Monday, August 21, 2006

The art of travel without luggage

We've just returned from Washington via New York, and I'm nursing a cup of decaf tea feeling sorry for myself. The thing is, we had a perfectly lovely flight - no turbulence, an abundance of good wine to ease the journey, and almost flat seats. But for some reason my body refused to give in to sleep; my legs ached and I had paranoid visions of deep vein thrombosis caused by too-tight jeans.

The latter was the result of eating a load of crap this weekend. I can't help it - I can be all muesli and smoothies in London, but as soon as I hit American soil, I want the blueberry pancakes, hash browns, and side order of Canadian bacon, with maple syrup over everything. American breakfasts are my tragic flaw, and also don't help a normally stubborn digestive system. Nothing like a load of deep fried food or refined carbs to block the pipes.

We had a fantastic time in New York, primarily shopping at Macy's - which we now know like the backs of our hands, despite it boasting to be the largest department store in the world. We justified our excess by the fact that we didn't take any luggage with us, apart from one or two items of clothing and underpants. Because of the extra security measures last week, 10 thousand bags were stranded at UK airports by Thursday. Robert suggested therefore that we take only hand-luggage, which with current restrictions meant only a laptop-sized satchel, and no liquids or gels, so no cosmetics.

Having had our luggage lost/delayed three times in the past, I normally travel with my cosmetics - those travel-sized ones are ideal. And I'll admit, the idea of flying without even lip-gloss and a bottle of perfume did frighten me, but I decided to see the whole thing as an adventure - a sort of feminist existential journey. It goes without saying one of the first things we did upon waking up on Friday morning was hit Duane Reade - a kind of New York Boots, and stock up on essentials like root boost and moisturiser. If you want posher cosmetics, there are shops such as Sephora and of course the bigger department stores that stock the likes of Shiseido, Chanel, Estee Lauder etc. But having just restocked on Dermalogica at home, Dove facewash and daily moisturizer for a weekend did me fine.

I also always buy toilet seat covers in America. I cannot seem to find them in London, though Louise assures me they are available at Harrods. In the USA they are cheap as chips, and they do these great little handbag sized pouches, so whenever you are faced with a public loo, or one of questionable hygiene, you don't have to squat and risk wetting the sides of your legs. Yes, the joy of being a women in the face of a germ laden toilet seat. For someone with public toilet phobia, these little covers are a heaven-send.

But back to Heathrow. We got there relatively early, which I think was a wise decision. There were airport officials everywhere directing human traffic, and it seemed orderly and under control. The security check took a while, because everyone was required to remove shoes, and nearly everyone got the body check too. The bags went through the X-Ray machine fairly slowly, but as a whole, people in the line appeared to appreciate the importance of the procedure, and there wasn't much in the way of exaggerated huffing and puffing. The staff at Heathrow were also efficient and even good humored, which made the wait a lot more bearable.

Most hand-luggage bags were checked again just before boarding, and our plane was delayed by about 40 minutes due to extra security checks on check-in luggage. I didn't care if it meant we had a safer flight.

Briefly, some things that annoy me when traveling:

- People who treat the moving walkways in airports as escalators and don't walk. Worse still, those that stand side by side chatting, blocking those that would actually like to use the things for the purpose they were designed for.

- People who are paranoid about checking things in and pack way too much hand-luggage. Somehow they manage to conceal it at the check-in point, and then get stopped just before boarding the plane, and told they need to check in some of their stuff. This usually elicits great indignation and sometimes arguments. How dare the airline staff suggest they check their precious cargo into the luggage hold!? Their exaggerated reshuffling of bags to show what an inconvenience it is, inevitably holds up the line for the rest of us who just want to get on board, put on our complimentary socks, and get stuck into a book. I hate to say it, but women are usually the worst culprits.

- Taps on airplanes. Ever tried washing your face on an airplane? Those taps only work if you push down on them, which means any washing becomes a one-handed enterprise - usually resulting in soap in your eyes, dripping down your neck into your shirt, etc. For this reason, I almost always travel with face-wipes, and of course anti-bacterial hand wipes - just in case.

- Stinky feet guy/woman. I haven't encountered this one in a long time, and in all fairness we can't always help the things our bodies get up to. But people with smelly feet can be an unpleasant addition to a long journey, even short ones for that matter, and as luck would have it, they are usually the first ones to scoot off their shoes upon boarding.

- People with overly complicated travel arrangements and or requests. These people will take ages and ages at the check-in, shifting their weight from one leg to the other, while the rest of us wait in line behind them, only guessing at what could be taking so long. They almost always appear to be completely oblivious to the queue forming behind them, or the exasperated expression of the exhausted airline employee.

- And finally, my favourite, the talker. Traveling alone, I almost always get seated next to the one person on the flight who suffers from verbal dirreah. Once, while traveling between South Africa and London, I sat next to a coke addict who only stopped talking long enough to make an umpteenth trip to the bathroom to powder his nose, or empty the contents of a mini bottle of J&B down his throat. Eventually, when my stock of politeness had run its course, I had to feign an exaggerated state of REM before he left me alone. Another time, on a domestic flight, I sat next to someone who bragged that he was a drug dealer, and kept trying to offer me his wares and 'set me up', once we landed. Of all the people on the plane he chose the most disinterested party he could find - drugs have never been my thing, and his stories of a life lived on the edge were so exaggerated as to be boring. I've heard having a book is a good way to deter unwanted talkers, but some of these people are ambitious and will ask you about the book as a way in to a conversation. In this case, the trick I think is to pretend you don't speak English or failing that, that you are a lunatic of some description.

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