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The SMALL-TOWN GIRLS, MIDNIGHT TRAINS Travel Manifesto

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I will see the world with wonder, with gratitude, with respect.
I will strive to stay, though ever moving, right in the happy middle: the intersection of longing and contentment. I will not close my eyes to the harsh realities of life and will endeavor to respond with compassion and action, but I will keep my rose-colored glasses on hand, in my carry-on, and remember to count my blessings.

I will not count how many countries I’ve been to, though I won’t think poorly of people who do. I will try to resist the temptation to count because I don’t want the number to be my motivation. I don’t want to travel just to tick a place off a list. I don’t want to say: “My name is X and I have been to Y out of Z countries,” though there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. I just don’t want to feel like I’ve left behind the rat race only to join the passport stamp race. I’m sure the number is much less than I would want it to be and much more than majority of the people in this planet will ever have the means to achieve.

I will travel because I want to, in the manner that I want to, and I will allow others the courtesy to do likewise. I hope never to catch myself saying those who can’t leave behind the comforts of home should stay home. I hope never to become the sort of person who thinks I have the right or omniscience to dictate who should and shouldn’t travel, and how. I hope never to get sucked into “traveler versus tourist,” a distinction that may have started as a well-meaning attempt to describe different levels of interaction with a place, but is now too often a none-too-subtle ploy to pat one’s own back: a traveler is me and a tourist is someone not like me. I will always endeavor to dive deep into a place, to hear the hidden drum beat to which it marches. But I will not judge those who rush from place to place, for it may be the only time they have, with the wealth they have or lack thereof, to see the places they’ve always longed to see with their own eyes. I will not be the sort of self-validating traveler who thinks he is better than people who have never been outside their hometowns. I believe — no matter what Mark Twain says — that a person who stays in one corner of the earth all his life can still be capable of “broad, wholesome, charitable views of men.” I believe a person’s passport does not define his character. And I believe people who have truly sucked the marrow of the road will have hearts too full to find fault in others.

I will challenge myself. I will talk to locals and fellow travelers even though I’m someone who usually keeps to herself. I will try to capture an experience, in words and in images, the best way I know how, but I will also take time to just savor the moment, that even if my notebook gets lost or my camera gets stolen, the memory will have been burned into my heart to keep forever.

I will not stop dreaming. Someday I will see Antarctic penguins, northern lights, Scottish highlands, cherry blossoms, sunny vineyards, gloomy cliffs, pink beaches, purple trees, glorious lions in the wild…. And I will encourage people to dream. I will never tire of telling them: someday you will see Antarctic penguins, northern lights, Scottish highlands, cherry blossoms, sunny vineyards, gloomy cliffs, pink beaches, purple trees, and glorious lions in the wild.

I will inspire by being ordinary. There are too many inspiring stories of people who leave everything behind in order to travel the world. I will tell stories of people who stay, who find contentment in what would seem a humdrum life, who work and go home and save $10 a month in their travel fund, most of the paycheck having already gone to milk for their kids and educational funds and utility bills…and who, after 10 years, finally go on a whirlwind 5-day dream trip to Paris. I will celebrate the courage of working with what you have, the heroism of looking at the banal and saying: “This is my life and I am happy with it.”

I will travel whenever I can, for as long as I can, and while doing so I will create a home worth going back to. I want to be excited to leave and happy to return. I will create such a home that when my children and my children’s children go out, in their turn, to explore the world, no matter where their feet may take them, they will always feel that the best place on earth to be is still home.

 

The SMALL-TOWN GIRLS, MIDNIGHT TRAINS Travel Manifesto” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.

 

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She took the midnight train going anywhere

SGMT
SGMT train station

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There’s nothing romantic about midnight trains.

Oh, there’s romance in the notion of stepping from a wooden platform onto a steel carriage, from solid ground to motion, to adventure, to the dark.

