip, the problem was that they seemed to be hidden in remote corners of the terminal. The type of corners that you need a detailed, orientated map to find only to discover all the lounges are taken. With the Transit hotels booked out (not to mention really, f**king expensive), we had no option but to find somewhere, anywhere, to lie down for a few hours. So, while I tried to sleep on two artistic looking chairs bolted into the floor, resembling oversized teacups rather than furniture (and about as comfortable), a jacket draped over my head to simulate darkness and wearing my back pack so it wouldn’t get stolen as I ‘slept’, I thought there had to be a better way.

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Not an airport but you get my drift.

 

I particularly recall using one of the airport computers with free internet (and the connection speed of an early nineties dial up modem), looking over the sea of bodies trying to sleep anyway they could. It was about four in the morning and I was checking Facebook for about the 37th time that night. I thought about all the ways I had tried to entertain myself in the past to pass the time. I’d played lawn bowls with rolled up socks in Christchurch. I played approximately 163 hands of the card game Rummy in Denang. I’ve read books I didn’t like, ate food I couldn’t stomach and slept in positions that have required severe chiropractic manipulations when I have returned home. Enough was enough.

No matter how you try and sugar coat it, airports are about as stimulating as a voluntary lobotomy and only half as comfortable. I was arriving at my destinations tired, dirty and about as sociable as a bartender at closing time. There is more energy at a retirement village than an airport terminal.

Ever since then, I have tried a different approach. If the stopover was short, a few hours maximum, I would continue on to my destination, no problems incurred, remaining my usual, smiling self. However, if the stop was going to be longer, I made the decision to stay in that particular city and explore. I decided that rather than being a grotty looking tourist, occupying an airport terminal with a permanent scowl on my face and bags under my eyes, I would venture into the city I was stopped in for a few days.

The plan was twofold; I get to see a new place and I get to sleep in a bed instead of a brightly lit, concrete, airport floor. There are also no public service announcements every twenty minutes telling me not to leave my bags unattended- an added bonus. There hasn’t been an airport sleep that hasn’t been ruined by loud airport announcements. It’s like an aviation requirement.

I’ve tried to deem it a holiday from a holiday. How often have you come home from an overseas trip more exhausted than when you left? It seemed like I was doing myself a favour; a reward for my body and my mind.

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Bangkok, Thailand.

 

The beauty of a 72 hour stopovers is that, quite often, they won’t cost you any extra on your plane ticket, provided you fly onto your final destination with the same airline or go via their hub airport. Each airline has its own hub- a home base that they will always stop at. For example, flying to Nepal with Malaysian Airlines, we stopped over in Kuala Lumpur. We specifically chose to fly Malaysian Airlines for that reason; so we could stay for a few days of relaxation on our way home. A similar scheme was hatched for a trip to Vietnam. We flew with Thai Airways, who are based out of Bangkok, so we had a week long stopover in Thailand on our way through. It’s a viable option.

Nobody likes airports and everybody hates waiting. It’s as certain as the sun rising in the morning and the traffic lights being red when you are running late. So why not take the chance to escape them for a few days on route to your final destination? If it means I’m rested, comfortable and my demeanour will be that of a normal human instead of a glassy eyed zombie, then it’s a win in my book. I know that it means a delay in making it to where you want to be but stuff it- you’re on holiday.

It can’t hurt, can it?

Wayward Tip: Sometimes it might add some dollars onto the price of your ticket if you decide to visit your stopover destination but not always- talk to your travel agent about that. It’s a nice break from travel, so don’t write it off as an option.

 

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Three Days in Hawaii

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Although the image of Hawaii had been forming in my brain over the course of many years, it was still somewhat of a mystery; a tropical paradise that only existed in the movies and seemed available solely for the super rich. A place where people drink cocktails out of coconuts and the locals wear Hawaiian shirts regularly. You know- standard, gross generalisations.

I always felt that getting there was going to be unobtainable. It appeared to be a destination that people talked about hopefully but not realistically. That was my thought process and I was more than comfortable with that.

So when I touched down at Honolulu Airport a few months ago I really had no idea what to expect. I knew that all the bars weren’t going to have thatched rooves made of palm leaves, as much as I wanted them too. I knew all the cafes weren’t going to be beachside, as great as that would be. I quickly learnt what a Hawaiian holiday was really like.

Honolulu is what you expect; a tropical haven filled with tourists. Souvenir shops dominated street corners, all offering a fine collection of beach towels and little bobble head statues of hula girls in grass skirts. The collection of shot glasses at these establishments is also impeccable. The feel of the city is one of relaxation with an emphasis on going slow and enjoying a drink. Every organised activity came with a traditional flower lei, even the shuttle from the airport. While it was a nice touch, my daughter thought it was a nice feed and destroyed/ate mine, hers and my partners. It was a tropical flower massacre in a minivan.

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I was surprised at how big Honolulu was. The drive from the airport took a lot longer than anticipated and involved stopping at what felt like every second hotel on the island of Oahu. I also think that there are more traffic lights here than most densely populated cities. My judgement of this may have been impaired though, particularly after we stopped at one set long enough to watch a local man relieve himself on a nearby building. That may have affected my opinion a touch but when you got to go, you got to go.

Each travel destination has its own unique, must do activity. You don’t go to New York and fail to visit Central Park, for example. Just like you don’t visit Australia in summer and expect to avoid getting sunburnt. So nothing screams “I went to Hawaii” quite like going to a Luau. With only three short days to visit, we figured it would be negligent on our behalf if we didn’t go to a Luau. After all, everyone likes dinner and a show. The truth was we had no clue about what was involved or what to expect. Like Hawaii itself, you assume a lot based on Hollywood comedies and hotel brochures. The only guarantees in my mind were that we would receive another flower lei on entry and we would watch a performance of the hula. However, I actually learnt more about the history and culture of the Pacific Islands on that one evening than I had my entire life. I was expecting a feed and couple of cocktails on a beach, not a history lesson. It was an unexpected, entertaining, Pacific Island education.

