It was the small, magical moments during our holiday to Hawaii that mattered most

Forgive me for my recent radio silence, but I’m struggling to get back into real time since our return from Hawaii.

No doubt, some of you will be interested to know how we fared, having spent so much time reading about my angst in relation to where the fuck to take an anxious, middle-aged man who didn’t want to leave his suburb. But, alas, I am no travel writer, so I’ve decided to style this post in the same way as Jamila Rizvi did here last week in The Age, and focus on the small things that made it feel so special.

Woman sitting on beach in front of view.
I call this photo “Come to Mama!”

I won’t lie, the holiday (in the company of my husband and our twenty-something daughter) wasn’t always the plain sailing experience I had prayed for prior to our departure from Sydney. However, I won’t bore you with the stories of when our two hire cars broke down – leading to the old man’s worldwide ban from AVIS – the loss of his bank card, or the time he turned the wrong way down a street. As I’m sure you can tell from this photo, he had a great time.

Man looking miserable at shopping center.
Have you ever seen such a vision of natural joy? He just LOVES shopping and Halloween.

And by normal standards, I imagine that the sort of holiday woes we experienced are the kind of par-for-the-course shit that everyone goes through, laughs about and puts down to travelling.

Admittedly, the bus tour between Honolulu and Haleiwa on the North Shore was not the anticipated 45 minute journey I had forecast in my itinerary – probably because I read the ‘by car’ calculation of time instead of ‘by stagecoach’ – but at least it included an educational tour of Honolulu’s military bases and a nostalgic trip back to the prison set where Hawaii 5-0 must have been shot. The return journey was even longer, and while none of us expected a three-hour circumnavigation of Oahu that took us into the night, we were all grateful for the scenic experience.

Many lessons were learned: we now know never to declare war on a feisty Hawaiian customer service lady who deals with entitled tourists on a daily basis; we learned that the portion sizes really are as terrifying in the US as we had been led to believe, and that you only need order a few plates to share; and finally, we now appreciate that the mountain temperature on our weather App is no guide to the temperature on the beach.

Mouthwatering plate of Tuna Tataki.
The TUNA!

There were the usual minor medical issues like blocked ears, dehydration, and some ongoing issues with obesity augmented by the portion size of the Rocky Road ice cream they sold at our local bar.

But let me get back to the small things that justified our thousands of dollars spent choice of destination, that still make my heart sing to the tune of Moana each time I think back to them:

  1. The landscape: What’s not to love about a destination that offers world-class beaches, the spirituality of a mountain landscape (that look like it belongs in Peru), and cheap, designer shopping that even the most ardent window shopper will find impossible to resist?
  2. The beaches: I can honestly say that Waikiki, the beaches on the North Shore of Honolulu, and those in Maui lived up to the paradise we had been promised. Living in Australia, it’s hard to impress us when it comes to beaches, but we weren’t disappointed – particularly by the ocean temperature, which made it dead easy to plunge into it several times a day.
  3. The turtles: I’ll be honest, we didn’t see flocks of them like I imagined – a bit like when we visited Kangaroo Valley and never saw any kangaroos – but we spotted several from the shoreline and a couple swam up close to us. Fact: they can be SERIOUSLY BIG MOTHERFUCKERS!
  4. The snorkelling: This time it was the relaxing experience I imagined it could be when I was growing up and wanted to be Jacques Cousteau. Pretty, unthreatening tropical fish were a welcome change from The Great Barrier Reef’s terrifyingly black Gropers and slimy cucumbers, and although NC swore she saw a sea snake, she only told me about it once we were on the plane home.
  5. The music: Hawaiian music comes from the soul and shoots straight through the heart. I will always remember the night the old man asked a Hawaiian singer to sing a song from Moana for NC, who ugly-cried (very publicly), and another when a heavily pregnant dancer performed the Hula.
  6. American coffee: It gets a bad rap around the world, but the choice of flavours is awesome. I mean, how can a Vanilla/Macadamia nut coffee be bad?
  7. The food: OMG! Sex is good but have you ever tried melt-in-your-mouth Ahi (tuna), sealed in hot butter, with sides of coleslaw and coconut rice?
  8. The sunsets: I’m usually half way down a bottle by sunset and never fully appreciate their beauty, but Maui’s sunsets light up the sky like fireworks and are impossible to ignore.
Restaurant view of stunning mountain landscape in Maui.
Not a bad view for lunch.

