My hands smell of (free) salt and vinegar chips as I type away from within the Atlanta airport lounge. I am en route to Athens for the next three months, and I'm happy that my anxiety has finally converted itself into pure excitement.Read More
This is a two-pronged post - conceptual and practical - so before you hate on cats, read the first half and reap the benefits. This week officially marked my sixth month living in New York City. Spending $100+ on shipping boxes was a cost I happily incurred, in the moment and in hindsight. Transporting little things on quick trips home was a breeze, especially since I've already weeded through and prioritized my material things in life. But the last step in this transition and relocation was the transportation of my 10 year-old feline, Alli.
Owning a cat at this stage in the game is one of the few things that goes against my potential nomadic ease. Three years of college in dorms and sorority houses weren't conducive to hosting her, and post-college travels only had me in her vicinity for 49% of that time. For nearly ten years, my parents were wildly flexible and tolerant to house my shedding ball of love. And when the decision to move to New York called for a serious analysis of my pet ownership, I was overwhelmed at the extent to which I couldn't live without her.
We suburban Midwestern gals tend to grow painfully attached to our household animals, and I assume this touches on a maternal reaction to a dependent's reliance, which we embrace with fervor. We hear and respond to 'the call' - whether it's directed at us or not - to serve other beings. And it hits us with a glee/glum one-two punch; the latter only for the inevitable life choices or threat of loss an invested pet owner must face.
Though I find it a ridiculous debate and one that deserve zero airtime in any arena, I know not everyone enjoys cats, hearing about cats, justifying the existence of cats, etc. And though I am scribing and cutting video with those feline travelers in mind, Alli has been an obstacle to one half of my lifestyle and a beloved necessity to the other.
Dare I say we all have similar parallels?
I know a man named Jase who could easily steal the "Most Interesting Man in the World" title away from the bearded Dos Equis gent. Though I'm not completely clued in to the inner workings of his life, it appears he has very few factors hindering him from living the life he does: one of unconventional exploration. When he's not driving across continents, he's bartending for first class flyers. Jase is one of the few people I know that can actually live a nomadic existence without a desire for the opposite. He's the exception.
As my dad likes to diagnose, I have a tendency to be a contrarian, not only in the sense that I follow an unconventional job path but that I lean toward what's underrepresented in any sphere. I was a grungy nomad with a Blackberry, a sorority girl in art school. I summon a Devil's advocate response to any topic, but I don't put on black lipstick and call myself a nonconformist. These aren't conscious decisions. I keep my emotional eggs scattered in many different lifestyle baskets, to stay balanced and maintain the ability to relate to diverse people. My cat acts as my personal weight toward a more stationary and conventional path, for which I do have lingering desires. And I think most of us do, if not for that then something else.
Individually, we all tend to dabble, desire what we don't have, and wish to do it all. If you live a committed and routine life, you probably have the occasional hunger for wildly-dangerous spontaneity. And I've met plenty of travelers who can't silence the impulse to nest. Had I given Alli away in the move, I would have lost the sometimes necessary 'ball and chain', not to mention something I love. And had I merely left Alli where she was in Indiana, my move would have seemed an uneasy balance of two lifestyles: a nest with a false bottom or a trip that lasted too long. I desire a lifestyle that doesn't overindulge or invest in one way but moderates with many, because things change quickly and constantly.
Never letting the dust settle doesn't necessarily mean movement. It means variety. It means evolution. I'm not dedicated to being a nomad or a cat-wielding spinster, I'm just open to being influenced by the things, beings, and experiences that matter to me over time.
Guide to Flying Stateside with a Carry-On Cat
For those of you who don't like cats, stop reading. This is the practical part where I cringe over the amount of bad websites on this topic in existence and my subsequent call to make my own wee guide. This being a strenuous experience for human and feline alike, the only thing that will make you feel more comforted and secure is preparation. Don't take this situation lightly. The following relates specifically to flying with Delta, but most airlines will require some variation of these steps. And obviously, these were my steps, but everyone has differing opinions over big or tiny details. Ask your vet for reassurance.
