Learning to Fly

I frequently describe myself as a “nervous traveler” or just “not a great traveler” but I’ve started to rethink those ideas. It’s true that I feel somewhat incompetent when I travel by plane, mainly because for most of my life I would fly once every few years, maybe twice in a really big year. In my younger days, I was always too broke for anything but long car trips or the ‘hound. That’s what the cool broke people call the Greyhound bus, btw. Well that’s what I call it, anyway. And I hope to avoid it for the rest of my life. Speaking of buses, I once went on the Mexican version of the ‘hound and some of my fellow passengers were actual birds. That was an adventure. Would a bad traveler do that? Maybe I’ve had the potential to be a good traveler, but not the resources? Hmmm…

My second marriage was to a great traveler, so I had high hopes that we’d go a lot of places together and I’d become an expert at it. But we had lots of kids (three, but all boys and in less than four years, so it’s really like having fifteen) immediately, so my travel dreams were put on hold while I was tethered to the earth. We did take a LOT of road trips, which is really the way to go when you have young children. At least if your asshole kid is screaming in your personal minivan you don’t have to apologize to anyone when you put in ear plugs and ignore him for 7 hours. And nobody has to know that you are carrying around a large bottle for the children to pee in, that you actually refer to as “the pee bottle” because you’re just handing them any damn juice box they want so their little mouths will be quiet for a while, but you don’t want to have to stop at sketchy gas station bathrooms every 40 miles when you could just pull over for a pit stop and then empty child pee all over these great United States. I bet this ensured that search dogs could have easily located my family on any of our trips, had we needed to be rescued, so really it was a win-win. Plus, I always researched any weird and interesting places that might be along our route, so we’d get to see some crazy shit, like a giant King Kong statue, boat and train-shaped restaurants, the Precious Moments chapel, a big blue whale you could wander inside of, multiple Elvises (Elvi?) and South of the Border, where Pedro sez you need to stop, so you just do. I will always go out of my way to see something unusual. It’s one of my life’s guiding principles.

So maybe I could be a good traveler, but I just haven’t flown often enough to totally get the hang of it. My air travel skills are still like those of a very old, very young, or slightly drunk person. I am unclear about what is happening, but I’m really excited! I can’t figure out how to check in my bag, and I ALWAYS have a bag to check, because I have not mastered the skill of paring things down when I might NEED a variety of shoes and multiple books. There are always new and unpleasant protocols to follow, just to get near the plane, like shoe removal and weird body scans and threats of pat downs and anal probing. It is all really confusing and makes me rumpled and disoriented and protective of my body parts. I’m getting better with it, though. This has been a big travel year for me, possibly the biggest ever. I’ve flown 4 times since July! I know, right? It’s huge! I stayed in hotels by myself twice and it was glorious. I have plans for even more travel in the upcoming months. Soon there may be a time when I can call myself a great traveler. And I will! The main thing I’ve realized is that in order to navigate travel one needs to READ THE SIGNS. There are many of them posted. They are telling you things that you need to know. This is good practice for life in general, not just for traveling. Read the signs!

I love being at the airport so much more than the actual flying part. It’s really fun to watch all of the people. So many interesting outfit choices. People are either super-fancy or they’re like, “Screw it! Why shower or wear anything clean when I’m going on a damn plane? I’ll just wear these pajama pants with the blown-out elastic waist. Yup, that’s my butt crack. No need to hold up the security line when you can see for yourself that I’m not hiding anything in there. You’re welcome everyone.” Hmmm…maybe those people are on to something.

I usually spend money that I would not ordinarily spend in airport stores, and not just at the Starbucks. Magazines are a given, because Us Weekly is never more compelling than when you read it on a plane. But I’ll even be tempted by souvenirs FROM MY OWN CITY. On my most recent trip, I had to convince myself that I didn’t need to bring a packet of “chili-fixin’s” from the Austin airport with me to New York. If I hadn’t been distracted, I would have totally picked up those fixin’s (oh my God, it is killing me to make something plural with an apostrophe, but I think that’s the way you are required to do it with something called “fixin’s”) on the way home. And I’ll just admit here that if I’ve ever given you a gift after I’ve taken a trip where I traveled by plane, there is an 85% chance I got it at the airport.

I am not at all a fan of the actual flying on the plane part. It’s always too cold and claustrophobic for me to really be comfortable. And despite my lack of frequent flying, I’ve had some weird and unfortunate flight experiences. Have you ever been screamed at by a hysterical flight attendant to put on your oxygen mask while you made an emergency landing because of an issue with cabin pressure? I have. The bags do not inflate, but the oxygen still flows, just like they said it would. How about being on a flight that is rerouted to a different place, because after four insanely turbulent attempts at landing in a dust storm in El Paso, the plane is running out of fuel and the pilot is will finally admit defeat, as your fellow passengers get teary, throw up and pray. I had that harrowing experience with Shakira and her husband last summer. Thank God I was with them, because they are never opposed to getting drunk and that was exactly what I needed to do, once we were on firm ground.

Usually if I’m flying alone, I take Dramamine, put on a fuzzy neck pillow and try to fall asleep and miss as much of the flight as possible. Do good travelers do this? Do they bring better distractions? Do have access to better drugs? Are these some of those adult secrets I never seem to know until it’s really late, like that people who have kids, but also have clean houses most likely *pay other people* to clean them. Or that more people than you’d suspect, who don’t have those “eleven” lines between their eyebrows, that you get from thinking “WTF?” too often get a little botox there? I didn’t know these things before and just thought I was failing at things like cleanliness and graceful aging. Perhaps it is the same with travel? Are there just a few more things I should learn and then I will be an amazing traveler? Let me know!

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