And then there were the cheap COCKTAILS, an overdue discovery of Fireball whisky. and the old man’s dishcloth dance – after aforementioned whisky. All in all, a myriad of magical moments thrown into twelve days and an experience I’d love to replicate, had the old man not thrown away his passport.

Flying, And The Criminal Act Of Exceeding Your Baggage Allowance

Last week was not an easy one in terms of anxiety, because I had a flight booked at the end of it. So what should have been a week of relaxation – the first of (for the most part) a two-week staycation – culminated in sleepless nights as I catastrophized about the terrifying superpowers of seagulls, Trump’s craziness, and the week of unsettling windy weather that settled upon Sydney.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

I have never liked the wind – especially when I’m about to board a plane – so it’s not surprising that my anxiety levels had hit the roof by the time I reached the airport on Friday morning and learnt that my flight was delayed by three hours as a result of strong winds. This news, on the back of a week of menacing emails from my airline about my baggage allowance sent me straight to the airport bar – answering my question of who the fuck drinks at ten in the morning.

As an increasingly intolerant middle-aged woman, I am highly appreciative of good customer service ie. follow up emails about the details of my flight, special offers etc. However, I do not appreciate being hounded to “manage” my travel booking on an hourly basis, especially when we all know that “manage” is airline code for getting you to spend more money.

I’m not certain which part my airline didn’t understand about my choice of the cheapest flights to get me from a to b for the weekend, but obviously they still believed they could bully me into purchasing their soggy banana bread, my seat on the plane – or extra legroom – or some extra weight allowance for my baggage.

‘We noticed that you only have 7kg of baggage,’ they warned me threateningly in several emails leading up to my departure, as if the worry associated with getting on a plane and expecting it to stay in the sky wasn’t bad enough.

What they no doubt didn’t realise was that the words “baggage allowance” are already a trigger for me since my last trip to Queensland, when I mistakenly picked the standard 7kg max baggage allowance option without really understanding what the weight means in woman terms; henceforth initiating a personal quest to fit in every variable of clothing, beauty product, and accessory I might need for two days into my tiny case. Fortunately for me, my talent for being such a stickler for detail (AKA anxious), meant that my baggage did come in around the 6.99kg mark at its final weigh-in – something to do with wearing eight of my twelve outfits, I imagine. But then my sister foiled my plan by returning a book to me at the airport – the thickest fucking novel ever – and insisting that I take it home.

That weekend marked the start of new rules imposed by domestic airlines about hand luggage allowances and I was hauled over the coals publicly for being a few grammes over my allowance and forced to layer my last four outfits before they would allow me on board.

Not that I disapprove of the new laws. It used to get on my tits whenever passengers turned up with whole sets of suitcases as hand luggage.

But that’s why this time I was on guard. I took a large bag as opposed to a small suitcase – which weigh around 2.5kg before you put anything in them, ie. an entire outfit option including boots – and I started to pack my bag several days before I was leaving, safe in the knowledge that should I veer over my cheapskate limit, I could always leave my niece and sister’s gifts behind.

However, that didn’t stop me fretting and waking up at night to obsessively-compulsively re-measure the Borrower-sized quantities of my beauty products and re-weigh my bag. Stupid, really. I mean, it’s all a load of bollocks in the grand scheme of things, isn’t it? Because when I’m up there in the sky at the mercy of the elements, or birds – seagulls, I presume – that fly into the plane’s engines, Kamikaze-style – will whether I packed both sets of hair straighteners really make a difference to my chances of survival?

This Is How A Middle-Aged Couple With Anxiety Books A Holiday

There are certain undeniable factors when two people with anxiety get married. 1. There will be a lot of overthinking, and 2) We can talk ourselves out of pretty much anything.