When booking your ticket, ask to reserve a spot for your cat as a carry-on in the cabin. Each seating area only allows a certain number of animals on a flight. Do yourself and kitty a favor and book a non-stop.
Flying across state lines is surprisingly a Department of Agriculture issue. Research what is required of the destination state in terms of pet inoculations and documentation. Frequent your veterinarian to receive a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (or a health certificate), and expect to pay $30+ for these pieces of paper along with any necessary shots (often rabies). These are only valid within 10 days of travel, so schedule this visit a couple days before the flight.
Purchase a soft kennel to ensure its fit under the seat in front of you. I dug into the airline's website to find out the specific model of airplane I was flying and the measurements of the foot storage. First shopping online makes finding specific measurements and reviews easier than at a physical store, but before I bought the kennel, I had my cat 'try it on for size' at the store. Some may frown on that. I smiled at it. After purchase, stick one of the health certificate carbon copies in the kennel pocket.
Leave the kennel out for a couple days prior - to make travel less of a shock and give kitty more time to familiarize with her carrier. I lined the bottom with an old mat that she recognized, along with a maxi pad to make me feel a little better about potential accidents. Packed in my other carry-on were additional mats and pads, along with food and a copy of the health certificate.
Arrive 90 minutes early for check-in, pay your animal carry-on fee, and to ensure getting the best seating arrangement. Having an empty seat beside you is optimal. And make sure you pass through security during a lull. One TSA agent asked me if I wanted do the screening in a closed room, in case she breaks loose. I felt confident I could hold onto her and take her through the metal detector. At these low traffic times, someone should be able to help you return the cat into the kennel, if that's usually a struggle. Thankfully, Indianapolis' TSA agents are wonderful people.
When at the gate, appeal to the attendant (if you haven't already at check-in) to make sure your seating situation is that which will provide the least amount of discomfort for fellow travelers.
Take-off and landing are both awful, because kitty will be hyperventilating and without your assurance that everything is okay. During the flight, put the kennel in your lap, make sure enough air is hitting her, and insert your arm through the flap to hold her close to you, petting the entire time. This works for my cat, who clings to me at the vet's office. And don't be surprised if she slobbers excessively. Mine wouldn't accept any water or food.
Upon disembarking, be prepared for someone to pull you aside to inquire about your cat's health certificate. Though no one asked for mine, I think we'd all rather pay $30+ for nothing than get pulled in by the USDA.
Once at the final destination, make sure before the cat is let free that she knows where to find her water, food, and litter box. I recommend trying to maintain as much continuity as possible from her pre-flight norms - litter brands, food type, bowls, comfort toys or blankets. My cat needed a serious wipe-down out of the kennel, as she urinated a tad and slobbered her mat damp. Post-travels, it will take a while for kitty to feel comfortable and recovered from the traumatic experience. Thankfully, it's all over now.
Kitty ended up having to relocate back to Indianapolis because I got another traveling gig. On this leg, I consulted with a vet about giving her a mild sedative, which she took right before leaving for the airport. We tested the drug on her a couple nights prior, and it hit her like a brick within 20 minutes. Unfortunately, when it came to flying time, the pill didn't dissolved quickly, and its effects hit her five hours later back at home, swerving like a drunken sailor.
Crush up any sedative you give your cat into soft food she will easily digest. Test this practice a couple nights prior and make sure she has supervision the entire time. She will try to jump, and she will not be coordinated enough to succeed.
The following rant was produced during a final purging session in the Honolulu airport. These are quite raw thoughts from a mind coming down from a solo RTW at a very early and confused age... It's been far too easy to accept being around people I know, spending money that's not mine in amounts unjustified, sleeping on mattresses and wearing clean clothes, letting someone else fend for my safety and entertainment, letting myself forget about what I just did. I was so anxious to get off the plane in Maui and see people who would release so many burdens for me and make me finally feel comfortable. I received the treatment that comes with money at no cost to me. And I had the luxury of ears that would listen to my stories, and my mouth wouldn't stop. I wanted to pull out every shirt and bag of tea I bought to display, telling stories of their capture and the game I had to play to pay the right price.
