The five things travel taught me: Neil Armfield, co-artistic director, Adelaide Festival



A few years ago my film Holding The Man was showing at various cities across China. I was a guest of the presenters and on a tight schedule at a different city each night. My suitcase was lost on the first flight to Guangzhou. It followed me around China, arriving a day late at each destination and I was only reunited with it back in Barcelona where I'd left a week earlier. So I resolved to abide by a new rule: only ever travel with carry-on – a shoulder tote and a standard carry on case. It's remarkable how much you can fit into a little case and how much time you save rolling it straight off the flight into a taxi or a train.


On an international flight I put on pyjamas straight away before take off and most importantly, my pair of possum skin booties which let my feet breathe but keep them totally warm on any length of trip. They were a gift from actor Russell Dykstra (purchased from NZ where possums, protected in Australia, are considered feral pests) as he'd noticed me wearing Ugg boots in rehearsal when I directed him in many of our plays at Belvoir.


My friend Mary Vallentine's dear mother, Joan, was an Army nurse in World War II stationed in New Guinea. It was there that she developed the saying "You always feel better after a shower", and that wisdom has become a travel mantra for me. Whenever possible I have a shower as soon as I can in transit. It's refreshing and helps you instantly lose the stale feeling of the long haul.


Community sector leader Betty Hounslow gave me my second travel mantra (that also came originally from her mum): "You're never sorry if you have a swim". As soon as possible post-flight, I try to get out for a run and a swim. It's especially important to get sunlight on the backs of your knees. Scientists tell us that's where the melatonin producing receptors are.


I heave learned to never transfer flights in Frankfurt. The airport is so huge, the distances you have to travel are so great and, unusual in Germany, they don't have enough staff to handle the volume. I had several agonising hours there last year after arriving from London trying desperately to make a connection to see a performance of Schubert's Wintereise that night in Dresden. It all worked in theory but the Frankfurt juggernaut was ultimately impossible to negotiate and I met no-one who was interested to help me. One sanguine employee shrugged and said to me "It doesn't work, this airport. It hasn't caught up with its success." I had to turn around and return to London, having wasted a day.

Australian director of theatre, opera and film Neil Armfield co-founded Sydney's Belvoir Theatre and was its artistic director for 17 years. In 2017, he was appointed joint artistic director of the Adelaide Festival with Rachel Healy. The 2020 festival is on, February 28 – March 15. See