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Food and drink wise, Honolulu has a lot on offer. Breweries and restaurants were everywhere. Come night time the streets were even busier than during the day. Queues at eateries stretched out the door at some places as people patiently waited for a table. I lined up at the Cheesecake Factory for twenty minutes just to get a piece of cake to take away (and also so I could say I went to the Cheesecake Factory, lets be honest). Even from our hotel balcony we couldn’t escape how lively the streets were. Musicians played until late and street performers put on shows while the shops stayed open till all hours. We could have a beer and listen to the music from the comfort of our hotel room. Lazy traveller bliss.

Hawaii is a naturally beautiful place and as such can overshadow the fact that the people there were some of the nicest I’d come across. It wasn’t just the service staff who were delightful but just about anyone else you ran into who wasn’t a tourist. Even the beggars were nice. The amount holding signs asking “Help. Need money for weed!” was astounding. It was honest. I appreciate that.

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At one point we decided to take a walk along the beach and ended up at a rotundas at the end of a sea wall jutting out into the ocean. At the end was a large family group, all locals, jumping from the rocks into the water below. They had music playing and were having a whale of a time battling the waves and the rocky sea wall set up to limit the size of the swell on the beach load of tourists further in. One bloke climbed out, smiled at my little daughter, turned to me and asked where I was from. He had a tattoo of the Hawaiian Islands on his back and, after I explained I was from Australia, he informed me that he was 25 and never left this island. He flashed a grin which revealed quite a few missing teeth and jumped back in, laughing. To be fair, you couldn’t blame him either. If I called a place like Hawaii home, I wouldn’t leave either.

It’s not hard to see why Hawaii is one of the most well-known places on Earth. People swimming and surfing, relaxing in the sun, having a quiet cocktail or seven- it’s an easy place to want to be. The problem is that there is never enough time. I missed visiting Pearl Harbour, for example, and didn’t have time to climb the Diamond Head. Hawaii is made up of approximately 152 different islands and I got to see one suburb of one of them. It’s an unashamed tourist hotspot and I’ll go back for sure.

Wayward Tip: Most hotels here have resort fees. The closer you are to the beach, the more your fee will be. Some hotels don’t have any, but they are generally towards the centre of town so if you want to be close to the beach, expect an extra charge on your hotel bill.

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International Travel With An Infant: the inside guide.

 

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When my partner announced to the world that we were expecting a child, one of the first responses was for people to remark- “Gee, that’d make a great blog; travelling with children.” While the idea had crossed my mind, I was also acutely aware of the saturation of parenting blogs spread across the internet. That I don’t usually enjoy those types of blogs didn’t exactly help grease the cogs in my brain to spring into action.

The fact was we hadn’t really taken our daughter anywhere that I would consider interesting enough to write about. Sure, a trip home to visit my parents could technically be described as a nice family road trip, but driving three hours down a mind numbingly boring highway isn’t really noteworthy. Informing people that we stopped at a roadside McDonalds to feed is also not something that I think people are particularly interested in.

But when we jetted off to America earlier this year, the opportunity had finally presented itself to dissect what an international holiday with a small child actually looks like.

When travelling at home, small children have more pieces of equipment than most items at IKEA. You load the car up with as much stuff as humanly possible and somehow still manage to leave something behind, all the while only using one fifth of the crap you packed to begin with. Babies are akin to royalty and we are their hand maidens. That’s the reality.

So when we up and travelled overseas, all of a sudden there is a cap on the amount of gear we can bring. No longer is every small toy able to come. No port-a-cot. No large, fandangle pram. You have to ask yourself the hard questions- how do we fit the formula tin in without making our own luggage over weight? How much equipment is too much? How many drinks are we allowed to have before we get adjudged poor parents? You know, the important stuff.

Instead of just your own clothes you need space for extra nappies, clothes, bottles and snacks (only for the child). We were already walking through the airport pushing a pram, two carry-on bags hanging off the back, plus suitcases packed to the brim trailing behind. We could only pack limited items for ourselves because sacrifices needed to be made to fit more baby equipment in. Elevators, I should point out, all of a sudden become important innovations, as stairs turn into impassable hazards, like the Himalayas in winter or a shopping centre car park at Christmas. All the while your little dictator sits in their chair being pushed around by their minions. It should be noted that my partner reliably informed me that we could have taken the portable cot if we wanted but looking at our already large pile of child wrangling equipment, without two extra limbs or a Sherpa it would have taken me three trips just to get it all to the baggage drop.

It wasn’t always smooth sailing. We were regularly pulled aside to have our nappy bag looked through. This was after what looked like a never ending procession of equipment, bags and clothing was scanned at security check points. Generally they were always checking the baby formula (presumably making sure it wasn’t a shitload of cocaine or anthrax or something else nasty and illegal) and any of the mandatory baby creams we carried. This was never a bad thing though; I don’t think they ever actually suspected us of being terrorists or smugglers and it gave us some time to sort all our gear out while we waited to be given the all clear. The beauty was that every time they checked us, the TSA officers would offer to repack it for us. The nappy bag was more organised after we were searched than anytime we packed it ourselves.

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My first reaction when thinking about the actual flight was to be petrified. Not because the situation was daunting but because karma was well over due to bite me on the arse. I’ll be the first to admit that whenever I have travelled internationally, I dread sitting anywhere near children on a plane. It’s not even clear why; I haven’t had an overly negative experience with them. I’ve managed to avoid being vomited on and I am a keen practiser of turning the volume up on my headphones to drown out noise. I’m not sure if it’s having my seat kicked from behind or hearing a baby scream, I was just always that guy. I never said or did anything about it; I merely internalised and quietly cursed to myself for no reason.

So when it came to be my turn, I was probably owed one for a lifetime of unnecessary dread. All the things you hate when on a plane I was now going to have to deal with over eight different flights and thirty plus hours in the air with an eleven month old baby. The idea of being trapped in a confined space and trying to control and entertain a small human is a scary prospect. Children this age do whatever they feel like. The word “No” is not a command, it’s a funny sound that the big people make.

