Well, that didn't take long. Eighteen months with no travel and I can barely remember what the whole experience feels like.
I mean, I can recall the specifics: how to get to the airport, how to read a boarding pass, how to stand at a baggage carousel and sigh as everyone insists on pushing to the front and standing with their knees touching the conveyer belt. But what about all of those other little things, the travel minutiae that was once seared into my brain, the little details that I took for granted that I would always understand?
They're almost gone.
For frequent travellers, this was just part of life: that groggy, discombobulated feeling, not knowing what time it was, not knowing whether you felt like breakfast or a beer (hint: both), not knowing where you were or why you did this to yourself or how you're ever going to get back to sleep again. But that whole experience feels abstract now, like something you read about in a book rather than a phenomenon that actually happens.
There was a time when I could have given you a pretty accurate review of the food on 10 different airlines. Emirates, Singapore, Etihad, ANA, Qantas… They all had their ups and downs, their hits and misses. I was never a hater of airline food – it had got a lot better in the last 10 years. Now though, I really wouldn't have a clue. I can't even remember what they all serve, let alone what it tastes like. Maybe that's a good thing?
What to pack
There was a time there where I could pack a suitcase without even thinking about it, just roam my room picking up essentials, rolling them into neat little clothing sausages and wedging them into the perfect spot. And I never forgot anything. I was never caught short. Now though, I'm not so sure. How many shirts do I need? What goes in my toiletries bag again?
The safety demonstration
I'll put my hand up here and admit that I never paid much attention to the aeroplane safety demonstration, mostly because I pretty much knew it off by heart, regardless of the airline. Emergency exits here, oxygen masks here, something about life jackets… Next time though, I might have to listen. Because I have no idea what comes after that.
My passport's expiry date
I used to just carry this around in my brain. It was right there next to my partner's phone number and the winners of the last 10 FIFA World Cups. Now, like the whereabouts of my passport itself, that knowledge has disappeared. I haven't had to write it down or even glance at it for 18 months. It might already have expired. That's going to be a nasty surprise at some point…
How to haggle
This is not something I was ever particularly good at, but by now I would be seriously out of practice. I barely even buy things in the regular Australian way anymore – going out to a shop, picking something up and paying for it – let alone have to argue for 10 minutes to come to an acceptable price. First time I get back out there into the haggling world, I'm going to be toast.
How to speak Spanish
Le sigh. Or should I say, el sigh. I was never much good at Spanish, even after several years of intermittent lessons, and 12 months of actually living in Spain. Still, my very modest mastery of the Spanish language – and any foreign language, in fact – is now very much a thing of the past. This is a muscle that needs to be flexed daily, or it atrophies at a frightening rate. These days I'd be lucky to order a bocadillo.
Ever noticed how when you're really hot, it's almost impossible to picture what it feels like to be cold? You're packing for a winter holiday while it's summer in Australia and it's so hard to force yourself to put in thermals, to pack gloves, to carry a big coat, because being cold just doesn't exist for you. The same goes, right now, with missing home. I've been home for a long time now. I barely get to leave these four walls to go anywhere else. Right now I just can't even imagine what it would be like to really miss it.
The coming home blues
This is the flipside of missing home: arriving back to that home and missing the travel experience. It leaves a huge hole in your existence when you aren't travelling anymore, when there are no more challenges, no major highs or frustrating lows. Or at least, that's how I remember it. I haven't felt the blues of coming home now since March 2020 – and I probably won't have it again for quite some time. What is it even like?
How I ever managed to complain
I never took travel for granted. Not for a second. I loved it. I felt extremely lucky to experience it. But still, I couldn't help sometimes but complain about it. The drudgery of long-haul flights. The pain of battling through negotiations for taxis or rickshaws or whatever it was I needed to get where I was going. I never found a willing audience for these gripes, but I would voice them every now and then. And now I have no idea what I was thinking. How could you complain about the privilege of one of life's truly great experiences?
What did you think you would never forget about the travel experience? Is there anything you're particularly missing? Or anything you hope never to have to experience again?