I'm procrastapacking (thinking about packing a suitcase instead of actually doing it)...
Once again, I’ve packed enough pairs of knickers to clothe a small army. What exactly do I think is going to happen to me during 6 days in another country?
It’s been a long, long two and half years, but I’m digging out the suitcases from the loft in anticipation of finally getting on an airplane again. Given my previous hatred of the numpties at airports who STILL don’t know that their liquid products must be in a bag; who look incredulous when told that they can’t take a litre bottle of water through security; or hold up the line by failing to realise that the sign that says place your belt, shoes and laptop on the conveyor belt actually means TAKE YOUR GOD DAMN SHOES OFF, I’ve been longing to turn up to Heathrow again. Getting there 3 hours early to eat the mandatory cooked breakfast before boarding and taking my first G&T onboard, at what is definitely 3pm somewhere in the world. Oh international travel, how I’ve missed you.
Of course, before I arrive at the circus that is the airport, I have to manage my way through the preparation stage. A stage that, for a trip to the US (yep, we’re on our way to New York baby) is already anxiety inducing (have you seen those immigration guards at JFK?? The last time I was in NYC - around 12 years ago now - they had GUNS. Guns that apparently reduce me to a quivering wreck who suddenly has the overwhelming desire to blurt out that I’m planning on intentionally overstaying my visa by finding a local to marry and pursue a career in the drug trade. Seriously, why do they make me so nervous??). Anyway, I digress. My travel preparations have apparently become exponentially more complicated by the dances that a post (well, current - it’s not actually over, is it) COVID world has us living in.
Paperwork is coming out my ears. ESTA visas, vaccine certificates, fit to fly certs, online check in, VeriFLY apps, boarding passes, that new - bloody awful - blue passport (my photo is horrendous, so thank you UK government for placing FOUR versions of it within its pristine pages). And waiting for that PCR test to come back, no way of knowing if I was going to need to cancel the trip with only 12 hours notice, was not helping the old anxiety levels (and the fact that as per usual, I had left all my packing to the night before because I was sure that I would able to log off from work at a reasonable time, probably wasn’t helping either). So it really was no surprise that due to the inevitable last minute work crises I found myself sprinting (HA!) to the post office at the end of the day to get some currency.
So that’s how I found myself in the same old situation of throwing random items of clothing into an open suitcase at 11pm, cursing myself for not having actually planned out how we were going to spend the week in an effort to predict what clothes might actually be useful. Trying to remember what cosmetic items I might find useful on a long haul flight so they could be packed in my little see-through baggie instead of chucking it in the hold (my journeys have been revolutionised by taking wipes with me to remove make up as soon as I get onboard, moisturiser to prevent my face from crinkling like a paper bag and a couple of makeup basics to make myself look human again just before we land). Grabbing all the shoes and a book I’ve read a million times before as I try to convince myself that I won’t watch two films back to back again on the plane (which of course I did - that book didn’t stand a chance), whilst trying to quietly print out vaccine certificates at midnight. At least the monsters had been deposited at the cattery earlier that day - I couldn’t have handled them staring accusingly at me, as they realised they would be locked up for a week and therefore sought a pre-emptive vengeance by shedding fur over every item of clothing that I own.
Four hours sleep is really not enough to prepare you for a 7 hour flight to New York when you factor in the time difference - especially when you already know that it’s not going to be a relaxing “not doing too much” type of holiday. And my anxiety is already sky high before we’ve left the house. Have I switched everything off? (Stuff stays switched on all week when I’m at home but the moment I’m out of the house, I suddenly don’t trust it). Have I packed everything I need? (Because of course, if I’ve forgotten something, I’m NEVER going to be able to buy it when I’m in New York). Have I packed my passport? Has my husband picked up his? (This question will be asked a million times between waking up and getting in the taxi). What if there’s an accident on the M25 and we get stuck in traffic and miss our flight (to be fair, this did almost happen to us when we went to Nepal a few years ago - only time I’ve been escorted through security in order to make a flight).
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve travelled a lot - all over the world - and I’ve only ever missed one flight (Milan traffic is a bitch). I’ve never forgot the paperwork or pissed off a security guard resulting in a full body search, so quite why I get so stressed by all of this pre-flight prep, I have no idea. Even at the gate I’m sitting there, silently seething as the idiots all cram around the check-in desk, ignoring the repeated calls to stay where your are until your boarding group is called (seriously people, how hard is it to listen to and follow instructions?). And there we have the crux of the issue. I’m a rule follower - and I need to know I’ve done everything properly - and maybe I’ll get recognised and rewarded with that elusive free upgrade (still waiting on that one BA).
It’s not until I’m on the plane, make up off, eye-mask at the ready for an attempt at 40 winks, poised to ask for my first G&T, and we’re taxiing towards the runway that I can start to relax (unless of course you’re sat next to someone who at 38,000 feet peers out of the window and starts saying to you “I don’t think that part of wing should be flapping around like that”. This is a true story, from a flight back from India - and resulted in me drinking multiple mini bottles of red wine in an attempt to block out the tool sat next to me).
But generally by this time, I’m all sorts of relaxed (until I get to JFK passport control obviously) and I'm looking forward to jumping into a yellow cab and watching New York appear magnificently in front of me as we head towards our Midtown hotel. Before heading straight to bed for a couple of hours to catch up on some of that missing sleep I so desperately need. Because before I know it, 6 days will have zipped by and I’ll be tired, 5lbs heavier (have you seen portion sizes in the US?) and will be performing the same pre-flight prep but in reverse. At least on the way back I don’t have to worry about not being let into the country….I think….