I’m beginning to think that the thrill of travel is more appealing than actually travelling. When my husband and I decide on a journey, we might spend a year, even two, planning where we want to go and what we want to achieve.
We are both history buffs. We have little interest in resort or warm-weather-only vacations. We enjoy discovering the history behind ancient cities and connecting the dots of what was – and is – the basis of our civilization. The stories that we hear along the way help flesh out what bits of history we might have learned in school or picked up as adults. If we’ve learned anything from our travels, it’s that we are now aware of how much we don’t know versus how much our awareness has expanded. We are left with a sense of wonder, and a wanting for more.
Because I write historical fiction, I am often overwhelmed by the choices of incidents, background, characters, locations, eras and so on from which to choose. Despite it all, my characters seem to draw me into the two great wars and inspire stories that range from early 1900s to post-WWII. The manuscript on which I’m working (book one of a series) starts in July of 1915 and follows the journey of a young British man who is sent to Russia on the King’s business. As with my first novels, the need for research beckons me.
Earlier this year, my husband and I spent time in London conducting research at the British Library and various museums. We also toured Morocco and Portugal. Then, we took a cruise through the Arctic. In the future, we hope to cruise through the Suez Canal from Rome to Dubai, and, later yet, we’re planning a tour of the United Kingdom. All of this is driven by the need to experience something akin to the travels of my young protagonist.
Perfecting the Art
Travelling for enlightenment and/or as research for my stories are only two reasons for leaving home. We are driven by curiosity, the need to experience, to see, to feel, to taste, to encounter. We are not simply travelling for the sake of travelling, or for the need to ‘get away’. We are exploring, and exploring requires effort, planning and skill. Regardless of the number of years we’ve been travelling and the number of journeys upon which we’ve embarked, we have yet to perfect the art of travel.
For example, no matter how hard I try, I cannot walk through security at the airport – any airport – without being stopped. I even went so far as to purchase new undergarments before the last trip but didn’t think about the metal strips in the tensor brace that I now wear over my knee. Not only was I frisked, but it was swabbed for drugs! I am determined, however, to get it right. Next time, I will remove the brace before passing through security, and put it back on when I’m cleared. Fingers crossed that trip will be a breeze.
Another trick is to organize carry-on luggage so that the items needed during the flight are easily extracted when boarding. That way, the carry-on bag can be stowed in the overhead bin, with no need to hop up and down.
I recently heard about a plane that dropped as it passed through an air pocket, just as folks were starting rouse at the end of a long flight. Flight attendants, carts and roaming passengers went flying, some hitting the ceiling, several injured. We try to stay in or near our seats. Granted, on long-haul flights one will likely need to visit the toilet. My point is to be quick about it and pay attention.
We try to stay in or near our seats. Granted, on long-haul flights one will likely need to visit the toilet. My point is to be quick about it and pay attention.
Something that was hammered into us recently concerns luggage tags. We always have name tags on our luggage, including a phone number and the city and country in which we live. I can’t tell you how many times we have had to replace those tags. It doesn’t matter how strong the strap might be, or where the tag is attached to the bag, if it is attached to checked luggage, it will likely not last long.
At the end of our trip to Morocco, one tag was attached literally by a thread when we pulled it of the carousel in Vancouver. I’m thinking zap-straps for the next trip.
In addition to ensuring the external tags are affixed securely, I suggest that a simple travel itinerary be created, noting name, phone number (home and cell phone, if possible), country of origin and destination(s) addresses. Put that list in an outside, unlocked pocket of the suitcase. In the event the suitcase goes on a walk-about, a luggage handler will find it and be able to determine your next destination for forwarding purposes. A travel agent recently shared this tip.
The other part of luggage tagging happens at the airport, when the bags are checked. You know, the labels printed by the counter clerks, that feed through the handle with details of the bag’s travel route and destination. The ones that are sometimes mislabelled, sending the bags to London, Ontario instead of London, UK, or Perth, UK instead of Perth, Australia. Or, other ones that are labelled to travel directly to the final destination, despite the fact that your ticket is marked for a deliberate layover. And that brings me to my last example . . .
Our most recent cruise ended in Copenhagen. However, instead of flying home directly, we elected to fly through London, UK with an overnight stay. We selected a flight to Vancouver that allowed us to enjoy an evening in London and board the plane feeling refreshed the next day. The plane was specifically selected for its civilized hours of departure and arrival. We’d just debarked a ship after eighteen days at sea. We weren’t paying attention. The counter clerk labelled our luggage and issued our boarding passes. It wasn’t until we were passing through security that we realized that our boarding passes were printed for travel direct to Vancouver. We marvelled at the woman’s efficiency. We wouldn’t have to go through the check-in process at Heathrow the following day.
A few hours later, we stood at the carousel in London Heathrow waiting for our luggage to appear. It didn’t. As a result, we headed for the ‘lost luggage’ counter for help. There, we were told that our luggage had been labelled straight through to Vancouver and that it was in a lock-up awaiting the flight the following day. So much for the efficiency of the Danish counter clerk!
We were each offered a complimentary Air Canada toiletry bag, and happily accepted. Unburdened by heavy luggage, we walked our carry-on bags – which by the way, included prescriptions, make-up for me, electronic devices, money, travel documents, a change of clothes and other items that we deemed necessary for our flight – to a shuttle-bus stand where we caught a lift to our hotel. Our plans for the evening having been thwarted by lack of luggage, we ate dinner in the hotel and retired early.
The next morning, we returned to the Air Canada counter to ensure that our luggage would be transferred from the lock-up to our flight. Receiving that assurance, we again passed through security and boarded our flight. When we arrived in Vancouver, we passed through Customs and Immigration, determined the carousel at which our luggage would appear, and waited. And waited.
After half an hour, I left my husband at the carousel just in case, by some miracle, the three bags that we had checked in Copenhagen happened to spew off the conveyor belt, while I presented myself at the ‘lost luggage’ counter. The fellow with whom I spoke confirmed that our bags were never put on the plane. I filed a claim and we went home.
Better Late Than Not-at-all
At home, I contemplated the claim and our missing luggage. I determined that the search for our luggage might be more effective if I provided extra information. I called the claim number, gave detailed descriptions of our luggage, including the name and design of each case, and their contents. I was then advised that a search was being conducted world-wide. I said there was no need. I knew exactly where they were – in the Heathrow lock-up.
With accurate information, two of the bags were located within a matter of hours, put on the next flight to Vancouver and delivered to our home the following day. The third one must have been separated from the first two. It arrived a day later. All intact, right down to the souvenirs, gifts and dirty laundry. I mean, gee, the bags were missing long enough. Surely, someone could have done the laundry!
Travel can be great fun, but travelling is rarely fun. It is complicated, stressful, confusing, even scary. It requires planning, forethought, awareness, focus, and, above all, Patience, Kindness, Respect and Understanding. Each time we travel, we employ the lessons we’ve learned, and embrace the opportunity to learn more.
I may be a little apprehensive about what new things we are destined to learn, but that’s where Patience, Kindness, Respect and Understanding come in handy. A sense of humour never goes amiss either.