There’s nothing romantic about not knowing where, exactly, in the designated platform of a rather long train, two people with a ticket that says “CNL 1319, 2 Liegeplätze, Wg. 186, Pl. 55 56, 2 Oben, Abteil, Nichtraucher, inkl. Zuschlag” should stand to wait for their car; nothing romantic about expecting the cars to be ordered numerically all throughout, then finding out they’re not, then having to decide — fast! — whether to go forward or back; nothing romantic about deciding, at the last minute, to board a random car and searching from car to car for the right car and the right compartment; nothing romantic about dragging your luggage along narrow corridors and having to wait for rowdy groups of people to settle themselves into their compartments so that you can pass by to get to yours.

There is, I suppose, something romantic about the thought of going to sleep in Paris and waking up in Venice, as if transported by dreams in a drizzle of pixie dust.

In unromantic reality, you wake up when the authorities need to see your ticket and your passport, and again when they are returned to you. Or if the air conditioning is wonky, you wake up every 30 minutes or so: when it becomes too hot, and again when it becomes too cold. That is if you can sleep at all, in your cramped berth, your 1 couchette in a crowded car of 6.

And yes, it might be romantic: the idea of 6 strangers seemingly thrown together by fate, their life’s journeys interconnected for a time altogether too brief.

What’s not so romantic? Not being able to sit up in bed, having to creep into it, and staring at the roof of the train just a few inches from your nose, because a 6-couchette compartment in a 12-compartment 26-meter car does not a penthouse suite make.

So honestly?

There is nothing romantic about midnight trains.

Just the idea of them.

And yet…

I still love them.

I love that the experience is raw and real, not a smooth ride contrived for my paying convenience.

I love that they remind me of why I travel: to experience the unfamiliar, even when it’s uncomfortable.

And I love that they remind me of my favorite stories, the ones with happy endings. They give me hope that, someday, after the curveballs and the uncertainty and the discomfort and the pain, in the end I will be exactly where I am supposed to be.

(In Venice, sipping a latte.)
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Caledonian Sleeper_15

 

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9 Ways to Hack a Hong Kong Layover

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There are many good reasons why one might be spending a couple of hours at Hong Kong International Airport. In my case, a Hong Kong layover was in the cards even before my actual destination had been decided. International flights are almost always cheaper from Hong Kong than from the Philippines, so when I was still just fiddling with Google Flights, trying to see where I could go on a budget, my “From” city was always Hong Kong. It actually makes sense even from a non-budgetary perspective: most long-haul flights from the Philippines fly from Manila, but I live in Cebu, so I would still have to fly to Manila anyway to catch a flight. On the other hand, I could just as easily fly from Cebu direct to Hong Kong and catch a flight there — and let’s be honest, I don’t know anyone who would prefer a Manila layover to a Hong Kong layover.

Did you know?
You can save $400 on a Philippine Airlines flight to London by flying from Hong Kong — with a short stop in Manila — instead of flying straight from Manila.

That said, my flight from Cebu landed in Hong Kong at 8:55 AM, but my flight out was still at 11:20 PM, so I had to find ways to make the nearly 15-hour interval bearable. Here’s what I learned.

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Take the Airport Express to the city.

It’s not the cheapest way to travel between the airport and central Hong Kong, but the Airport Express is fast and unaffected by road traffic, which could be important if you’re on a layover and need to factor in travel times in your plans. Plus, a Same Day Return ticket on the Airport Express costs the same as a one-way ticket — your ride back to the airport is basically free. Another plus: there are complimentary shuttle buses from Airport Express stations to various points in central HK, including the ferry terminal and the big hotels by Victoria Harbour, making it convenient for sightseeing. Finally, there’s one more reason for taking the Airport Express…but we’ll get to it in #2.

Fares for Same Day Return tickets:

  • Airport to/from Tsing Yi station – HK$60
  • Airport to/from Kowloon station – HK$90
  • Airport to/from Hong Kong station – HK$100

Just one of the many places at the airport where you can buy Airport Express tickets


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Avail of in-town check-in at the Airport Express Kowloon and Hong Kong stations.