Aircraft hostesses deserve commendation and a pay rise. They made a beeline to us when they saw us settling in and explained how to use the bassinet located in front of our seats. Any request was quickly responded too, no questions asked. At one point, after finishing a cheeky glass plastic cup of red wine while the child had a kip, the head hostess walked passed and offered me another. I politely refused but she stashed two small bottles in my seat pocket, adding, “You’re going to want that those later.” Respect. Nothing says “I’m a travelling parent” like people assuming you are a closet alcoholic whenever your children sleep.

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There is a field of thought that suggests that having your child sleep in the same bed as you when they are young is an inherently bad thing to do. Many people have written about it, voicing their concerns and presenting “research” into how this is something that should be avoid.

These people have very clearly never gone on an overseas holiday with a small child.

Every hotel we booked into prior to leaving, we enquired about the possibility of obtaining a cot for our baby girl to sleep in. Not because we had a problem with her being in our bed but because I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of her rolling onto the floor every time I went to the toilet in the middle of the night. The problem was that every place charged an extra forty dollars a night for the privilege. I’m not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but forty dollars a night over three weeks away equates to $840 for a child who can sleep lying on the floor with a chip hanging out her mouth and be comfortable.

It must be said- having a baby is a fantastic queue skipping tool. At both airports and sightseeing attractions we were ushered passed long lines as velvet ropes were unclipped for us to slide on by. It was like being a celebrity bypassing the line at a night club. And you don’t even get dirty looks from the people stuck in line. They look at you, smile at the baby and peacefully think to themselves, “How lovely. Thank God I’m not travelling with a baby. I’d rather stand in line.”

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New York subway packhorse

 

The kindness of strangers shouldn’t be underestimated. People grow extra generosity in their hearts when you roll around with an infant, especially when they realise you’re an international guest. People, New Yorkers in particular, went out of their way to help us out. A gentleman on a plane bought me a drink for no reason as I sat with the child sleeping on my lap. I had never met the fellow and hadn’t even spoken to him but he wanted to do me a good deed and give me a drink. When I asked the hostess how much it cost so I could pay the man back, she replied, “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

I also had little old ladies on the New York subway stop to talk to us, just to compliment “how beautiful my son was”. Sure, I have a daughter and she was wearing a pink jacket, pink beanie with a pink blanket in a pink pram, but it’s the thought that counts. Men and women, old and young, of every different background did this. It was a magical thing. Playing peek-a-boo wherever we went with any person who made eye contact was a favourite game but it did highlight that ‘stranger danger’ is something we will have to work on.

 

We were lucky. Our little girl behaved herself at all times but I am more than aware that while some children can be little angels, others have the ability to be the spawn of Satan. The only time she was even remotely a problem was when she was hungry. Admittedly that is quite often, but you prepare for that. One time I watched in awe as my eleven month old girl ate an entire kid’s bowl of pasta- it just kept disappearing- I didn’t know whether to be scared or impressed. It was like watching a food eating competition. We had to cut her off. Proud Dad moment.

There is no other way to describe it- it’s a challenging proposition to travel overseas with an infant. Nothing is simple and everything needs to be thoroughly thought out. All the little details need to be considered before you even leave your hotel room or board a plane. Shit, the way you pack your suitcase matters. But don’t dismiss the idea straight away. It has the ability to make your holiday more rewarding than you thought it could be, even though your kids might not remember it, you sure as hell will.

Wayward Tip: It might sound obvious but do your research. The more prepared you are, the more enjoyable your holiday will be rather than a stress filled debacle. Always think ahead.

An unhelpful guide to tipping

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As an Australian, the concept of tipping for service is somewhat of a rarity. Obtaining a tip from a customer in Oz requires something above and beyond what would normally be expected. Wrestling a wild boar whilst mixing a cocktail, for example, might constitute a little something extra. Or juggling pints of beer without spilling anything could generate a reward. The fact remains that tipping isn’t something that is generally considered the norm here.

So in preparing to travel to America, figuring out the who, what, when, where and why of tipping was something that was playing on my brain. I asked as many people as possible what the etiquette was hoping to get an answer that didn’t require a PhD to understand. Turns out it was like trying to find water in the desert- it exists but you have to work bloody hard to find it. They could tell me small pieces of information; I have to tip table service, taxi drivers, bar tenders, live bands- basically anyone who was remotely helpful, entertaining or had good manners. This much I already knew, but when it came to determining exactly how much, they became blank. “I think it’s 10 per cent for a restaurant. Or is it 15? It might be 20. Shit, I don’t remember now. Just give them money.” Several conversations later and I was no closer to having any kind of practical information I could use. I had this vision of emptying the contents of my wallet onto restaurant tables, shrugging my shoulders and walking away.

The next step was to ask everyone’s favourite search engine- Google. If Google couldn’t give me answers then the answers weren’t worth knowing. What I discovered though (after being distracted by ‘fail’ videos) was that anyone with web access and a keyboard is willing to provide useless information on internet forums dedicated to answering such dilemmas. I finally stumbled across a Lonely Planet guidebook that gave me a very generic overview of what was expected of me.

Theory and practice are very different things, however.

If you are unsure about tipping, New York is an intimidating beast to confront first up on a trip to the States. I recall the first day we spent there. We went into a little eatery looking for a feed. The place didn’t have a queue coming out the door- no easy feat in New York- so was an easy target. It was too laid back to be a restaurant but food was still delivered to our table after we ordered and payed at a counter. This confused me. My research told me that if we paid at a counter, tipping wasn’t required (like fast food ‘restaurants’), yet staff kept coming to where we were sat, asking if everything was OK, bringing food and clearing plates. What kind of sorcery was this? If the aim was to confuse unsuspecting tourists, consider it successful. This kind of operation wasn’t mentioned in the books; it was like that question on a test at school you swear wasn’t covered in class. I wasn’t sure of the protocol at all. Looking round I couldn’t see others leaving tips but couldn’t be certain. We eventually left and completely forgot to leave anything anyway. Test one- failed.

