Wednesday, March 10, 2010

International Woman of Mystery

I have recently had a very unusual experience. I didn’t travel ANYWHERE for 8 whole weeks! This is the first time in 5 years or more that I have managed to avoid getting on a plane for that long. And let me tell you it was AMAZING! In addition to getting to actually have a life (there is so much more free time when you are not waiting for planes, having dinner with colleagues and spending nights in hotels) and make plans with friends, I didn’t have to deal with the hassles of traveling or my fear of flying! It was wonderful. Unfortunately, I’m currently writing this post from the Beijing airport where I’m waiting for a very delayed flight to Shanghai… So, I’m back into travel mode again and for the foreseeable future will be on a plane every other week (at least).

You would think that being the International Woman of Mystery I am, flying and traveling would be easy for me. Just the thought of an International Woman of Mystery probably conjures up some image of a classy woman gliding through the airport with the perfect and appropriate travel bag clutched in perfectly manicured hand. She wears black and impossibly high heels and has dark sunglasses covering her eyes or casually resting on her head. She is calm and cool and never flustered. She definitely never looses her passport, her ticket, her phone… She never runs to catch a flight (she is wearing high heels that are not made for running). She is the essence of travel chic and her blasé attitude toward travel is admirable if not a tiny bit intimidating. She is who you wish that you could be. In fact, she is who I wish I could be.

For some reason, no matter how often I travel, I can’t really seem to get it right. No matter what, it feels awkward. First of all, I’m always late. Actually, that’s not true – but I always feel like I’m late and spend the 4 hours before the flight stressing that I’m going to miss the flight. The funny thing is that I’m late for absolutely everything except for planes and trains – then I have to be ridiculously early. My colleagues who have truly perfected the blasé attitude towards travel that enables them to roll up to the gate “just in time.” Actually, they miss a lot of flights this way – it stresses me out too much and therefore I usually just meet them at the gate, then I can arrive ridiculously early and let them sort themselves out on their own.

Second, I am bad at packing.
I always bring too much stuff because I want to have “options” and also because I have a borderline unhealthy obsession with working out and always need to bring full workout gear for all the days I will be traveling (and yes, I do usually use them so it’s not a total waste) in addition to my business clothes and casual clothes (if necessary). I also have to bring an absurd number of books because I tend to read a lot when I travel (waiting in lines, waiting for planes, when I can’t sleep) and my worst fear is being stuck without a book. But although I always seem to pack too much but also I usually inevitably forget something really important (like underwear).

Third, my checked in luggage seems to have at best a 50% chance of arriving with me. Seriously. In fact, there are even people who don’t like flying with me because they feel that it increases the chance of their own luggage getting lost. So, I have learned that if I am checking in bags, that I must then pack a carry-on with essentials (which includes at least one set of work out clothes and 3 books). Therefore, I can never be that very chic woman with just her laptop and purse. (Update: Guess what? I arrived in Shanghai without my luggage! Luckily I had my gym clothes and books stashed in my carry on. However, that left no space for my work clothes so I had to wear the same clothes I wore on the plane to the office – shows you where my priorities are).

Fourth, I always feel flustered when I travel. I constantly misplace my ticket or passport, forget to carry a pen to fill out the landing cards, think that my phone or Ipod is lost (they are usually just at the bottom of my big bag) so you often find me kneeling on the floor of the airport while dumping out the contents of my bag on the ground and searching frantically through them to make sure I have not lost my: passport, tickets, Iod, wallet phone etc. Adding to this, for some reason I either have a ridiculously looong layover or such a tight a connection that I literally have to run as fast as I can from one gate to another.

Fifth, I never have manicured hands, and high heels are totally inappropriate for an airport (I’m always amazed at women who can pull this off) as you usually have to walk A LOT between gates – especially in London and China airports. Seriously, I am wearing low high heeled boots right now in an effort to look a little cool. I’m pretty sure I just walked two miles. I have a blister. Was it worth it? I don’t think so. But I’m also not ready to be one of those women who wear sweatpants and sneakers and carry their pillow.

Sixth, I have managed to somehow develop an unfortunate fear of flying. It has gotten worse in the past couple years – the more I travel… A little bit of turbulence or a strange noise from the plane, is enough to set me into a panic and cause other people around me to pat me on the shoulder and tell me it’s going to be ok as if I’m some novice flyer. At those times I want to whip out my massive passport and show them that I fly all the time and that I realize I’m being silly, but I can’t help it. And please just stop touching me!

I am not generally a religious person, but I literally pray the whole time during take off and landing as I have heard this is the most dangerous part of the flight. And during the rest of the flight, I can’t help thinking about how it would feel if suddenly the plane just dropped and nose dived down killing us all. I know it’s much more likely that I will get hit by a Double Decker Bus crossing the road in London because I forget to look the “right” way. But for some reason death by plane crash seems pretty dramatic. I mean, you KNOW you are going to die for at least a couple minutes. Imagine the absolute panic this must cause as you and the rest of the passengers are falling straight down out of the sky!!!