At the airport you can check in ~3 hours before your flight, but at the Kowloon and Hong Kong stations of the Airport Express, you can check in as early as 24 hours prior — yes, including bag drop. That way, you don’t have to go [back] to the airport very early: you can check in whenever it’s convenient, go around the city and back to the airport without having to bring heavy bags with you, and then go straight to Passport Control.

This is a cool perk even for travelers who aren’t just in Hong Kong for a layover. You know how, on the day of check-out, if your flight is still many hours away you try to leave your luggage at your hotel/hostel, do a little more sightseeing, and then come back for your bags and go to the airport? Well, imagine if you can check in at your hotel/hostel and they take charge of sending on your bags to the airport and onward to your destination. That’s what Airport Express’ in-town check-in basically does.

My own experience: I bought a Same Day Return ticket at the airport; took the Airport Express to Kowloon station; checked in and dropped my bags, bringing only my carry-on backpack with me; took the free shuttle to the harbour; walked around, went on a harbour cruise, walked around some more; then took the free shuttle back to Kowloon station and the Airport Express back to the airport. I’d checked beforehand at the travel forums if anyone had had problems with luggage they’d dropped in-town, but I didn’t see any complaints, and sure enough my bags were waiting intact for me at CDG.

A few things to note:

  • You do need to have an Airport Express ticket that’s valid on the same day as you check in. (You will need it to go past the barriers leading to the check-in area.) That’s another reason why taking the slightly more expensive Airport Express to the city is a good idea: the convenience makes the additional expense worth it.
  • There are some airlines that don’t allow in-town check-in. Cebu Pacific, for example, doesn’t offer this option. Philippine Airlines does, though; when I was there, their counter was at the rightmost end. Verify with your airline if they allow in-town check-in and how much lead time they need between bag drop and ETD.

The Kowloon Station in-town check-in counters


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Alternatively, you can leave your luggage at the airport.

There’s a baggage storage facility at Terminal 2. Just follow the signs to Terminal 2 — or find the Airport Express boarding area and take the wide ramp down to the lower level — then follow the signs to the baggage counter. The hourly rate is HK$12.

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If you’d rather not leave the airport, there are plenty of free places there in which to park yourself and your bags.

My favorite spot was a row of chairs at the leftmost end of the Arrivals Hall (leftmost as you emerge into the hall after collecting your bags, facing outwards). A big column partially blocked it from view of the rest of the Arrivals Hall, giving it a smidgen of privacy. A charging station came in handy, especially as I was trying to get in a bit of work while waiting for my flight. For a “desk” I piled my bags onto an airport trolley and settled my laptop on top. I even managed to take a nap. 😀 I secured my things by chaining them to the airport trolley and to the metal chair with a chain lock.

Terminal 2 also offers a lot of seating options — a fact I discovered a bit too late while on my way to the lounge.

This ramp leads to Terminal 2


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For more comfort, at a price, airport lounges are your best bet.

There are airline lounges within Hong Kong International Airport but if you don’t qualify for those, you have another option: Plaza Premium operates 1 landside and 3 airside lounges, all of which accept non-members. Lounge amenities typically include baggage storage, a shower, snack food round the clock and heavier fare at meal times, and use of chairs and tables and other facilities. Sleeping quarters are available as an add-on.

On my way home, my flight arrived from Florence at 11:50 AM and my flight to Cebu was not due to depart till 9:45 AM the next day. My initial plan was to spend the night at Rainbow Lodge HK, a cheap but well-reviewed hostel in Tsim Sha Tsui. However, after a week of traveling, I wasn’t too keen on hauling my bags to the city, looking for a place to eat, waking up early, and going back to the airport. (I was flying Cebu Pacific so in-town check-in was not an option.) I had always been a bit curious about airport lounges so I figured this particular layover was a good time to finally try it out.