Raising a cocktail toast in front of a beautiful beach.
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Such has been the marital soap opera created by my decision that we go on a proper holiday this year – a decision that has at times felt like having teeth pulled without anaesthetic underneath the maskless face of a caffeine-addicted dentist.

Every possible destination was considered during our intense negotiations – including some of the great ones suggested by some of you – until eventually we managed to narrow the choice down to three – once terrorism, risk of gastro, length of flight and language had been taken into consideration.

New Zealand, Vietnam and Hawaii.

Uncharacteristically generously, I gave the old man the final choice, and after much shaking of his head and chewing on his lip, he opted for New Zealand. Too easy, I thought (misguidedly), as I launched myself into another week of unpaid work in the form of research – even procuring the services of a lovely local tour company who created the most perfect itinerary for us (that didn’t include Christchurch, due to its earthquake issues), and just about squeezed into the budget.

And somewhat foolishly, I truly believed that the holiday was done and dusted when I handed the itinerary over to my husband, chomping on the bit to get started on broadcasting the news to my fellow anxious travellers and friends on Facebook that I hate on a little bit more each time I see them downing Tequilas on another beach.

Then the old man decided that New Zealand is too cold in October.

‘Okay…’ I replied, through gritted teeth.

‘Let’s brave Vietnam,’ he said, three Whiskies into a Friday night.

‘Are you sure?’ I asked.

‘Absolutely. It’s time to push ourselves out of our comfort zone,’ he lied, in what I now recognise was a very clever delaying tactic.

And so another intense week of research followed during which I pulled together a fantastic holiday that encompassed several days in Hanoi, a brief sejour in Sapa, and a week in Halong Bay. Indeed, so confident was I that Vietnam was our final destination, I had already checked out cooking courses, markets and hotels. But then I dropped into the conversation that the trip included an overnight train journey to Sapa…

‘What overnight train?’ the old man asked, a worried look on his face.

‘Relax,’ I said. ‘You get your own cabin and it only takes seven hours,’ I started to bluster as I tried to convince myself at the same time. ‘AND it will save us the cost of a night in a hotel.’

‘And there’s an overnight stay on a boat in Halong Bay, as well?’ he asked.

‘Maybe…’

‘On a boat?’

Needless to say, Vietnam was also quietly put on hold until we have earned our travel stripes, which left us Hawaii. However, too exhausted by this stage to think about it or to cope with the inevitable disappointment when my husband changed his mind AGAIN, I threw the ball in his court.

‘You bloody organise it,’ I said, passing him the gauntlet.

I picked the gauntlet back up a few days later and gave him a deadline of last weekend to book – otherwise all sorts of shit was going to go down in our place, I promised him, that amongst other things involved a 60/40 split of our accumulated wealth once we reached the divorce courts.

And, dear friends, we have booked a holiday, with only three months in between now and then to worry about what can possibly go wrong – ie. being approved for our visas, being forced to sleep in the same bed, driving on the wrong side of the road, whether we’re allergic to the pollen in Leis and if the timing of happy hour will work with nap time. So very soon I will be pissing you all off with my very own Photoshopped holiday snaps on my social media accounts of us topping up our Valium sipping Pina Coladas around our pool.

Is It Normal To Hate People Who Go On Exotic Holidays All The Time? Asking For A Friend

This is a follow on from my last post in which I discussed my chances of dragging my husband away on an exotic holiday this year. Thank you for the abundance of awesome recommendations (for anxious, middle-aged couples, with zero interests in common) that you kindly left on that post, and which have since been dissected, over-thought and (no doubt) put on the back burner until I force him to make a decision.

Image found on Pinterest from awakenmindset.com

I should point out that I have warned him that his refusal to commit is exactly the sort of thing that middle-aged couples divorce over, and in response he asked me when I am leaving.

I am not, by nature, a green-eyed monster, so I find this whole travel-envy thing to be quite peculiar. Indeed, I have always denied the impact of social media on my happiness – made easier in this case, I imagine, by our move to the other side of the world to a wonderful country that offers a wealth of different landscapes and natural beauty.