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That night was our chance at redemption. We wandered into the famous Katz’s Deli and sat down at a table. We had table service this time so it was a textbook situation. We ate and our bill was written on one of the tickets you get on arrival. We worked out the tip based on the 15 per cent rule- when in doubt tip at least 15 per cent. It’s not a concrete rule, more like a guidebook directive, but it seemed solid. Not knowing where to put the tip, we reluctantly left it on the table and paid our check at the till on the way out. Whilst paying for dinner, as the cashier was counting our money, I whispered, “We left the tip on the table. Is that right? Should we run back and grab it and give it to you? Have we done the right thing? Help us. For the love of God, help us! We don’t know what we’re doing!”

She slowly looked up at me and whispered back, “You’re fine. You can leave now.”

In truth, tipping is usually explained on most restaurant checks you receive. Below the total will be various dollar amounts, calculated at 15, 18 and 20 per cent respectively, that customers can refer to as a guide, making the process easy and not half as stressful. Even taxis have signs up explaining how much to tip drivers (10-15% of your fare) and how much to tip bar tender depends entirely on your level of intoxication (should be 15-20% per round). Everything is explained for you based on the service you have received. Tour guides like some reward for effort as do hotel maids and porters. It’s all common sense stuff. If they have helped you out, reciprocate financially. The only time you don’t tip is if the service is so bad it makes you angry or sick or both. If you look at it that way you will be fine.

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Like anything new, tipping can be a challenge if you aren’t familiar with it- a cheat sheet attached to your entry card to the country could be a nice initiative- but once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature. You gain such a level of confidence that you’re like a critic at each place you eat, analysing the service you receive, comparing them to each other and then tipping accordingly.

Tipping is non-negotiable and shouldn’t be a problem so long as you remember to do it. Just don’t forget, don’t ever forget.

Wayward Tip: If you are confused ask reception at your hotel. It’s second nature to Americans and they are ridiculously helpful people. Who better to ask than someone who does it every day?

 

Cancelled Flights: the frustrating reality

Airline horror stories are a dime a dozen at the moment. Whenever you look at the news, there seems to be a new story about outraged customers and an embarrassed airline company reading a hastily written apology. In particular, American based airlines keep finding ways to create the type of negative press usually reserved for politicians and drug addled celebrities.

It’s fair to say that at some point, everyone who has had the pleasure of flying has been on the rough end of the stick when it comes to airline experiences. It could be a delayed flight or a rude staff member, either way we all have one. Now, it’s not in my nature to gripe about such things- I am a realist and can acknowledge that, at times, things are not going to work out the way we might like. But, with that in mind, let me tell you about a recent experience I had with a certain airline that shall remain nameless.

By the end of a holiday- one where you’ve had to deal with multiple flights- all you want is a smooth, care free experience that goes to plan. In our situation, flying with an 11 month old child, the last thing we needed was for things to become more uncomfortable and complicated.

Already tired and toward the back end of a three week trip to the U.S., we rolled into Dallas Airport for an eleven a.m. flight to Honolulu. We arrived early to aid in clearing security, mainly due to the thousands of bags we seemed to have. It’s amazing how a tiny human, who stands no more than a foot and a half from the ground, who cannot construct full sentences and staggers like the town drunk when she walks can have as much, if not more, equipment than grown adults. Prams, clothes, nappies, nappies, food and nappies take up an extraordinary amount of space and take even longer to cram into bags that resemble a size appropriate for travel.

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A plane from earlier in the trip.

We found that our flight was already delayed, so we settled in. Dallas is a large airport and has both a Popeye’s Chicken and Starbucks. That’s the quinella of food and coffee. Airport food is notoriously shithouse, so the daily double of deep fried chicken and reasonable coffee is good result.

We got poured onto our plane at 12.30 p.m. (an hour and a half late, for those playing along at home) and readied ourselves for 10 hours in a confined space with a child 11 months old, going on 16.

You know the plane is old when it still has the armrest ashtrays, even if they had been sealed shut. The inflight entertainment was on box televisions in the roof, the likes I hadn’t seen since driving around Melbourne looking at roadside rubbish with friends during our university days. If people are willing to leave them on a nature strip for anyone to take, the technology is pretty much obsolete. It should have come as no surprise then that we were soon ordered to disembark due to the plane leaking oil.

As a passenger you generally don’t mind getting being delayed if it’s a matter of safety. The last thing you want is to be plummeting from the sky because Frank the technician said, “She’ll be right,” instead of reporting the issue. Besides, they gave us stale sandwiches and soft drink to say sorry while they looked for a new plane. That’s how airlines say, “Apologies for the dud plane but we’re even now. Don’t complain.” Seems legit.

In the three and a half hours that followed I learnt two things: I can eat 20 chicken nuggets comfortably and elderly people know exactly what cough medicine they can buy from 7 Eleven that will send them to sleep quickest but won’t interfere with their various medications.

“They have Dramamine over there and I think I saw some Benadryl, but no Tylenol. Blast.”

“But Tylenol is the best! Just remember not to take it until we are in the air though. How does that mix with your heart medication, Enid?”

There were six of them passing notes to each other on the benefits of drowsy cough medicines and it was a serious conversation. These people were travelling retirees and it was hard to not be impressed.

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Plane number two soon arrived from Orlando. We patiently waited to board before another apologetic announcement came across the P.A. – “We have checked the plane and it appears there is a problem with the oxygen delivery. We can’t leave until someone comes to fix it. Sorry.”

So the great wait of 2017 continued.

We were left wondering how the hell anyone who chooses to fly with this certain airline had ever made it to their destination without the wings falling off or passengers having to fly the plane themselves.

It got to 5.30 p.m. – a good 9 and a half hours since we first arrived at the airport in the first place- and we were told to board once more. There was sense of urgency in the announcer’s voice as she informed us that we had to be seated, ready to fly in less than half an hour or the pilots would time out and their shift would end.

Loading tired, emotional people on a plane can be a difficult and time consuming process. On this occasion however, two hundred and sixty people were seated in twenty five minutes. That had to be a company record. At 5.55 p.m. we were sitting and ready. So we waited. And waited. And waited. Until an announcement from the pilot declared that they had “failed to get ready quick enough” and that “they will need to find three more pilots”.