This is the only photo I took inside the lounge because I figured the people there didn’t need someone making it an even less private place than it already was


For access to the Plaza Premium lounges, you can walk in or, if you want to be sure of a spot, you can book online through their website:

  • 2 hours – USD 62
  • 5 hours – USD 88
  • 10 hours – USD 103

However, Viator also offers lounge access for the following prices:

  • 3 hours – USD 54.12
  • 6 hours – USD 77.69
  • 12 hours – USD 90.70

It was, as I said, my first time to try a lounge and for the price I paid I expected something a bit luxurious. The landside Plaza Premium Lounge in Terminal 2 fell rather short of luxury. That said, it was good enough: give me a chance to shower, a place to curl up, and a constant supply of food and I’m happy. Plus I didn’t have to wake up early to catch a bus back to the airport — that was really my primary motivation 😀 — so no regrets.

The Hong Kong International Airport Arrivals Hall


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And if you want hotel-level comfort, there’s an actual hotel beside the airport.

You can literally see the Regal Airport Hotel from the Arrivals Hall.

Other hotels near the airport include:


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Eat well.

Sometimes, when there are tons of options, I get tired of trying to decide where to eat and end up eating at McDonalds. 😀 This time, I resisted — I’m so proud of myself 😀 — and ended up eating beside McDonalds. 😀 I ate at Tai Hing, which is located in the middle of the Arrivals Hall; their congee and watercress honey tea are really good.

Terminal 2 offered cheaper and more varied choices. There was a place that sold a meal for something like HK$25 — just rice and egg and some sort of meat, really, but good enough and filling enough. There was a Starbucks at the upper level, though I didn’t get a chance to look in, and the airport website listed a branch of Cafe de Coral.

As for water, there are many drinking fountains around the airport, so all you need to do is bring an empty water bottle.

Loved the watercress honey tea


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You have to take your laptop and your camera out of your bag at the scanners.

I was prepared to take out my laptop — it’s common enough practice at major airports — but I wasn’t used to taking out the camera as well. I had to do a bit of digging through my bag, never fun. The security guys were nice about it though.

(At London Heathrow, I totally didn’t remember I had an entire bottle of Mountain Dew in my backpack and got pulled aside at the scanners. I said “I forgot” sheepishly to the security person and he practically rolled his eyes and said, “Yeah, you always forget.” Fortunately, there were no such sweeping assessments of ineptitude at HKG.)

Get to the airport early!


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Give yourself enough time to get to your boarding gate.

I’ve had a few people tell me how much they hate the airport in Hong Kong because they’ve had to rush to get to their plane on time. 😀 It’s such a huge airport, you have to ride a train to get to your boarding gate. That’s actually a nice touch though — at other airports, you’d have to walk miles. (Well, maybe not miles but it will sure feel like it with luggage.)

Just get to the airport early enough, don’t dawdle at the shops (there are shops by the boarding gates), don’t do anything that might get you sidelined at security (like bringing a tub of peanut butter over 100 mL — true story, happened to a woman on my flight), wear comfortable shoes that you can run in if necessary, just be sensible and you’ll be fine. 🙂

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San Miniato al Monte

22 March 2017 —
The Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte stands on top of a hill overlooking Florence, just a short walk above the Piazzale Michelangelo. Both are popular points from which to catch panoramic views of the city, but while the latter is sometimes described with affectionate derision (or derisive affection) as little more than a glorified car park, San Miniato is a sight to see in its own right.


I visited the abbey on my very first day in Florence — I literally just set my bags down at the hostel then quickly caught a bus up — hoping to hear the monks’ Gregorian chanting. I’d read from travel sites that the monks celebrated Mass every day, followed by Vespers, and there was Gregorian chanting involved in one or the other. But for some reason there was no chanting when I was there: perhaps it was just bad timing or perhaps, I thought, the monks had simply grown tired of their prayers being treated like a mere attraction by tourists.*

But no matter. The abbey is worth a contemplative visit, with or without the chanting.