I was, (and still am), committed to the financial choices the old man we have made to semi-retire.

However, it does leave us with a very limited budget for holidays and lately I’ve started to get itchy feet, thanks to all of those inspirational memes about travel, adventures and growth that fill my FB home page, as well as the bunch of our friends that are starting to take advantage of their new empty-nester status and are therefore ALWAYS on fucking holiday.

So what’s changed? I suppose that when I entered this stage of my life I still had the arrogance of the European who feels like they’ve seen the world – when the reality is, I’ve visited a couple of European countries a lot of times. I may have lived in Europe for forty years, but I didn’t have the wisdom back then to make the most of what it had to offer.

Added to which, I came back from our last exotic trip to Bali in two minds about foreign holidays. I was pretty shaken up by the level of poverty – in what I had been led to believe was a paradise – hence, I spent much of our time there stressing about the families on scooters, food poisoning and feral dogswhich always made a beeline for me.

Unsurprisingly, our next holiday was to Forster.

I’m not certain what is behind this current attack of itchy feet. Is it an innate fear of time running out? Am I missing a diversity of culture that simply doesn’t exist on the Northern Beaches of Sydney? Or is it simply that I’m scared that I am cruising through life and getting boring?

While there are many benefits to working from home – the main one being that my desk is close to the fridge – one of the few downsides is that life can become very insular. And when you struggle from anxiety, the fact that you rarely have to leave the house can cultivate the problem.

Interestingly, when I think about my dream holiday, it isn’t about swanky hotels, exotic beaches or even two-for-one cocktails like it used to be – we have some pretty nice beaches here. No, the appeal is more linked to new experiences, new cultures, the challenge of pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and growth. It is about sharing those experiences with my soulmate – rather than the typical mundanities we share each week, like when the dog last went out for a poo.

Don’t get me wrong. I am very content to get comfortable in certain areas of middleage-dom. I wouldn’t trade flat shoes, nightly Netflix and separate bedrooms for anything! But I can’t ignore that little voice that keeps nagging me to keep on exploring.

Anxious, Middle-Aged Couple Seeks Ideas For Perfect Holiday

We’re in the early stages of marital negotiations about a possible holiday towards the end of the year. I’ve won the first round – as in the old man has finally agreed to leave Australia. However, where to go is proving more problematic.

Photo of The Big Banana at Coffs Harbour in Australia.

I am struggling to find that perfect holiday destination that offers an active, cultural experience, as well as decent resort facilities for the old man to hit a ball for most of the day. Good internet for easy access to golf and dog videos would also be a bonus.

Being a Cancer, his absolute favourite place in the whole world is obviously home – an insularity that appears to have deepened since he entered middle age – which means that I can almost see his balls shrivel up each time I bring up the idea of “new experiences”.

For him, a “new experience” is not picking the burger in a restaurant in this new, middle-aged stage of hyper-male grumpiness.

Both of us suffer from anxiety, hence the idea of simply hopping on a plane and going on an adventure is never going to happen. We need to overthink the fuck out of every minute of the two weeks that we will be away. We need to fill one suitcase with every legal medication we may need. We need to read hotel reviews and access world seismology reports to do a full risk assessment of where is safe.

Negotiating a foreign country and culture is a scary prospect, when you’re scared of your own shadow.

But whereas I refuse to give into my fear, the old man is quite comfortable to say no. And he has a point: this is the time in your life when you can and you should dig your heels in, if you feel that strongly about it.

The problem is, (as I keep reminding him), he is a married man, and our union comes with certain responsibilities – as in “in sickness and on holiday”. And since I have made two major trips back to the homeland by myself over the past couple of years, I think it’s time he took one for the team.

So, this is our brief. Ten days to two weeks in October to somewhere that won’t dent a massive hole in our dwindling savings and involves no more than a twelve-hour flight. We need the option to relax, as well as places to explore. Somewhere not too cold – because we’re pretty wussy when it comes to the cold after almost fourteen years in Oz – and it goes without saying that there can be no risk of coups, tsunamis, earthquakes or even food poisoning.