We didn’t move. No one told us to move. We didn’t want to move. So we sat. For over an hour we sat, waiting for someone to tell us something, anything. If you think the elderly are quick to get angry at teenagers (at times needlessly), you should see them when their plane is delayed three times. I could hear frustrated phone calls being made to various booking agents asking questions to which the answers didn’t yet exist.

“No I want to talk to someone…I don’t care, anyone…I’m very upset…I want to talk to a manager…No, I’m still on the plane…I just want to go to Hawaii.”

Every now and then my daughter would play peek-a-boo with the lady sitting behind us as she furiously tried to maintain her anger whilst still speaking on the phone. I’m not sure what she thought she could achieve but I think she was attempting to get them to send out a new plane. Or new pilots. Or move Hawaii closer to the mainland.

We disembarked again with the promise that “more crew were coming at 10 p.m.” This time they gave us meal vouchers. $16 dollars at an airport is about enough to buy a tube of Pringles and a packet of Tic-tac’s.

Moving gates (because, you know, we were sick of the old one) we prepared ourselves for another setback. The atmosphere wasn’t one of great success, more like wallowing disappointment mixed with sweat and frustration- like a cheetah who’s had its kill stolen by hyenas after doing all the hard work.

It finally came; the announcement we had dreaded but had been kind of expecting- “Your flight has been cancelled.”

I had never been in this situation before so I wasn’t sure if having a police officer present was standard procedure. Nor do I know if staff members walking off the job is a normal reaction. But that’s what was going down. The geriatric army was livid. There were raised voices and bits of spit flying. The crowd was closing in on the flight desk, everyone asking questions at the same time. One woman was worried about her dogs, another lady cried. It was the kind of scene that would play in slow motion in a movie, some dramatic music playing over the top.

It was now 9.45 p.m. – over 12 hours since we first arrived. After getting allocated accommodation for the night, more meal vouchers ($7 for breakfast, take that to the bank) and some guy in a suit searching the airport for baby formula, we exited the building. It was 11.45 p.m. and we were still in Dallas.

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Hawaii.

We finally flew out the next morning, on time, and arrived in Honolulu a full 24 hours late. Sure, I was accused of stealing a bottle of water on the flight (I was innocent) and our baggage didn’t turn up for another 36 hours or so (three days in the same set of clothes. Hello ladies!), but sometimes you have to take those hits.

I’m not telling this tale to deter people, hence I haven’t mention the airline involved, more so because, simply, sometimes shit happens. It can be frustrating, inconvenient and, at times, downright rude, but it’s something that occasionally occurs and there is nothing we can do about it. No airline has a perfect record, they don’t do it deliberately and all of them cancel or delay flights from time to time- we just hope it doesn’t happen to us. As it turns out, this time it was my turn.

Wayward Tip: complain to the airline. They will most likely have a hidden section on their webpage you can do this on and chances are you might score some vouchers out of it. You can’t get compensation complaining to your mates, can you?

 

Disney World in a Day

I grew up watching Saturday Disney on television every weekend. Back then it was all classic cartoons and the odd new adaption of a movie, like Aladdin, into a television series. It wasn’t so much that I desperately wanted to watch them but more that there was nothing else on. There were just 5 channels on Australian T.V. at the time and we only had reception for 4 of them. Granted the one we couldn’t pick up was SBS (a ‘world’ station that generally only ran world news reports in foreign languages and some risqué international cinema of an evening. Not exactly what a pre-teen was looking for).

Every now and then Saturday Disney would do a show from Disney World in Florida. It was the kind of general awesomeness a kid wants to see; interviews with a mute Micky Mouse and presenters riding the teacups. It was probably more the fact that it was a theme park and there were ‘exciting’ attractions like rollercoasters- everything a kid in rural Australia doesn’t have access to.

So when we made the decision to head to America, a trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida, was on the cards. We were in Florida already anyway so why not make the effort to tick off something most people don’t get the chance to do.

 

Let me tell you- Disney World as an adult is a different proposition.

For starters there are multiple  parks to choose from. MULTIPLE- each having to be paid for separately. When you only have one day to visit, choices like this are educated and cut throat.

Do you visit Animal Kingdom? Sounds like a glorified zoo. Next.

Epcot? Never heard of it. Are there rides there? Who names a place Epcot? Google tells me it’s educational. Next.

One of the water parks? If you can’t remember the name of them, why bother, clearly not important enough.

So the Magic Kingdom wins out. There better be a teacup ride. My whole childhood depends on it.

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The Magic Kingdom is the classic Disney World experience filled with castles, rides and staff who are called cast members, walking around in fairy-tale costumes that look both impractical and uncomfortable. Having to have a toothy, fake smile plastered on your face all day like an overly happy cartoon character has to take its toll. Over the speakers, sickly whimsical music plays constantly. Seriously, it doesn’t stop. It’s the kind of music that runs over the top of movie credits, designed to make you leave the movie theatre content. I firmly believe that playing this music all day, however, is a form of torture designed to dement and disorientate adults into purchasing merchandise.

The place is huge. There are worlds within worlds. It is no wonder that in order to see it all properly it’s recommended you spend several days. Each ride has a time clock informing guests how long the queue is before you will get a ride. The later the day gets, the larger the times and lines become. A 120 minute wait for Splash Mountain. 90 minutes for the Seven Dwarves Log Ride. I waited 45 minutes for the bloody Teacups (dream realised). It gets to a point where you start looking for the rides with the shortest wait times and going there regardless of which ride it is. We went to the Little Mermaid ride because it had a 25 minute wait not because we desperately cared about siting in a slow moving sea shell. Oh the thrills. There is actually an app that you can download which will tell you how long the wait is for each ride. It’s convenient and depressing all at the same time.

