With my flight to London fast approaching, I’m busy preparing for my trip, i.e. making to-do lists, double checking that none of my flights are passing over Ukraine, and carrying around unopened guide books (I’ve had a guidebook for India sitting on my bedside table for months, but I read Shantaram instead — which is, at least, set in India). Buying and not reading the guidebook has become my travel prep ritual.
The time period right before a trip is a magical one — full of daydreams and countdowns and soaring potential. Even going to work in the morning takes on a delicious quality (“only two more Mondays left; today I’ll spend lunch booking my flight to Turkey”, etc). I remember packing for my first big trip to South America five years ago, and having absolutely no idea what to bring. Being generally lackadaisical about packing, I just winged it and hoped for the best. Now I know for sure that it doesn’t really matter. It’s a law of travel that you won’t need half of what you pack and you will forget something, but as long as you’ve got your passport and a bank card, it’s all good. Half the fun is not knowing what shenanigans you’ll get into.
The significantly less magical part is saying goodbye to everyone — a process that is more difficult each time. In addition to my family and friends, I’ve been thinking about the other things that I will miss from home, things I didn’t fully appreciate until I didn’t have them anymore…
1. Electrical outlets. At home, there is no fussing about with converters or jockeying for the two overworked sockets with ten other backpackers who each have at least seven things to plug in. Waking up, expecting to find your phone all charged up and discovering that someone pulled out your charger and replaced it with theirs is the worst. Even though you did the exact same thing the day before.
2. Laundry Baskets. Soon, the days of leaving my soiled laundry in a nice pile within the confines of its own basket will be over. No longer will I be able to make the short jaunt up the stairs to do my laundry whenever the mood strikes. Instead, I will be shoving socks that are nearly capable of standing up on their own into a plastic bag at the bottom of my backpack until I can find a suitable day to leave my sad sack of increasingly ratty clothes with the cleaners. On the upside, I can pay someone to do my laundry for me. Or multi-task and wash my underwear in the shower.
3. Drawers. I had no idea how wonderful a chest of drawers could be until I went traveling. Things are so much easier to find when stacked neatly in a drawer; I’ve even gotten a little odd about arranging my shirts by color and style. Although, to be fair, on the road it doesn’t make much of a difference when you’re only choosing between three shirts.
4. Showers. Specifically, predictable and reliable showers. Now, when I skip a shower, it’s because I’m being lazy, not because I got electrocuted trying to figure out how to switch the shower head, which was located conveniently right above the toilet, from freezing to lukewarm. It’s also quite nice not to have to share my shower with scorpions, cockroaches or giant spiders. Frogs, on the other hand, make great shower buddies, especially if they sing to you.
5. Not having to share. I’ve been spoiled: I’ve got my own bed, my own room entirely to myself and I can watch whatever I want on TV. Soon, I will be sleeping on tiny bunk beds again, listening to people snore and rustle around with their plastic bags inexplicably at four in the morning, hoping there are no bed bugs and that no one steals too much of my milk out of the communal fridge.
Actually, that’s about it. As sad as the goodbyes are, and pleasant as the conveniences of laundry baskets and non-hazardous showers are, I’m just excited. Excited to feel the thrum beneath my rib cage as the plane takes off; to hang out and swap stories with other travelers in hostel common rooms; to eat food I’ve never eaten before; to be surrounded in languages I don’t know; to look at a place on the map and say, there, I will go there today.