I am writing up my gap year travels from 2006-2007 so that I can self-publish a book to pass on to my niece and nephews. I hope they will read about my adventures and be inspired to explore themselves…and I hope you enjoy my travel tales.
United Kingdom, February 2006
As my plane descended into Hong Kong International Airport, circling over a vast expanse of water dotted with criss-crossing tug boats, I reflected on one of the hardest and most surreal days of my life.
After three months of excitement and anticipation since I booked my ticket, I woke up on 25th February crying, and I didn’t stop until I fell into an exhausted sleep on the plane that night. I just couldn’t stop the tears flowing. I had said my goodbyes to friends at the local pub the previous evening, and spent my last night in Kent in my Dad’s spare room; my worldly belongings now stored between his and my Mum’s. Even when I said goodbye to my friends it didn’t seem real. I don’t think anyone, including me, really believed that I was leaving for a year.
All day I wiped away tears as my parents and sister looked on, probably wondering if I should be going and no doubt masking their own fears about my year ahead. After my Mum and sister left the airport, my sister having had a bit of an emotional meltdown when it was time to say goodbye, which set me off again, my Dad marched me to Café Rouge, one of my favourite restaurants. It felt like it was some kind of ‘last supper’ and I felt uneasy I struggled to eat my food. I can only imagine what the other customers were thinking…I didn’t look like a person about to embark on the trip of a lifetime, that’s for sure! And my Dad, sitting opposite me looking pained, must have felt wretched. I remember him saying to look at it like a long holiday – pretend that I was going for a few weeks, and if I was really homesick or hated it then I could just come back, nobody would think any less of me. To this day I believe that those words were the only thing that got me on that plane.
My Dad waved me off through departures, being very brave and stoic in contrast to my blubbering and, by now, puffy-faced mess, and it took all my strength to not just run back through customs and say I had changed my mind and was going home with him. Even as I sat in departures surrounded by people, the tears were streaming down my face, but by that point I was past caring about what others thought. It was such an emotional wrench to be leaving all that was familiar behind and step into the unknown. I literally had to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other in order to get myself through it.
As soon as the plane took off and the first drinks were served I ordered myself a glass of red wine! The couple sitting next to me paid me no attention, and at the time this made me feel even more alone, but looking back it was probably for the best that they didn’t try to engage me in conversation as I would have ended up drowning them in my tears! I ordered another glass of wine, took a couple of herbal sleeping tablets and, for the first and only time on a plane, managed to fall into a deep sleep.
As I looked out of the plane window at those tiny tug boats I felt emotionally spent, but also a tiny pang of excitement flared in my gut at the though of exploring this new place, and a culture completely different to my own. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea after all…!
Links to previous Travel Tales