But in fact, I think my biggest problem with flying is the fact that I know I will not be able to control my environment for several (sometimes more than 20) hours. For example, you can’t control the temperature, or the people (I seem to always get to sit next to fat people who snore or sick people who throw up the whole way), or the food. Knowing there are just too many factors out of my control that can lead to an absolutely miserable experience, puts me into a panic about flying.

I should mention that there are at least 2 colleagues who will no longer fly with me. I think it might have had something to do with the Brazil trip we took where I had an all out panic attack in the Amsterdam airport which involved staff assistance and switching around seats and a whole bunch of people needing to calm me down in order to get on the flight. I did however get on the flight and managed to arrive in Brazil in pretty good shape despite it all. In my defense, part of the panic was brought on by external factors that had nothing to do with flying or traveling and more to do with the Swedish Ex and the fast that the night before said flight we decided that we would no longer talk anymore… This decision set me off on a long crying spree which included calling my mother and trying to convince her to London and come and get me (yes, I realize this was unreasonable – but a girl can still want her mom when she is feeling bad), and a very sleepless night. I then channeled all of these emotions into a general panic about the Brazil flight. Say nothing of the fact that just weeks before an Air France plane (same operators as KLM) had just fallen out of the sky on the way to Brazil and much was made of the fact that when flying to Brazil from Europe, the plane goes off the radar for 3 hours (and yes, I thought about this the ENTIRE trip and wondered at which point we went off the radar). And being the control freak that I am, the Brazil trip was especially hard for me because I had never been to Brazil. So, in addition to the flight, there were a whole bunch of unknowns at the other end. I find that knowing what to expect when I land helps a lot.

Seventh, I can’t sleep on planes. At all. Ever. Unless I’m so extremely exhausted that I just can’t keep my eyes open – which only has happened a few times usually after many days of getting 4 or less hours of sleep each night… If I DO manage to sleep, I have nightmares about the plane dropping out of the sky and usually wake up totally panicked only to check the time and realize that there are still 8 MORE hours left of the 12 hour trip. Needless to say, not sleeping on planes is not a good thing when you are traveling intercontinental as usually I’m expected to be in the office looking fresh and polished and ready to work a normal 12 hour day… Needless to say I do not do well with this. I try to schedule flights so that I can get in the night before. I don’t really believe in jet lag. I don’t really have trouble fitting into the local time schedule. However, I do believe that sleep deprivation is a real thing. But usually one good night’s sleep of 6 – 8 hours can put me right back on track. Just don’t make me do a full day in the office first!

Eighth, traveling these days is no fun! Planes never seem to do anything on time… and you face endless security battles For example, I’m currently sitting in the Beijing airport where my flight was supposed to take off several hours ago and as usual Air China is giving absolutely no information as to why the flight is delayed or when the flight will actually take off. And of course, I didn’t sleep one wink on the flight on the way here. I didn’t even try. I just watched bad movies the whole way and read half of a 500 page novel. So, I’m WAY tired and feeling completely out of sorts. For some reason for me being completely over tired manifests in the following: first I start to feel a rocking motion – like I’m on a boat; second I feel majorly depressed as if the world was going to end, as if all the happy parts have been taken away from me. And for some irrational reason, my instinct when I feel this way is to stay up and try to “fix” myself. Being the control freak that I am, I have trouble understanding when my body is not following it’s usual behavior and I always think that it’s just because I’m being emotionally weak and I just need to pull it together. I have learned that it’s much better to just make myself go to bed. I’m always just as surprised to wake up the next morning and realize what a difference just a few hours of sleep can make.

Well, I think that my flight is finally about to board. The International Woman of Mystery is off again! Hopefully I will make it to Shanghai safely.

Update: I did make it to Shanghai safely. But as usual, my luggage didn't! But this time it WAS ALL MY FAULT. Despite having taken this flight about 20+ times previously - the last time being just a couple months before. I somehow managed to forget to get my luggage in Beijing and bring it through customs. So, of course it didn't arrive in Shanghai! Ooops - see, I told you, I'm a super cool traveler.

However, I did manage to persuade the Chinese officials who tried to tell me to go back to Beijing and get my luggage (yeah right) that not only was I not going back to Beijing. I was not even coming back to the Shanghai airport to pick it up when it arrived (which they told me was absolutely necessary). I made it very clear to them that they were going to get it from Beijing and to my hotel by the next evening at the latest.

My direct approach worked. My luggage arrived safe and sound the next evening with no hassle. Note to any travelers - do not listen to Chinese officials at the airport, tell them what you want and make them do it. See... maybe I am kinda a cool traveler after all. At least I've learned a few tricks...

1 comment:

Sarah B said...'s like we are the same person when traveling. In spite of the fact that I've been on planes my ENTIRE life traveling...been on thousands of flights, all of a sudden in my mid-twenties I developed a fear of flying.

And it's like everything you described in this post is EXACTLY how I feel. There are some other interesting similarities as well. (I had some very interesting Match dates in the past...)

Looking forward to reading more of your blog!!