We immediately went into recovery mode, sending me to the spa to cleanse my craggy face. Laying in that perfect bed with someone treating my face to sublime perfection only had me adding the costs and realizing I was spending so many families' yearly incomes on something for myself…that I could do to myself.
I came to the realization that the world is not fair, and I was born in a prosperous and privileged society. I cannot be mad at that. I cannot be mad that people don't know what's out there when it's so hard to penetrate that bubble around America and find the truth of billions of lives. The greenbacks have so little value here, though I was spending them with no problems in worlds that treasured their worth like golden tickets.
And I was once a spectacle with my white skin, my fine hair, a massive German-built backpack and real trekking shoes. I had to hide the location where I stashed my $1 bills and never pulled out my phone unless I could hide it in a corner or feel the comfort of a two-star hotel. I stare at the shoulder of the road, in awe of the space available, and wish there were snack, merchandise, and restaurant stands where I could spend my cents on a cultural gem.
I'm still among oceans and volcanoes, neon sunsets and an international crowd, so I imagine something profound will hit me when I return home to a bleak and misty hometown. I'll be wearing scarves to shield low temperatures instead of covering my shoulders for temples or my hair in Muslim cultures. A coat will be worn more often than a t-shirt, and I'll have a choice of clothing that will make the matter between my ears ache. I'll be tempted by and probably often succumb to the vices of alcohol and club nights more than I will sleep on public transportation and pull out my camera.
I never have to change money. I will have vast quantities of shampoo, conditioner, lotion, soap, hot water, clean water, make-up, light, clean towels, towels with any nip at all, floor surfaces that don't stick or require flip-flops, clean sheets, mattresses with springs and without stains, AC blowing from all angles, air that doesn't have the hint of watered down urine, and I could go on.
There are postcards available through Dragoman Overland that showcase posed pictures of people making the rough transition back home from their overlanding experiences..men squatting in their manicured front lawns while reading the Times and using toilet paper that hovers from an isolated wire…or a person prepared with fork and knife looking at the live guinea pig in front of them, unsure of where to go from here. I plan on being confused again for a long time, and hopefully this time around I will combine that feeling with a little more happiness.
I know that traveling is something that challenges me like a social, gastronomic, survival, monetary, cultural, geographic game of strategy, but I yearn for something other than what I can do for myself. I have taken to heart the advice of a selected few I met on the trail, and whether they were reliable sources of wisdom, I believe there was a fated reason I heard those words trickle from their lips. From their knowledge, I have learned that I think too much, that my imagination has stood in the way of my realized life, and that maybe…I am not happy.
That last statement hurt me the most.
How is it possible to be successful at motivating others, pulsing life into parties, making others and yourself laugh, and listening to your inner most desires without honestly knowing whether happiness is something you truly possess. I have family and some friends that complete my heart's need for company and love, and I have the ability to do things only a tiny fraction of the world's population can share with me. How can I live with an Italian family, cost free, weekend at a Tuscan villa, drink top notch Limoncello, and slice through the world's best pizza without feeling the satisfaction the majority of the world would treasure? I cried at their lunch table because they told me I was unhappy. I started asking people I didn't know if they could sense my Happy Meter.
There could be some merit in the fact that I've done something so magnificent that, now, the thing I want to do the most is what is normally expected of me, at this age, in this culture, in this family, and in this millennium.
It is so important to me to stay in touch with the most primitive side of myself, peeing in the grass, drinking river water, grabbing soil and sleeping undisturbed with the crickets, but I have such a problem following suit in the effort to find the other half that humans have decided is necessary. I've grown so much. I know this has to be true. I've learned recipes and have talked to people in historic societies. I've had a distant perspective on a huge event in my own country and seen how the world reacts to our words. I've been secluded from people who think like me and have found a hidden sense of nationalism that never existed in the consciousness before. I've been without my crutches and my companions for so long that I've become a ready-to-punch, survival-minded Neanderthal that talks to itself for amusement.
