Now operating on my second passport means I left Australia for the first time just over 10 years ago, and on this trip, a number of things have become glaringly obvious on How Times Have Changed.
I'm trapped! Like a teenager in an adult's body.
Arriving at Heathrow this weekend for the umpteenth time in my life, alighting from my first business class cross-hemisphere journey, I proceeded as one does, to the train. Realising with annoyance, but resigned expectation that i had forgotten my Oyster card, I paid my 22 pounds (outrageous!) for a ticket on the Heathrow Express, waited stagnant on said express for 30 minutes at the station (due to driver shortage, we were informed) before arriving into Paddington. I then shuffled out, along with all the others to stand in front of the tube map, laden with far too much luggage, and proceed to work out where I needed to get to. Two changes on the tube later, I emerge, beaten, at Liverpool Street station.
I am taken aback to my first arrival at Heathrow, 10 years ago, and am not 100% sure, but I dont think the Heathrow Express actually existed back then. If it did, I didn't get on it, and instead, caught the Tube the entire way to Earl's Court, where i was staying - paying my 18 pound 50 for the ticket, horrified that this trip was about to cost me almost $60. I struggled on the tube, with my brand new $500 Kathmandu backpack I'd made my parents buy me - I needed an expensive one - the one made out of the special material, that (in the very likely circumstance) pickpockets couldnt cut through with a knife. I didn't want to get robbed! So with this backpack, loaded with 20kgs of life's most valued possessions, so large and heavy I couldn't actually lift the thing off the ground, and when I eventually (with assistance) did, it looked as though I was carrying a body bag complete with dead body inside it, on my back - got onto the over crowded, and infernally heated Tube. It was a different time - the dollar was worth around about the same as a peanut (a small one), and when it came to spending my own money, it was all about economy, with no option, I persisted with this journey and have done ever since.
Though on my most recent surfacing at Liverpool Street station, over-tired, sweaty and peeved at having to lug this suitcase I had ridiculously over packed for a two week holiday, up a malfunctioning escalator, it occurred to me that I really didn't need to be subjecting myself this this unpleasant scenario every time I arrived in London, and probably, at age 31, could afford a taxi from Paddington to Liverpool Street station if I so chose.
There was a time I never thought I'd travel without a backpack (mind you, there was also a time I never thought I'd listen to a radio station other than Triple J too), and every time I come away, I torment myself - not wanting to sell out too early, and also not wanting to admit that my backpacking days may well be over, I agonise over this decision; backpack or suitcase, backpack or suitcase. I sit there, on the edge of my bed with my ever-patient housemate, looking at both vessels laid out on my bedroom floor, discussing the pros and cons of each, agonising over the decision. The last two trips, the suitcase has won for one simple reason - no rolling. When one happens to wake up, hungover, and needs to move on out in a hurry, with one broad stroke of the arm across any surface, the suitcase is packed! And it's this that appeals to me. Although, the backpack was invented for a reason! And not an altogether silly one - they are highly mobile, and much easier to manoeuver with, so i guess each has their benefits, and which ever I end up taking, there is a reason why the other would have been a better choice. So far on this trip, more than once I regret to say, I've cursed choosing the suitcase over the backpack.
So you see, it's almost as though I have graduated. Travelling by taxi, packing a suitcase…
10 years ago, everything I had to do on that trip needed to be done in the cheapest way possible - it was the way all my friends had done it, I'd listened to their stories, taken their advice, and I was off - Lonely Planet Europe 2001 in hand - on a middle-class white girl adventure* of a life time! I had taken the ill-advised method of funding this trip by taking out a personal loan, which would go on to cripple me through-out the remainder of my 20's. Where my contemporaries were reckless with drugs, booze, sex and even their hearts during their early 20's - I was reckless with money. I don't know what I bought during those years - I assume much of it went of clothes, food and Smirnoff Ice, but I really couldn't tell you for sure - anyway, I needed my ill-gotten-gains to last as long as possible, and if that included staying in an 11 pound a night 12 bed lice-ridden dorm in Earl's Court YHA, well that's what I'd be doing.
Hostels in those days were basic. There was no Trip Advisor, potentially destroying your business within 24 hours, there was the Lonely Planet. If a hostel was shite, there was no real consequence until 12 months later when the next edition of the LP was printed. Many hostels then didn't have computers, and you'd instead trudge off in the middle of the night to phone or email home from some starkly-lit Internet cafe. These days hostels have computers and wifi, as almost everyone is now travelling not with a Lonely Planet, but with a computer. What wikitravel and google can't tell you, I don't need to know.
The idea of a hotel still seems indulgent to me, I don't need all that. So here I am, arriving be taxi, travelling with a suitcase, in a private room in a hostel. But I don't know why I'm bothering - I have no intention of using the kitchen to cook my own food, or going out into the common room to listen to people natter in languages I don't understand and the incessant door slamming is sending me very quickly, into a fit of rage. In my mind when planning this trip, however, that was of course what I was going to do! Sit out there and meet new and interesting people, make new friends and go to the pub across the road - new life friends! People to visit some other time.
And so it's with this half in, half out attitude that I am existing. I'm not a full adult on a holiday, doing laps of whatever nondescript city I'm in on a topless red bus, but I'm also not that interested in making strained conversation with someone I really don't care about, either. And I know that's a bit shit. I feel like i've seen it all / heard it all before - I talk to these people all day every day at work - they're tedious at home, and they're tedious abroad. I've just listened to a 20 minute conversation through paper thin walls, by some Australian girls who are going to complain to the front desk as their showers were cold. In my day, that was a given - you were lucky to even have a door!
* Not too much adventure, it's important to be sensible