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We discovered that each ticket contains something called a “Fast Pass”. Basically, if we went to a certain machine within the park, we could select 3 rides and skip the queues. It was mid-afternoon by the time we figured this out and deciphered the booking system (confusing for someone like me who has a running battle with technology and ticketing machines. It’s one of my many kryptonites). The end result was ‘fast passing’ the Pirates of the Caribbean ride three times and wasting my pass. It was easier to just commit to a queue and wait it out.

My favourite part of the whole park experience was people watching. Families in matching outfits would kick around with Disney themed clothing either to help differentiate themselves from the crowd or doom their children to years of therapy. Couples wearing shirts saying “Her beast” and “His beauty” were common place, all the single/normal people left to throw up in their mouths a little bit. It was the sort of awkward place where this was acceptable but you felt like they had to get changed in the car park before they came in so general society in the real world didn’t ridicule them.

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The funny thing is that I actually had a really good time. Sure it was hot and humid enough that I lost half my body weight in sweat, but the whole experience was not one I regretted. The atmosphere was one of pure happiness- with the exception of fathers desperately trying to find somewhere to buy a beer and have a quiet sit down. People were genuinely happy to be there. The rides weren’t thrilling but millions of people don’t visit the place each year because the rides are amazing. Disney stretches across generations. The reasons I might take my kids there will be different to why my parents would have taken me there. But it is all Disney. Even those who might consider it boring were walking away with a smile.

It’s overpriced, it’s busy but ultimately, it’s worth it.

Wayward Tip: get there early and sort out which rides you want early and ‘Fast Pass’ them. They fill up quick. But if you are happy waiting 2 hours for a ride, who am I to judge.

Sports and Travel

Believe it or not, catching a game of top level sport while on holiday is a common occurrence. Whether it’s a Premier League match in the U.K., a college football match in the U.S. or a game of Gaelic football in Ireland, sporting events are an ever popular travel activity.

American sports, then, are like the pinnacle of sport watching. They are the Everest for sports aficionados such as myself. The big four sport leagues (NHL, NBA, NFL, MLB) act like a dangling carrot that entice a person to want to witness one of these events live- bucket list items that need to be ticked. You see, some people want to be happy and healthy in life- I want to drink beer and watch talented and incredibly tall individuals, most of whom are household names the world over, attempt to best each other on a sporting arena in a foreign country.

By the very definition, I am a sport tragic. I love it. I don’t care what it is- I will have watched it on television or attempted to play it, usually always poorly, and find teams or individuals to support. It’s not something that I go out to try and achieve, it kind of just happens naturally, like people complaining about the weather or being confused about what the Kardasians are actually famous for.

As luck would have it, my brother fell in love with an American and married her in The States. Cheers guys. This meant I finally had the opportunity to see some of my favourite sports live. So, after booking flights, accommodation, getting insurance and other essential items required for a trip to a foreign country for a family wedding, tickets to sporting events were quickly(ish) acquired.

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First stop on my sporting bucket list was an ice-hockey game. As it turns out, tickets to the NHL aren’t cheap. Actually it’s bloody expensive- especially if you manage to go see the New York Rangers. The Rangers are one of the biggest and most well recognised franchises in world sport and if you happen to get along to one of their games, be prepared to pay through the nose for it. My ticket cost me the equivalent of 17 regular Big Mac meals or 108 pieces of chicken from KFC. That’s a lot of money to spend to sit up in the ‘cheap’ seats to watch a sport where your understanding of the rules is questionable.

The fans themselves are die hard; everyone decked out in their team jerseys, hats and scarves, a sea of merchandise. The game itself was a New Jersey Devils home game, yet there were twice as many Rangers fans filling the seats. Sporting apparel is expensive (a basic jersey in the Devils merchandise store was going for $170 plus) but the whole crowd (bar the three of us) were wearing their colours with pride. Then they started heckling each other. Not in a threatening kind of way and not usually directed at anyone in particular, more just yelling “You suck” repeatedly until they thought their point had been proven. All that changed as soon as the first fight between players broke out. Every person stood up and cheered. Some used their words but it’s mostly just noise, their hands raised above their heads in jubilation as gloves were thrown off and players tried to punch each other in the face as many times as possible before falling to the ice and the referees pulled them apart.

What resonated with me was the passion and excitement that the crowd had for everything involved in the night; from the national anthem at the beginning to cheering goals and hits. They were absorbed by it all. They even booed a poor bloke for not doing well enough in a goal shooting competition. It was ice-hockey’s version of a half-court shot. Yes, he struggled, but surely standing on ice, in a pair of slippery shoes, shooting a puck from a third of a way down the rink, into a small goal has to be a challenging exercise, doesn’t it? For someone who wasn’t 100 per cent familiar with the sport, stuff like this helps draw you in. Some of rules were foreign to me as well but the people sitting nearby were more than happy to explain what was going on so long as we waited for a break in play lest we risk an accidental fist to the face. For a sport that has penalties such as butt ending, slashing and slew footing, a helping hand goes a long way.

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Two days later I ventured to Brooklyn to witness an NBA game, a dream of mine for years. Even though I had to watch the worst team in the league (Brooklyn Nets) play the second worst (Phoenix Suns), it was electrifying to simply be in the building, regardless of how poor both teams were. People still rolled in and basically filled the entire arena on a chilly Thursday night.

The atmosphere was different here- different sports draw different crowds- but the structure was the same. Each break in play saw a new competition or prize to be won. Cheerleaders brought out t-shirt guns to shoot promo shirts into the top decks while a hostess ran a skill test with a couple of fans from the crowd who had about as much talent for basketball as I do at speaking Latin. As awesome as it was for those guys to get their moment on court, they had the skills of a blind turtle.

The spectacle of these events cannot be undersold; American sports know how to put on a show. Dimmed lights, red carpets, suspenseful announcements and annoying court/rink side announcers whose sole purpose is to whip the crowd up into a frenzy (“Why are we yelling?”, “I don’t know but it’s awesome!!!”)- even the announcement that Floyd Mayweather was courtside was done with a flair for the dramatic, encouraging a crowd reaction bigger than anything that had happened on the court.