It’s beautiful, first of all. San Miniato is said to be one of the finest examples of Florentine Romanesque architecture, with a charming green-and-white geometrically patterned marble façade. There’s a cluster of graves out front and a larger cemetery inside the fortress-like walls, accessible through a door beside the church. The interiors are kept dark but whatever light available reveals art and design made even more striking by their juxtaposition with rough walls and unadorned bare benches.


There were quite a few people out there that day; at one point, there even seemed to be a small art class sketching the Florentine skyline from the front steps. But it was at twilight — just when I’d finally given up hope of hearing Gregorian chants and had actually started walking down the hill before some instinct made me go back — that a large group of people came in. It turned out they were French pilgrims (or at least they were from France, and on a pilgrimage, I would guess, judging from the presence of a tour leader and a disproportionately greater number of priests than might ordinarily be present in a regular tour group). It turned out, too, that the monks at the abbey were about to start their Mass at the crypt below the church, and after a short conference with the visiting priests, the latter were invited to concelebrate, while their flock cheerfully took their seats at the wooden benches.

I had also decided to attend the Mass and sat down beside a French nun. She noticed I was keeping to the edge of the bench and with a smile and a beckon, she urged me to come closer to her, sit more comfortably, and squeezed my hand when I did.

Most of the monks at the abbey were advanced in years — one sat hunched, head bowed, in his chair and kept so still I wasn’t sure he could move — but the main celebrant at the Mass was quite young. Before starting the ceremony, he addressed the pilgrims, speaking in French at first. I could just make out some of the words: he said his French was nonexistent and he asked the congregation’s leave to use Italian thereafter, with one of the French priests translating. His French actually was not non-existent, and as he gave a brief history of the abbey, he sometimes spoke in French, prompting his translator to joke if he would like that bit translated to Italian instead.

At one point, they asked for a show of hands. Who were French? Who were Italian? Most were one or the other. They didn’t ask who were Filipino — nor did I expect it — but I found out later I was not my country’s sole representative. During Peace, I saw that one of the nuns from the French group was actually Filipino, and we gave each other that smile of mutual recognition. I tried to find her after the Mass — I had a pack of Cebu dried mangoes in my bag that I wanted to give her to remind her of home — but she had disappeared.

And so I had my sought-after dose of singing, after all. The lead priest’s voice was soaring, beautiful, as he sung his parts of the Mass; heavenly, too, was the voice of the lady who did the readings and led us through the songs. And as I sat there in the dark crypt with strangers I could barely understand, I thought that indeed this was the way of the world: some things were meant to be, and some things were not, and some things unexpectedly prove to be just as good or better.

* Subsequent visitors have reported that the chanting continues — during Vespers after Mass — so perhaps I just left too early.

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Just Dance

14 March 2017 —
Dance like no one’s watching, they say.

But of course that’s kind of difficult if you’re in front of one of the most famous churches in the world, in the middle of one of the most visited cities of the world, and you know for a fact that despite it being low season, dozens of people are going to be watching you.

But then you think…

Who cares?

Who cares if they’ll be watching? Who cares if dancing isn’t your strong suit? Who cares that the only other people to respond to the musician’s invitation is a group of seven friends who look like they’ve known each other all their lives?

Are you going to spend all your life thinking: “Dammit, I should have danced”?

What are you really going to regret more?

When are you going to get another chance to prance and clap and stomp your feet, to move to music that makes you laugh, to whirl in bliss under the bright winter sun among the crowd gathered at the Notre Dame?

You want to dance so dance.

Do it: step forward, don’t give it another thought.

Move and immerse yourself in a experience you know you’ll never forget.

“Once upon a time, I danced in front of the Notre Dame…”


Die of mortification if you have to, then live to tell the tale.

For the record, I didn’t need that much of a pep talk to step forward when the leader of a group of musicians playing in front of the Notre Dame asked for volunteer dancers. I had just spent the last couple of hours feeding birds with a complete stranger so by then I was in “what the heck, why not” mode. 🙂 Unfortunately, I was traveling alone and there was no one to take a photo or a video of me dancing. But it happened, I swear. 🙂

Where We All Go

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Four weeks ago, as I was walking towards the Tuileries Garden, I fell in step and into conversation with a retired French schoolteacher. It actually started with him asking me if I was Japanese and when I said I was from the Philippines, he exclaimed that he had been.

