Return of the travel curse

Years ago I thought I was cursed with a travel curse. I’m not sure by whom, how or why I’d been cursed but every time I went overseas some drama would occur, so I was pretty sure the curse was real.

One time on a Greek island, my bed and breakfast host (who in those days would collect guests’ passports and hold them at the front desk), inadvertently gave my passport to another Australian on check-out. By the time they notified me the other Australian had left the island. To add a bit of urgency to the situation, I was due to leave Greece myself in four days’ time – so I needed that passport. (In case you’re the kind of person that needs to know how a story ends, yes, I managed to obtain an emergency passport on the morning of my flight out.)

Another time, when travelling to Vancouver, I lost my luggage. Or rather, it was delayed by a couple of days. Not too big a deal, except that I didn’t have any carry-on luggage with me because one of my friends had suggested I didn’t need any, saying, “What can go wrong? How many people do you know who have lost their luggage?” As it turns out, the moment I arrived in Vancouver after twenty hours in transit, desperately needing a shower and a change of outfit, but with no toiletries or clothes, I remembered I do, in fact, know someone who lost their luggage. Funny that.

I’ve also missed an international flight, though that was perhaps less due to a curse and more to my own problems with punctuality (but for the sake of the argument I’ll include it here). I was travelling from Madrid to Thessaloniki and arrived at the Olympic Airways check-in counter to find a drawn shutter and no sign of staff anywhere. Do you know the scene in The Graduate where Dustin Hoffman is banging on the glass as he watches Katherine Ross prepare to marry another man? That was me, banging on the glass in the airport, watching my plane roll away along the tarmac.

(And yes, I learnt my lesson and have only ever been early for all flights since then.)

Then the curse seemed to disappear. For eight years I’ve had trips without anything remotely going wrong. In fact, everything has gone to schedule so smoothly that I’d actually forgot about the curse. As I was leaving for Greece last Wednesday, however, I remembered it.

Firstly, as I finished packing my suitcase I clipped the zip tags into the suitcase’s built in lock. I immediately tried to open it again, entering what I believed to be the three digit code. It didn’t work. I tried it again. Nothing. I tried it repeatedly for about ten minutes. Nothing doing. I only have one three digit number that I use when I need a three number PIN. If it wasn’t going to work here, then I had no idea what the number could possibly be.

I actually tried to break into my suitcase but didn’t have the right tools. After twenty minutes I had to leave it and trust that I would be able to sort it out later. Otherwise I’d be in jeopardy of not being early for my flight (see point above).

We packed the car and I returned to lock the front door. The main door locked fine. The security door, on the other hand, which had been working just fine all day, decided to spontaneously combust at that precise moment. Not only would it not lock, it wouldn’t even stay closed. I couldn’t believe it!

At the airport I called my brother and told him about the door. He assured me he would look at it, so I knew, thankfully, that the issue would be resolved pretty quickly. But still I wondered: what would be the third thing? Because we all know these things come in threes.

My flight to Athens stopped at Dubai, where I had a four hour wait. I went to a cafe to get something to eat and pulled out my wallet to pay. Normally I carry my usual credit cards and ATM card when I travel but this time I organised a debit card that I’d loaded up with euro. I pulled it out to pay with it and immediately realised I couldn’t remember my PIN. It’s a long story but I also knew there was no way I was going to remember it. And I had no back up plan to access money. This was the third thing. The curse was most definitely back.

Thankfully I was given some fantastic travel advice some years ago by a lovely friend called Lil that has proved invaluable for dealing with situations like these:

“Remember: even when you’re having a shit time, you’re actually having a good time.”

When I missed my flight in Madrid, I was freaking out at first and then, remembering Lil’s advice, realised I’d rather be missing a flight in Madrid than be stressing out at work.

I’ve also learnt from experience that issues resolve themselves. When I arrived in Athens last Thursday I got airport staff to cut through the zip tags so I could open my case. I’ve also managed to obtain my debit card PIN through the miracle of the internet. Obviously there are real tragedies that can occur when travelling, but for the lightweight dramas I’m talking about, it helps to keep some perspective.

suitcase lock with tags cut

So. I’ve been in Thessaloniki a week now and there have been no more dramas. Perhaps it’s all over – the curse has gone again. On the other hand, I just visited at a cousin’s holiday house by the beach and she spent about half her time there trying to fix her toilet which seemed to break down upon our arrival. Which leads me to wonder: are curses transferable?