Sport and travel have been intertwined for years. There are a litany of tour companies who run sport specific itineraries focusing on that organise anything and everything you need. NBA and international cricket are prime examples and are incredibly popular. It’s as much a part of the travel experience as it is a genuine interest. But my overarching theory is that if you can’t see it at home, why wouldn’t you try and see it when you are there?

Make the most of your opportunities.

Wayward Tip: even if you don’t follow any of the sports, if the opportunity arises to get to a game, do it. Call it cultural education.

The Sights and Sounds of New York City

 

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New York. The Big Apple. The greatest city on earth.

It doesn’t matter what you know it as, New York is one of the few places in the world that is familiar with everyone and as such comes with a reputation. The excitement of visiting can be so overwhelming that you seriously doubt if it’s possible for it to reach the lofty expectations you have placed upon it. So, on my recent trip to this grand old city, I set out to tick off as many of the sights and sounds as I could in order to help determine what was actually worth doing and what was overhyped.

In theory that sounds like a sound plan, but I am incredibly easy to please. I like things because they are nice, not because I have performed deep analysis on the subject. That’s the way travel feedback should look. Was it fun and affordable? Yes? Then recommend it. Did you want to bash your head against a brick wall and storm the register to get your money back? Yes? Probably don’t endorse it to your friends then.

With that in mind, after visiting some of the places and activities in New York that are on top of everyone’s travel bucket list, including my own, I’ve tried to be as constructive as possible.

Central Park

To say Central Park is iconic is probably a bit of an understatement. Every movie or television series based in the city has at least one reference or scene dedicated to it. Hollywood has a knack of either depicting it as a crime magnet or a place of romance. Kevin McAlister in Home Alone 2 and John McLane in Die Hard with a Vengeance spend quality time there, for example. I realise these films are not cinematic masterpieces and there are probably better examples, but that’s what I think of when I think Central Park.

The truth is it’s beautiful. You can lose significant time easily by simply strolling around aimlessly, revelling in the fact you are there. It is such a vast place that is in stark contrast to the rest of New York; placed in the middle of an island city with a population of 8 million, where people live on top of each other and stand shoulder to shoulder every day. It’s spaciousness in comparison to the rest of the city makes it all the worthwhile.

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Hotdogs from a street vendor

One of the first things I wanted to do was to buy a hotdog from a bloke with a street cart, smother it in ketchup and mustard and walk the streets. To be fair, I set the bar pretty low. A hotdog is a hotdog. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

In theory.

While I can vouch for the deliciousness of said hotdog, there are some things in life that you are better off dreaming about than actually getting. Paying three dollars for a piece of processed meat that is far too small for the bun it’s in, is a bit of a stretch. It’s a three bite experience. A dollar a bite. And no mustard (admittedly I didn’t check if there was any, he just threw some ketchup on and went about the important task of rearranging his assortment of drinks).

For the record, as I have been told nearly 1000 times since, hotdog carts in Central Park are not where you buy your New York dogs. Papaya King in the city is where you want to be. Lesson learned.

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Times Square

Times Square is the bustling heart of New York. With flashing neon lights and bright billboards lining the streets it is a sight to behold. People move around at pace, with the exception of visiting tourists who are busy taking happy snaps and looking around, awe struck.

While we visited during the day, missing the typical night-time atmosphere that is so popular amongst visitors, we still managed to experience the frenetic energy this part of town has. Retail outlets, Broadway, Hard Rock Café, crazy spruikers abusing people; the place has it all. One particular spruiker persisted in telling everyone to “f**k off” from her city although I’m still not sure why. It didn’t detract from the experience but rather added to it- I don’t encourage laughing at deranged individuals, mainly for safety, but it was an eye opener none the less. There is so much going on that it is difficult to properly take it all in.

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Ground Zero

No smart arse statements or jokes here. I haven’t been to many places in major international cities as sombre or contemplative as Ground Zero. The infinity pools at the sites of each tower and the names of each person who died inscribed around those pools makes for an emotionally reflective experience.

Empire State Building

It might set you back a good forty bucks, but going to the observation deck of the Empire State Building is a no brainer. With 360 degree views of the city, it is well worth shelling out the cash. A museum details the construction of the building, giving you a real appreciation of where you are and the effort that went into making one of the most recognisable buildings in the world. Even the lift has an interactive display as you ride to the top. I’ve been in a few elevators in my time and none of them have ever tried to give me a history lesson. Forced learning as you are trapped in a little box full of strangers, heads cranked up as you stare at the roof, is a unique way to get your message across.

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Katz’s Deli

Eat here.

I know this seems like a strange entry on this list but every person I hit up for information on cool places to visit mentioned Katz’s Deli. It is famous for the orgasm scene from the movie When Harry Met Sally and has a plethora of photos of celebrity visitors adorning the walls. Usually the queue is out the door, and with good reason; the food is delicious. Brisket that melts in your mouth in a sandwich that is as big as a lunchbox. Top that with homemade gravy and some fries. Your arteries won’t love you for it but by the time you take that first bite, you could die happy and not even care. Wash it down with a cold pint of local beer and you’ll think you have already died and gone to heaven. For a short amount of time you actually lose the ability to speak as you chew slowly, eyes closed, savouring the flavour- it’s that good.

Be warned though; if you are of the vegetarian persuasion, this place is probably not for you. Delicious meats are the order of the day here.

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Statue of Liberty

Nothing says ‘I’m a tourist’ like catching a ferry out to the Statue of Liberty. There are more long lens cameras and people taking selfies here than any other place on earth. If Cannon decided to open a store on Liberty Island, they would triple their profits almost immediately. When setting off to walk around the big girl, it is impossible not to inadvertently get captured in the background (or foreground, if you’re not paying attention) of at least five different peoples photos. Somewhere in Europe, a person is showing their friends pictures of their time at the Statue of Liberty and there I’ll be in the background, staring up in the air, dumb look on my face, awkwardly trying to walk past.