Christian — that was his name — had traveled quite a lot in his youth. In fact, he said, that was why he chose teaching as a profession: the long vacations meant he could travel to more countries, for a greater period of time. In the Philippines, he told me, he was able to visit Manila and Baguio, and Boracay long before the hordes “discovered” it. I asked him what his favorite country or city was; he answered it was impossible to say. “It’s not this place or that place that I love,” he said. “It’s the whole thing. Traveling.”

Our conversation was in English, of course, as despite my best intentions, my French still hadn’t progressed beyond courtesies and a prepared apology for not being able to speak the language. Christian, on the other hand, had been an English teacher. I told him I regretted not being conversant in French, to which he replied, “Oh, Gaya, it doesn’t matter. Don’t waste your time. You know English, you can explore the world. You don’t have enough time to learn the language of every country you visit.” (A surprising sentiment, that was, given, erm, certain French reputations, but one I’d actually heard before, from two French men in Marseille…who both knew Tagalog. Expect the unexpected, indeed, when you travel the world.)

Christian had kept records of his own travels. By the time he retired, he had filled dozens of notebooks with thoughts about the world he’d seen with his own eyes. Unfortunately, a shipping accident caused many of the notebooks to be lost or damaged; only a few now remained. I could tell this saddened him but not overly so. He still had his memories, after all, and that was more important.

Nowadays, Christian lives in the suburbs of Paris with a friend — a frenemy, he said in a tone both tart and fond — whom he met on a stint teaching English abroad. His wife is gone; his daughter has her own family. He travels much less frequently now but he does, at least twice a week, make the journey from his home to central Paris, armed with hard staling baguettes, to feed the birds and ducks at the basins of the Tuileries. Afterwards, he drops by the library and reads the papers. He takes notes to help him remember what he’s learned, constantly challenging his mind to keep dementia at bay.

I wondered, at some point, if he was lonely — if he found his life now a far cry from the wandering days of his past — but if he was, he seemed to have made his peace with it.

I wondered too, at some point, if I would end up like him, and decided it wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.

“If I lived around here,” I told him as he handed me pieces of bread to toss to his eager beneficiaries, “I’d come every day and feed the birds too.”

Afterwards, he asked me if I had any plans for lunch because he wanted to treat me to McDonald’s. I was then quite hungry and, spotting a cafe among the bare trees of the Tuileries, I proposed I buy him lunch there instead. He said, dismissively, they probably only had French food. I murmured it might be nice to eat French food in France but he seemed (or pretended?) not to have heard.

Okay then: McDonald’s.

Over lunch, he said that in many of the places he’d visited, there were no McDonald’s branches because the people there couldn’t afford it. I told him that it used to be — and probably still is, for many — a status symbol in the Philippines to be able to eat at McDonald’s. However, I added, we had a homegrown fast food chain that we loved even more, so much so that there were branches of it in countries that had a significant Filipino population.

The thought delighted him. “What’s it called?” He asked and proceeded to write down “Jollibee” in one of the folded sheets of paper he was carrying. “I’ll look it up,” he said with satisfaction.

We went our separate ways near Notre Dame — me to revisit the park behind the church to paint a happier layer over an old grief, Christian to the library to resume a well-worn path. Before we parted, he told me it had been an absolute joy to spend the past few hours with me. In all sincerity though — inspired beyond words by his life, his outlook, his generosity and quiet dignity — I assured him the pleasure was mine.

Work from Home (or Hostel)

11 March 2017 — 
If you’d happened to peek through the second floor window of a hostel in Via Cavour (Florence) one Saturday evening last February, you’d have seen a girl hunched over a laptop on her lower bunk bed, sifting through Pubmed abstracts and typing furiously, hoping her boss wouldn’t decide that, actually, come to think of it, they didn’t really need her.

