Unidentifiable welcome drinks, bracing ferry crossings and sand everywhere but on the beach. Welcome to the uncelebrated side of travel, guaranteed to make you want to reach for the suncream and go...
Right now, as I write this, I should be asleep in a Japanese hotel in Osaka rather than sitting in the garden dreaming of the need for packing cubes and toiletries under 100ml. Thank you for nothing, coronavirus.
Not being able to travel the world has only strengthened my desire to see more of it. But it’s not just the gasp-inducing sights and otherworldly smells that I crave. I rather miss the quirkier little details that help transport us far from daily life.
Question is: how many of the below make you want to get moving again as quickly as possible?
Purchasing, annotating and then physically breaking the bind of a new guidebook is something of a travel ritual (sorry, bookshelf purists). Once the trip’s booked, you can then turn your attention to painstakingly marking location highlights with yellow stars on Google Maps, before setting your weather app to a usually-warmer climate. And you can see why people often say the build up is the best bit...
Who doesn’t want to roll up their clothes and pack them so tightly that nothing fits in your case on the return journey? (Rolling up socks and stuffing them into trainers is a particularly good space saver as long as you have removed sand from previous trips – see point nine). And who doesn’t love kit list designing, plus making sure you don’t forget the emergency Tupperware of coffee?
Squeezing the contents of your bathroom into tiny bottles and a clear plastic bag feels more like a game than a travel requirement. And, while we’re fans of more sustainable in-room toiletries, I do always find myself smiling at a travel memory if a miniature makes it back to our shower at home.
Don’t get me wrong. I would much rather be resting my head in an eco-lodge in the jungle or having a drink overlooking the sea. But there are two things I love about airport hotels: I love setting my alarm clock that little bit later (and not have to worry about check in), and I love how the getaway starts before you step on the plane.
‘Are we there yet?’ are not words you’ll ever hear me utter. In fact, if I’m travelling by train with a window to myself, I’m likely to never want to get off. Car journeys usually involve me writing out every corner and location en route beforehand, to turn myself into a human sat nav. Ferry crossings are only to be enjoyed from the top deck (preferably in a bracing wind).
And planes? From meticulous film planning (it’s an art form trying to cram in your top choices) to carrying more holiday reads than anyone needs and playing plane games, sometimes I think I'm happiest when I'm moving. Also, I can name all the actors in the British Airways onboard safety video... so I'm definitely happiest when I'm moving.
Nothing says ‘I’ve arrived’ like stepping out of a plane onto the Tarmac in a new destination when you haven’t slept, it’s blisteringly hot and the right clothes are tucked away neatly in your hold luggage. The only time I’ve ever welcomed the comfort of an air bridge is when I arrived in Helsinki. It was -10°C outside, and foolishly I wasn’t even wearing a coat.
If we skip the jet lag part and fast forward to that moment when you agree with the local time on your watch, holidaying in a different time zone is a joy. That is, until you have to go home. Whatever time zone you’re in, however, it’s never too early to have a drink when you’re away.
Now, while I cannot actually recall a welcome drink I would ever order deliberately or want to drink again, I am absolutely sold on the concept and they do always make me feel rather welcome. Just as long as I don’t need to finish it.
Unless you happen to misjudge the heat of the sand, that first step onto a beach with nothing but bare feet is always a highlight. If there’s sand on your trip, it will certainly make its way into your sandals, shoes, socks, shorts, swimming kit and snorkelling mask, as well as the laundry pile back home.
While I appreciate that my body would much rather I didn’t stray from a regular (some might say 'beige') breakfast, I’m a great believer in choosing the most exotic-sounding (and often tasting) item on the menu.
If you ignore the fact that the presence of a mosquito net is an indicator that there are bugs you don’t want to know about lurking close by, this soft white netting is a welcome reminder that you’re not at home and are often (in my case anyway) near water.
Sleeping under a mosquito net with a giant hole in it, however, is a different story with a very different – and far less romantic – ending.
You’d think, with my love of annotating guidebooks and starring Google Maps within an inch of its life, that getting lost wouldn’t feature on my list of travel loves. But I also choose to enjoy moments that don’t go according to the well-crafted itinerary. Quirky backstreets, narrow cobbled lanes and locals sitting quietly in the shade. A map will only take you so far.
There’s one quick way to turn a city break into an adventure: give road crossing a go. Living in London, I thought I would be skilled at this particular holiday manoeuvre. Then I visited Hanoi, where only the confident survive. The bikes don’t stop, so nor should you.
You know you’re somewhere you don’t speak the language (or not well enough to read the menu) when you have no idea what’s on your plate. Having adventurous taste has seen me cross paths with many a local delicacy.
Desserts are always a safe choice, unless you order an ice kacang in Singapore. Not sure it’s ever a good idea to mix shaved ice with syrup, savoury red beans, jelly, nuts, condensed milk AND sweetcorn (mashed to a pulp in my version with a few kernels sprinkled on top for good measure). Don't let that put you off the Hawker centres, though...
Hiring a well-serviced mountain bike from a reputable shop is just way too safe. It is far better to borrow a local bicycle that has seen better days if you’re planning to cycle more than 20 miles in the midday heat just to see one of the largest temples in Asia. That’s genuinely what I told my husband when we set off for our day out - only to discover there weren’t proper gears!
By queuing, I don’t mean standing in your socks at security or trying to keep your eyes open at the hotel check-in desk. I'm talking about the giddy anticipation of a well-reviewed local delicacy, or for your time slot at one of those hard-to-access sights (when you had the foresight to book ahead). It makes the experience even more exhilarating.
I’ll admit it. Applying suncream is fiddly and slow (and you must never forget your ears, feet or eyelids). Seeing sun cream seep into your favourite holiday clothes and leave a nice big stain is, at best, annoying. However, the smell literally screams sunshine and sangria and satisfaction.
Note: I say being, not living like one. With one million Vietnamese Dong worth about £35 GBP, you might find it only buys you an evening out, as opposed to a new lifestyle. Getting to grips with a new currency is always good fun (as is making room for it in your money belt), providing you check the conversion rate before taking out about £2 from the ATM (and being charged for the privilege).
Now I’ve overcome my fear of stepping on seaweed, years of open water swimming mean I’m as likely to stick my toes in the North Sea in February as I am the Caribbean Sea. Just make sure you watch where you put your feet. Being less than a metre from a snake in a river in the Big Sur was a not-so-lucky dip.
Who doesn’t love turning a wonderfully warm towel into a damp cold flannel by wiping it all over any exposed skin? Running a cloth under boiling water at home never quite achieves the same result.
Lockdown hairstyling is probably the closest you’ll get to imitating holiday hair. But what photo collection is complete without shots of you in all manner of Thai long pants, scarves and oversized hats?
It was the moment all 161cm of me came face to face with a large campervan that I started to question whether driving along twisty Californian roads – with sheer drops – would be a good idea. It certainly adds a new dimension to any trip when you're just grateful to reach your destination alive!
You could see this as a great pain, or one last reminder of the fun you had (and the fact that you still pack way too much for every trip).
Either way, all that work means you can reward yourself with a bit of inspiration in the form of Wanderlust magazine. Before picking up a new guidebook and starting all over again...
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