It starts as it always does. Planning has taken months: so much so that the whole thing feels more like an intellectual exercise in exploring distant cities through the dizzy magic of the internet than it does a holiday. Then, with a queasy bump, it is upon you. Grab your bags; get to the airport. Now.
The panic of loss; the elation of freedom. What have we left behind? I’m sure we have everything. We packed so carefully; we can’t have forgotten anything. As long as we have cash, passports and clothes, we’ll survive. And soft toys for the child; cannot forget those. Get everyone fed, and queue to get through security. Two flights so no duty free. Maybe at the next airport. Keep going forward.
Flying through the air is nothing compared to the flight through an airport. Why use a travelator if you’re just going to stand on it? I’m in a hurry fuddy duddy; get out of my way or get trampled. I want to feel the wind in my hair as I burn up the yards to my gate. Which gate? Which is our gate?
Dragging a case through an unfamiliar city, when all your body wants to do is collapse in a heap. The theory of Street View pales in to insignificance compared to the reality of navigating people, streets and transfers with the world’s biggest case. Must pop to the shop for milk first. That’s a detour. Get in the first flat; get the child fed; get them off to sleep; get yourself fed. Beer. Collapse on the sofa.
You have exchanged awkward pleasantries with someone you met through a supposedly reputable website: listings all over the world. They claim to speak English, but no one ever really does. Ask her the Norwegian for Raspberry, and see how far she gets. Keys handed over; you climbed seventeen flights of stairs, with the world’s heaviest case, praying for a coronary. Then came all of the rules.
You’re in someone else’s house. You’ve paid them a king’s ransom. They want you to make yourself at home, but not that much at home: they don’t employ cleaners, you know. “We always take off our shoes”: you don’t want to bother the neighbours with your heavy feet. You want to relax, but you are too busy trying to find the light switch. Is this the one with the DVD player? What about towels?
The blue bins are only for glass; every third Wednesday. Green is only for plastics; every morning in the summer; Thursdays other than that. General waste in special bags, which you can buy literally anywhere (no you can’t: you end up putting your rubbish in public bins as you leave the apartment every morning; the neighbours must think you’re wombles). Collection is 6am; you can’t leave them out overnight. Sticky labels differentiate between types of waste. On the third morning you see that everyone else does leave them out overnight, and no one uses the special bags, or stickers, either.
It had to be an early night, and you aren’t allowed to touch the local moonshine. It’s an early train up in to the mountains to the next flat. Everything has to be packed up again. Do not put anything in the cupboard. Drag the world’s most unwieldy case back down the stairs, back down the street and on to a tram, which would have been so useful in getting us here. No time for a coffee; on to the train.
You feel a little sick; you feel a little fine. And it all feels better by the second time. Except it doesn’t; by the third leg of the holiday your body is battered and bruised: you long for your own house. Ten days away from home: four different properties, each a five hour trip apart. A four year old child, as bored as a teenager. It’s time to connect with the life you lead, but you still have two cities to go.
Little niggles rise to the surface as your mind begins to fray. You aren’t used to being on holiday this long; you aren’t used to being away from your own language this long; you aren’t used to being this close to each other for this long. Why is work starting to feel like a time well spent now? You must be going crazy, and you spent a fortune doing so. The holiday of a lifetime takes a life’s work.
Don’t break a glass, don’t get shit on the bedding, and definitely don’t let your child rub pasta in to their cushion covers. Stop. Pack it all up; we’re off again. This time it’s six hours on an express boat.
Learning how to cook in someone else’s kitchen is like learning to cook all over again. How do they cope with so little bench space? Where are the coasters? Why do they need so many trivets? Is this the one with the dishwasher? They all have dishwashers. Is literally everything from IKEA? This one has no oil, but it does have a packet of instant porridge, and some noodles. The last one had barley.
In the first place you were up with the larks, aware that time was short, and you had a lot to pack in. Lots to see; lots to do. The starts start to get later, as your body drains. You’re not travelling around, exploring new places anymore; you’re looking for a supermarket to pick up ingredients for dinner. Your body craves fruit like a scurvy-ridden sailor. Which of these milks is actual milk? I don’t know.
On a single holiday you can unpack, settle in. On a touring holiday, you can barely find clean socks as you fumble through the world’s least tidy case. Wake up; get on the bus: we’re off to the last place.
You picked these places, these towns, these cities because you wanted to explore. You picked the transport between them as day trips, as much as ways to connect disparate parts of a wildly varied country, but it sometimes feels like work. The repetition becomes dizzy: I thought I left the charger in the cupboard by the TV: no that was the previous house. No, the one before. Do not unpack.
The time is almost infinite as the first destination tempts you in. The weight is lifted and the pleasure kicks in. You settle in to the routine of packing and not unpacking, of travel as part of the holiday, not just as how to get there. You are fuelled by the adrenaline of panic; it pushes you forwards.
What had started off as a distant dream soon became a crushing reality: you got through the things you needed to accomplish before life could release you in to the wilds. The thought of holiday became oppressive. Then you set off, and you had a huge expanse of time stretching out in front of you.
The middle of a touring holiday swings between fidgety boredom and the infinite rest of never having to work again. You have seen and done so much, and there is as much time to go: this is a journey which will never end, and you’re becoming OK with that. The routine fits you like a glove.
Then, all of a sudden, you realise that the routine has become too comfortable, and the holiday is about to end as abruptly as it started, all those days ago. You should have booked longer here. You spent too long in that dump you barely registered. Why does it all have to end now, just as the idyll is starting to take on its own luxurious form? Why does the spell have to break, now of all times.
Stop. Pack your things and leave; you’re going home. And don’t forget the world’s handiest case.