That girl was me, as you might have guessed, and I was then on Day 7 of my short mid-February break from ordinary life. For that reason, I was also on Day 7 of not having done even a minute’s worth of work — no, make that Day 10 because I’d spent the few days immediately before my trip doing last minute printing, packing, repacking, the works. It would have been fine if I’d told my bosses that I was going on vacation but I hadn’t. I’d figured I could always work on the road — at the airport, on the plane, on the train, evenings — and, well, you know what they say about good intentions.

The thing that not too many people realize about having the kind of work you can take with you on vacation is that you actually do take the work with you on vacation.

Once, in Tokyo, I was chatting with a friend on Facebook and he asked, “Why are you still in your room? Why aren’t you out there enjoying the city?”

“I have work I need to finish today 🙁 ,” I said.

On the day tour I took to Bath, Stonehenge, and the Cotswolds the other year, I spent a lot of my time on the tour bus tapping away on my laptop, finishing an article, which I then emailed to my boss at the Edinburgh stop of our sleeper train from London to Inverness. I’ve been asked, “Where are we going today?” and answered, “The British Library” because I thought it was win-win: my companions could check out their collection and I could get some work in. Friends, on another day, went inside the Natural History Museum while I stayed outside on a bench with my computer because there was something I really, really needed to hand in that day.

And yes: this year, I spent Saturday evening in Florence alone in my hostel room, working.

I’m not complaining at all and it usually works out great. I love my work and I love my bosses. It’s just something to keep in mind: a reminder, for people wishing for work they can do anywhere, that it’s work they will have to do anywhere.

The Eiffel Tower: You Never Forget Your First(s)

6 March 2017 — 
It can’t possibly be cool, to still be gushing about my first sight of the Eiffel Tower six years and two return trips after my first first-sight, but the truth remains it’s one of my most vivid memories of my trip last month: looking out the window of the DIRECT2 bus from CDG and catching sight of the Eiffel Tower through the golden haze-bathed terrace of the Palais de Chaillot.

From “Why” to “Why Not”

© Gaya | 
It’s a few minutes before midnight. I’m sitting here at an airport lounge: munching on nuts, coffee already gone cold, laptop open, no immediate plans to sleep despite the lateness of the hour, having already taken a 30-minute nap in sitting position earlier while people around me were having dinner. And I’m wondering: why does this not feel unnatural?

Why does it not feel like a disruption of ordinary life?

Have I really gotten so used, in the stretch of a fortnight, to waiting hours for flights and fueling on coffee and falling asleep in the midst of strangers?

Because that’s not me. Not at all. Not ordinarily. When I’m home, I’m a homebody. My personal three-word horror stories include “knock on door” and “unexpected phone call.” Heck, even expected phone calls fill me with dread. And I’m extremely private: a friend says poker is the natural state of my face.

But travel seems to signal a temporary key change. The rhythm of who I am and what I do shifts: suddenly, I talk to strangers (sometimes) and dance (okay, just once) and eat gelato (normally too expensive). Stripped of my usual surroundings, my usual “why?” becomes an “eh, why not?” It’s almost like having an alternative life. It’s not a radical transformation — obviously! Dancing just once, tsk — but travel does seem to make what’s not normal almost normal.

Keyword being “almost.”

Would I like it to be my new normal though?

Hmmm… Nah.

Because I like my old normal just fine: my little ordinary life. I would seriously cry if I had to travel for a living. For me, travel is a treat. It’s like, oh, tiramisu. I love tiramisu but if I ate it all the time, it wouldn’t be as special. (Didn’t stop me from eating the lounge’s last two slices earlier, but you know what I mean.) Or like…cherry blossoms. They’re beautiful and they would still be beautiful if they bloomed year round but it’s their transience that makes beholding them such a treat.

So.

I’ll savor this treat while it lasts, dance however clumsily to this new rhythm, and when the last notes die I’ll happily go back to ordinary.

Until the next time, of course.