I have done my research, and come close to booking The Big Banana again!

Any ideas?

When You Travel Back To The Motherland And Feel Like A Tourist

When You Feel Like A Tourist In Your Own Country

Anybody who has migrated to another country will understand the conundrum of whether “home” will always be the place in which you were born or your adopted country.

At this stage of life – the old AF period just prior to death – the question can become all the more poignant with our tendency to become over- nostalgic.

The grass appears infinitely more lush in the company of family, old friends, Jelly Babies – not the green ones, obviously – and Earl Grey tea.

And it’s easy to fantasize and get carried away with how great everything is when you’re on holiday and everyone seems excited to see you and eager to catch up on your news.

It’s particularly easy in London at Christmas time, a city that morphs into the chocolate-box fantasy created in films like The Holiday and Love Actually, if you let your imagination run away from you.

Few countries do Christmas as well as the UK, and Brussel sprout-flavored crisps, decadent Advent calendars with drawers for gifts, mince pie cocktails, and pubs with real fires suck you right back into its charm quickly.

And yet, there have been changes in the country since my last visit.

Not that it should really come as any surprise to find that one’s home country has evolved at a similar pace to one’s adopted one – indeed, much faster when it comes to cities – but subtle changes can cause problems for the out-of-touch, middle-aged tourist, returning to the land of her birth. I refer to the need to remember that pounds do not equate to Aussie dollars, which was something I struggled with, in spite of the intense schooling provided by the old man for several weeks prior to my departure about the meaning of the word budget.

A number of times, I found myself breathing a sigh of relief at the cost of a round of drinks or a dinner out, only to remember later that I was paying in pounds, not Aussie dollars.

Admittedly, maths were never my strong suit at school – as was proven when I was hoisted up to top set maths for two weeks in Year 9, only to be dropped back down as quick as a hot potato when my teacher discovered that my new (and impressive) marks had less to do with any previously undiscovered talent and more to do with my access to the answers to our homework in the back of our textbook.

However, in spite of my struggle with basic mathematics – I remember that decimal points and percentages were particularly tiring – I still managed to achieve a first-class degree in spending money, a skill that I have since learned can be highly dangerous during trips to the motherland, in which the currency has become …well…a bit foreign. Added to which, I am not used to carrying cash in my purse – a rule instigated by the old man during Kurt’s pick-pocketing stage (which now has more to do with my husband’s micro-management of my problem) – which means that I struggle to fully understand its value.

It is very easy to convince yourself that you are richer than your husband has ever allowed you to believe when you add in the complication of a foreign currency that looks and feels as genuine as Monopoly money. And as pounds no longer feel “real” to me – particularly those I withdrew from the very generous overdraft facility of a dormant British bank account that (I hope) the old man has forgotten exists – I knew that I had to be careful with coins that resemble the old French franc and tiny bits and bobs of silver – that my father calls “shrapnel” – which frankly could be Italian Lire.

“Bits and bobs” was an example of cockney rhyming slang that Jeff Goldblum attempted to get to the bottom of during his jazz show at Cadogan Hall, which we saw whilst in London – Yass, darlink! Jeff was merely attempting to understand the meaning of expressions such as mince pies for eyes and apples and pears for stairs – obvious, really – and yet I found myself identifying with the expression each time I waded through the play money at the bottom of my purse in search of a tip for a cab or the 30p now charged for a pee in several of London’s larger train stations.

Such changes, along with Pret’s egg and cress sandwich, (stiff competition for the M & S version in my opinion), the choice of the medium or large servings of wine in pubs, dogs in pubs, and the 12.5% service charge, were only a couple of a succession of changes that had me feeling like a tourist in my own country at times, and at others, completely at “home.”

 

The Secret To Surviving Long-Haul Flights With Anxiety

colton-jones-561163-unsplashIt wasn’t quite the Love Actually airport moment that I had anticipated when I spotted the old man waiting for me at the wrong exit of Sydney airport after my latest grueling long-haul flight, and I wasn’t amused. 