Travel habits – part 2: Little miracles

I’d like to let you in on a secret: a little miracle is about to occur in humble suburban Melbourne this evening. Yes, for the first time EVER, I will be packing my suitcase a full 24 hours ahead of my trip.

I’ll just pause here to let you recover because I realise I’ve probably thrown you into shock.

What’s that? You’re not in shock?

Aaah that will be because you’re not aware of my “only ever pack on the day of the flight” motto which has countless times served to trip me up because the packing took longer than expected and caused me to run late.

Hence the decision to pack early. Normally early is a concept that makes no sense to me, but in this case I think it’s warranted.

Now, earlier today I was telling my osteopath Nigel about this, and he wondered whether or not it was a good idea to pack early as there is, he suggested, something to be said for packing under pressure. And I agree to an extent because I know from experience that packing at the last minute definitely gets you to focus.

On the other hand, my packing methodology is so foolproof that I don’t need that last minute pressure to focus the mind. You see, as you might have expected given my love of lists, I have created a packing list. In fact, that doesn’t do it justice. It’s more accurate to call it The Greatest Packing List of All Time.

Thank you. Thank you very much.

*bows with flourish of arms*

What’s so special about it, you ask? I’ll tell you. It’s detailed. It doesn’t say “toiletries” for example, it says:

“shower stuff
body stuff (deodorant, moisturiser)
make up
hair stuff
eye stuff
teeth stuff
face & body SPF stuff”

And so on. We are talking about an appropriately detailed yet suitably generic uber-list.

Everything you could possibly need is on the list. You don’t need to pack everything on the list, mind you, but as long as you go through it and use it as a checklist you’ll pack everything you need.

That’s actually the reason I came up with the idea of the uber-list. Before the list I’d arrive overseas to discover I’d forgotten something critical (my phone charger one time, pyjamas another). After this happened one too many times I came up with the idea of the list. Needless to say, since the emergence of The Greatest Packing List of All Time, I’ve never forgotten to pack anything.

So, with the mother of all packing lists in hand, tonight I’ll be conjuring a little miracle by packing a day early. Because I’ve decided: old travel habits don’t have to die hard.

packing list sitting in empty suitcase

Travel habits – part 1: Express yourself

It’s about to happen again. Tomorrow I fly out to Greece to visit family and friends. I last saw everyone in early 2013 and a lot has happened in everyone’s respective lives since then so there will be a lot to talk about. Which is why it’s going to happen again.

I speak Greek fluently, or I like to think I do. Whenever I go to Greece, however, I become painfully aware of how poorly I speak the language. Don’t get me wrong, I can order a meal in a restaurant like a native, give instructions to the taxi-driver like a local, and enjoy all the small talk in the world.

My limitations become glaring, however, in two circumstances. Firstly, when I attempt to watch the news broadcasts. There’ll be a report on the economy, for example, and after a detailed three minute report, this is what I’ll have gleaned: “Something about money and the euro and the economy and that man disagrees with that other man but that woman had something to say about it.”

Yep. That’ll be everything I understand.

The second, and most painful for me, is when conversation with family and friends turns to anything other than the most superficial of topics. I’m the kind of person who loves a good d&m (that’s “deep and meaningful” for the uninitiated). I love to get into the heart of matters and don’t shy away from difficult topics. But when I try to do this with family and friends in Greece, I’m hamstrung by my poor vocabulary and hit-and-miss application of grammar and syntax.

For someone who makes a living stringing sentences together and helping other people express themselves, I can’t tell you how incredibly frustrating it is not to be able to express myself properly in these discussions.

Sometimes I’m sure they all think I’m an idiot as I stumble along in broken Greek, struggling to find the right word, knowing it won’t actually come because I don’t know it to begin with.

And yet, somehow we manage to get through to each other. In fact, my mother told me the other day that my cousins are looking forward to seeing me and “discussing things” with me, so perhaps they’re getting something out of the conversation, no matter how limited I think my contribution is.

The positive for me is that for all my limitations when I speak Greek, I’m pretty good at the non-verbal stuff – and I don’t mean waving my arms about in typical Greek gestures (though I’m pretty good at that, too). I’m talking about one of the oldest ways of communicating love and affection between humans, which transcends all verbal boundaries. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt with all my visits to Greece it’s to never underestimate the power of a good hug.