“Daniel? How are you? I want you to do something for me.”
“Uh. Hi Nan.” I was doing my best to sound sober on the phone. It was 3:30 am on a Saturday morning and I had been to a party. I was ‘merry’ to say the least. I didn’t often get calls from my grandmother, as she lived on the other side of the world in England, so I mentally straightened my head out to listen.
“Daniel, I want you to go to a travel agent as soon as you can and get a price for a one-way ticket to England. Your uncle Kevin and I have been talking and you don’t seem happy, so we thought you could come over and stay with us and we will get the ticket.”
I was speechless. She was right; I was 19, working at a petrol station, studying at polytech and my head was a mess, even without the fuzziness from alcohol tonight. All I was doing was trying to save the money to go to England, to see my family and learn a bit more about my dad, who had died when I was 3 years old. Here I was, on the phone unexpectedly, and being told it was going to happen, and soon. I thanked her profusely, had a bit of small talk and let her go, as calls were expensive. I drunkenly put myself to bed and crashed.
The next morning I woke feeling pretty good and the first thing I did was go see mum and tell her what had happened. She was surprised, but admitted my uncle had called to see if I was okay. So it made sense. Mum came with me to the travel agent, TSB Holiday Shoppe, and we started to get details. After a bit of looking around, we found a chartered flight, with Britannia, that flew once a year to get English travelers home for Christmas, and it was a good price.
My uncle and Grandmother sent me the money and I was all booked to go in a few months.
My life was taking a huge turn, and I wasn’t even fully aware. Although Nan had said it was a one-way ticket, I planned on selling my car so I could get the return ticket myself. I planned on a four-month trip and to be back home after my birthday at the end of March.
Over the next few months I prepared to go. I handed my notice in at the petrol station, I got my stuff ready to pack and made lists. I said goodbye to everyone. It wasn’t an easy time; my stress levels were through the roof and I was getting nervous, excited and scared all at the same time.
It was time to go. This would be my first solo trip ever. So on the 3rd December 1996, I boarded the domestic flight to Auckland. My family was at the gates waving goodbye. “Here we go, Dan, buckle up it’s gonna be a long flight” I told myself. This was the first time I was doing this by myself, but i felt prepared and knew it would go well. I had a confidence in myself when it came to travel, even then.
From the domestic terminal in Auckland, I walked to the International terminal to check in. I had plenty of time and all I wanted was to be on the plane. It was to be approximately 11 hours to Singapore, where we refueled. I was unsure what to do on a flight that long. As it turned out I was awake for the take off, food and landing. The rest of it, I slept. The flight was made up of mostly people a lot older than me; I was feeling socially lost. It was hard to feel comfortable to communicate as everyone looked so serious. There were no smiles as people made eye contact, no acknowledgement at all. With the exception of Laura sitting next to me. She was a little older than me, but friendly enough, but neither of us was too chatty.
I spent my couple of hours in Singapore wide-eyed and drop-jawed. So many people all bustling about like ants in a nest. We had access to the whole International Terminal; all the duty-free shops, restaurants and bars. I spent my time people watching, and found it hard that not only was everyone rushing about, but they were hardly smiling. Life in New Zealand had brought me up with a population that smiled even to strangers. Here, not even the airport or shop staff smiled. It was all business. I found it a little dreary. I perused the displays of goods, and made a mental note to make sure I had money to spend on the way home. Time was up and upon re-boarding I followed the same pattern; take off, sleep and eat for 7 and a half hours and then landing.
This stop was Abu Dhabi and it blew my mind. The design was spectacular, a honey-combed inverted cone dropped from the ceiling on the second floor through a hole in the first floor down to the ground floor where all the shops were stationed.
Like Singapore, everyone was looking serious and I missed seeing people smile and say “Hi”. My budget didn’t allow for spending on the way to England so I sat and people watched again for the few hours before my next flight to London.
I was finding out that sleep was my best friend on flights. This one took 8 hours, but with the sleep, all the flights were flying by. The drone of the jet engines, at first sounding so loud and disturbing, was now merely background noise and almost lulled me to sleep. Before I knew it, we were landing in London, and after the short wait, through customs using my brand new British passport. I was greeted by my grandmother and uncle. I was there. It was finally happening.
Let the adventure begin…
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