It seems appropriate to compare the torture of such flights to being forced to a Republican Thanksgiving family gathering with an (as yet) undeclared same-sex partner and a cold sore. Jet-lag aside, perhaps the most daunting aspect of the ordeal is being forced to share one’s personal habits in a very small space with potentially four to five hundred strangers, any one of whom may:

  • Be carrying a potentially lethal virus.
  • Be a terrorist.
  • Have children.
  • Smell.

Small children are perhaps the biggest crime. I mean…WHY? Small children do not fare well when restrained for long periods of time – least of all by sleep-deprived parents that lose all lucidity and any sense of responsibility after the first eight hours – and they have a natural tendency to cry all the time when they are tired, when they can’t do or eat what they want, or when they don’t feel safe – a perhaps understandable reaction when every other passenger on the plane is eyeballing them with unsuppressed hatred.

A similar sense of helplessness is experienced by those of an anxious disposition; those who catastrophize every aspect of their life, but particularly the daunting unpredictability of being locked in an aircraft over a long period of time. It has been found that poor control in connection with the obvious threat of crashing, certain death, and becoming the main course for the posse of tiger sharks waiting in the waters beneath them is typically the trigger for such anxiety, although there are several others associated with traveling in such a non-sensical mode of transport.

These are:

Will they make their connection?

Will there be space directly above their seat for their carry-on luggage, or will they be forced to ask a stranger to lift it down for them in that panic of disembarkation when it is imperative for everyone to get off the plane immediately?

Will their cabin stewards hate them and lie about there only being the fish left when they want chicken?

Will the passenger next to them have Spanish influenza or Bird flu?

Will they talk, snore or dribble in their sleep?

Will they be able to work out the door handle to the toilet or be forced to test their bladder control in the most public of places?

Should they eat the bean and pasta starter and risk embarrassing wind issues that have nothing to do with the Gulf stream?

And if they do succumb to diarrhoea, what are their strategies for minimal embarrassment. Do they, a) push their way to the front of the toilet queue? b) Stew quietly in their own poo? or c) kill themselves?

Fortunately for you, I have survived this type of trip more times than I care to remember, and so, as the holiday season looms, I share with you my curated list of tips for getting through what can only be described as a hell greater than eating a dodgy oyster:

  1. Wet wipes – Never underestimate the multi-faceted powers of the wet wipe. If you thought their sole purpose was to wipe spag bol off the faces of kids, you’ve never been on a long-haul flight. From spilled food and make-up removal to VERY personal hygiene – are you with me, menopausal women? – these handy little towels have saved my life more times that I can remember.
  2. Jumper – Don’t make the mistake of boarding a plane in a hot country and assuming that you will stay warm. Airplanes are colder than Westeros in winter and airline blankets are thinner than the new Apple MacBook Air. Survival rule number 1: locate all air con nozzles directed at your seat and disarm immediately.
  3. Select your seat carefully – because…children and toilets. When flying solo, I like to pick an aisle seat in a three-seat row, leaving a space next to me.  If the plane is fairly empty, sniff out the terrain for rows of empty seats as soon as all passengers have embarked. But be quick, Australians are as nifty as Germans and sun beds when it comes to seat appropriation.
  4. Headphones – Forget the ones provided by the airline, which wouldn’t block out a silent fart from the pilot. Invest in a decent pair of noise cancellers so that you can hear every word of that Middle Eastern film you selected by mistake before your touch screen stopped working.
  5. Drink wine with every meal, even breakfast. A long-haul flight is an excuse to get pissed at any time of the day because no one knows what the fuck the real time is anyway.
  6. Avoid all eye contact. You do not want to make friends with anyone who is going to see the state of your sorry arse after fifteen hours of sleep deprivation and an excess of cheap Sav Blanc.
  7. Medication – take whatever works for you. Nothing so strong that it incapacitates you in an emergency – meaning that mothers and kids get off first – but strong enough to ensure it sends you to sleep singing The White Cliffs of Dover.

You’re welcome!