Polly Vernon on Travel: Part 1
In part 1 of her travel piece, Headspace fan and journalist Polly Vernon writes about the highs and lows of travelling for work...
Anyone who’s ever travelled for work knows it’s weird. It’s not holiday, but it’s not real life. It’s a pause, without a break. It detaches you from your normal context, your daily routines – the things to which we cling partly because we’d never get anything done otherwise, a lot because they give us a sense of who we are – and then demands that you keep behaving like a fully functioning pro, even while you’re deprived of all normalizing crutches.
Work travel is sometimes incommensurately fun and sometimes incommensurately awful: a heady, freaky, de-stabilising combination of obligation and escape, of separation anxiety and giddy newness, of feckless, expenses-enabled possibility and interludes of terrible boredom. It delivers ups and downs and highs and lows, epiphanies and dramatic detours, long, dark, jet-lagged-exacerbated teatimes of the soul, random oddnesses, and moments of profound peace. You meet people. You miss people. You long to go home and then you resent leaving your hotel room when your time’s up, because: minibars! Amazing showers! Other people cleaning up after you!
I do it a lot, and I still can’t tell if it’s my absolute favourite part of being a journalist, or my absolute worst. Both, probably. I almost never turn a trip down. I have an official policy, which is: never say no to New York, or anywhere else if they’re offering a business class flight. In fact, I almost never say ‘no’ to anything and anywhere, economy or otherwise: to three nights in Shanghai, or two in Tokyo, seven hours in Ibiza and six days in mid town Manhattan, which should’ve been three, only Heathrow got frozen over, all return flights got cancelled, and I very nearly spent Christmas on the other side of the Atlantic, with nothing but a trouser press, a movie channel and some small bottles of shampoo for company. I once flew to JFK and back again in a single 36 hour period, so that I could enjoy a certain airline’s newly launched catering experience. I once went to Lapland, to watch them harvest ice. I have no idea now, why they had to harvest ice.
I travel for work in one of two ways. I either travel on my own, which is to say: completely, utterly on my own, for days and days, over thousands of miles, into time zones so obscure no one I want to talk to will ever be awake and phonable uppable at the relevant hour. All alone, I drift about in a jet lagged, semi-conscious daze, haunting shopping malls and hotel lobbies in my downtime, working up the nerve to go into unfamiliar chain restaurants where - entirely ignorant of the established procedures for exotic things like ordering and paying – I imagine I’m about to make an awful faux pas or 17. Eventually, and still alone, I’ll attempt to order sandwiches I don’t fully understand from people who either don’t speak my language, or speak a version of it so obscure, it might as well not be mine. (I call these people ‘Americans’.) Without any of my usual society to distract me, I grow thoroughly self-involved: I overthink everything, I have extensive and heartfelt chats in my own head about my intentions and where I see myself in five years time, I’m prone to public weeping.
These long, heavy-lidded, bemused, bemusing interludes of all-alone-ness are only ever relieved by whatever it is I’ve flown across half the world to do, generally: interview a celebrity, which is hilarious of course, but nothing that’s going to reassure me that normal life proceeds somewhere and will welcome me back with opened arms once this fandango is complete. I once spent five days in New York during which, the only conversations I had were with my hotel’s bellboy, the baristas in the nearest Starbucks, and Donald Trump.