All jokes aside, she is well worth the visit. From the moment you set foot on the ferry to the moment you get back, you’re treated to amazing views of the harbour. You get the Brooklyn Bridge, the city skyline, the statue itself and an American history lesson all at once. That is value for money. Yes, the crowds are large, but it’s something that has to be ticked off the list- it’s your obligation as a tourist.

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When you arrive here you want visit all of the cliché New York City attractions you can think of. And why not- it’s New York! Calling these attractions clichés is not a subtle dig at New York’s tourist attractions or the city itself, either. Far from it. If you think about it, you can name all the major attractions off the top of your head with little effort. Obviously it’s not possible to see absolutely everything- money and time are always factors- but New York is one place where you can’t afford to skip attractions where you can help it. Everything is worth it. Why? Because it’s New York.

Wayward Tips:

1. Download the phone app. for the New York subway system. Don’t be a hero and decide you can figure it out by yourself. Don’t be proud. Just do it and thank me later.

2. Avoid buying tickets to attractions from random people at the exit of subway stations. I think that is self-explanatory. A lot of people are trying to crack the tourism market here and a lot will attempt to rip you off in the process.

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Stuck in transit

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There is nothing more exciting than the anticipation of a trip to a new destination. That tingly feeling you get as you pack, the sudden stress when you can’t find things you need then the realisation you are going to have a memorable time away from the grind of everyday life. You carefully pack all your essential items and fastidiously research a rough itinerary or, in the case of those doing a tour, read and reread the brochures that convinced you so strongly to fork out cash for the experience of a lifetime.

Fast forward to the airport and, after taking the obligatory “look at me, I’m about to fly overseas and you’re not” picture in front of the departure gates (usually taken by your mum. Don’t deny it, you know you’ve done it at least once), you find a bar to sit at and drink over-priced beers while you wait impatiently for your flight to be called for boarding. This picture isn’t a memento, it is shameless showing off to every single one of your friends, family, acquaintances and their pets that you are going away and they are not; a massive middle finger salute to everyone you know.

It’s in that moment, not long after you have posted the picture to social media, slumped in an airport chair, waiting, that you realise you have a painful eternity to get through before your holiday actually starts. That excitement you felt in the days/hours/minutes beforehand slowly dissipates as you calculate the travel time to your destination and how long it’s going to take for you to recover.

This came crashing home to me on my most recent trip overseas.

I was beside myself with excitement. I could barely sleep the night we were due to leave. But in that sleeplessness I realised that the minutes were all going to add up. It started with a drive of over an hour to the airport at 3 a.m. in the morning and finished over 24 hours later staring at a wall in a New York hotel room.

We were our own worst enemy, admittedly, forced to wait for check in to open because we arrived at Melbourne airport too early. We neglected to pay attention to the fact that our first flight was domestic and as such, we did not need to be at the airport until much later. When the check in staff aren’t even at work yet, it’s a fair indication that a mistake may have been made somewhere along the line. The plus side is that we could kill time weighing things on the baggage scales located throughout the terminal. My daughter weighs approximately 10 kilograms, for example, which was roughly half the weight of my suitcase. I wasn’t sure if this was something to be proud of or not but I gave my partner a high five in celebration anyway. I think we weighed everything we had  because we could, not because it was of vital importance.

While I waited for that first plane, I stopped and thought about the enormity of getting from Melbourne, Australia, to New York. Just getting there was going to mean spending time in four different airports (Melbourne, Sydney, Los Angeles and New York), flying on three different planes and spending over twenty hours in the air on a plane. If you add the time spent waiting, checking baggage, re-checking baggage, boarding each flight, collecting luggage and getting a car to our hotel, we had over 24 hours worth of travel time to look forward to. The longest of those flights was a fourteen hour mission from Sydney to Los Angeles. I had never experienced a flight that long before and was a little perplexed as to how I would kill the time for such an extended period of time.

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By my estimations, there are five ways a person can kill time while in transit: Watching movies/T.V., reading a book, playing games, sleeping or getting drunk.

Each of these options has its pros and cons. Sleep for example, is fantastic. It leaves you refreshed and revitalised. Unless you are like me that is; I hate it. No matter how comfortable I get, I will be guaranteed to wake up with a puddle of drool on my chest, my head lurched forward, creating such pain in my neck that I can see the advantages for airlines to employ inflight chiropractors or physiotherapists.

Inflight entertainment is a solid option and has rarely failed me in the past. The problem with a fourteen hour flight, though, is that you can watch three movies and still only be halfway there- the inflight tracking of your trip progress mocking you by appearing to have barely moved. That’s when to look for the epic movies, the three hour, cinematic “masterpieces” like Titanic or The Revenant; basically anything with Leonardo Di Caprio in it. Concentration might be difficult, but feel safe in the knowledge that those films aren’t going to end quickly. Even if you find watching films about doomed romances, set on sinking ocean liners, as enjoyable as a forced lobotomy, it has the ability to put you to sleep quicker than a sleeping pill. I’ve never seen the end of Titanic on a flight. I usually wake up drooling on myself looking at the home menu of the inflight entertainment. I think that’s a win.

The temptation to wipe yourself out with alcohol is always strong. That little trolley rolling past with novelty size bottles of booze can become tempting. But being drunk in a confined space can cause more issues than solutions, although it may encourage sleep. Dehydration on a plane is an ever-present entity and a trolley load of free alcohol will only encourage that. Besides, getting up and down from your seat to go to the toilet for fourteen hours probably won’t endear you to your neighbours.

As excited as I was to be heading to America for the first time, I knew that I had a long time to spend in transit in order to get there. It’s not as though travel time is a dirty little secret that travel agents don’t tell you about, it’s just that in all the hype of going on holidays, you can forget about the long period of uncomfortableness it takes to get you there. No matter how many trips you have been on, time in airports and on planes doesn’t get any easier. It will always remain a non-negotiable of overseas travel. Regardless of how much you hate it, you will always have to deal with it.

Wayward Tip: Be prepared to have multiple forms of entertainment handy. If that means downloading an extra game on your phone or taking an external hard drive and laptop, so be it. No one said getting there was going to be easy. Just do whatever it takes to keep the boredom at bay.

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