This is my mind on overpriced beer, teetering on the edge of a big life landmark. I just traveled around the world and am boarding my 22nd plane of the year. I've maxed out a persons allotted superlatives at the age of 23, and I could brag, I am compelled to unknowingly brag, but I don't want to. I want to seal my lips and hold those thoughts inside. I want to write a novel of secrets and leave the publication the gift of surprise on those I know. So the trip has come to a close. I feel like the world around me should be fuzzy…give me another beer and I think that could happen.
This is a piece I will read at a later date, edit and add to, and suck on like a sweet nostalgic candy. This is a big moment in my life. 203 days of scouring the Earth for happiness and the meaning of life. It was a noble quest that makes me pretend to believe I connect with the greats of history. And now I wish to relate to the greats of my radio, my toted books, the personas on the screens, the withered wrinkles of a past generation I admire. The only thing that matters at this point of time is the word behind the cursor.
I want to make money in some way. I wish I could paint and write and sing dollars into my account while enlightening others to Van Gogh their lives instantly. I'll set such goals lofty high in order to give my life meaning I can be proud of. However, what is very likely is that I will get a job that sets me in a nice place and find myself a few years down the line reminiscing too much about a trip I took one year.
My hope and rock lies in the fact that I've had this thought before, and I squashed it by the conception of my Big Journey. I became a nomad after dreaming about being one. I had a highlight that depressed me, knowing it would soon be in my wake. But a new highlight bubbled into my biography, and I made it happen with desire, dollars, and the knowledge that it was envied. I used to have so much confidence in the person that was myself, that I had never let go of my values, even when they changed, and let the microphone of my consciousness' decisions always resonate the voice of my being…but now I think I am more complicated than I ever let myself acknowledge. I want someone to probe me for information that uncovers layers I've never allowed the light of day. Maybe that's the information that tingles when I have epiphanies, when the broom sweeps the matter I keep piling for comfort and leaves me to feel the rush of wind that combines with a peaceful moment.
I hope that even an ounce of this purge is true. I cannot truly be confident in that fact anymore. I'm just following the ranks of Mrs. Dalloway. Today I wondered why the shuttle driver was so chatty. You ask one question and they ramble like they're the prime time attraction on the latest late night show. And then it came to me, from my father's knowing mouth…they want a tip. Blasted!
America! I forgot your sneaky ways! Welcome home, me. Enjoy your cat. She probably hates you. Begin your life as it was predicted to be. But keep your new knowledge close by. And go pee for Pete's sake! You've had a liter already!
And with this, my Big Journey comes to a close.
Individual TVs with touch screen features, jam-packed with the latest Hollywood hits. A Thai meal paired with real silverware, a cloth napkin matching the pattern of the place mat, and true customer satisfaction. I just described the experience of flying with an Indian airline. Surprised? My eyes were slathered with awe once I left the Kolkata airport, having not seen high quality anything since coffee hour in Qatar. I flew Jet Airways. My standards for air travel are now exponentially higher. I wandered the new Bangkok airport. I now know the super-human extent of modern architecture. I walked onto the tarmac at the Siem Reap airport in Cambodia. I could smell rain and the pure air of a tropical haven. I finally remembered what air could smell like. I was officially out of India.
Rain. Rain! Warm rain that recalls the vast memories of beach vacations on Caribbean islands. I looked for the ocean, knowing we were hundreds of miles from one. It was astonishing, the amount of water the air could hold, and all of it was fresh and without evidence of trash or dung-fueled bonfires. Though I've never used an oxygen tank, I imagine the sensation is something like what I felt in my lungs as I descended the stairs of the plane: wet velvet coating the tubes and filling all alveoli with down feathers, without the supposed suffocation side-effects.
I smiled as my shoestrings licked the tropical rain puddles. The sounds of the engine were muted by the winds. My country count ticker clicked: 39.
Life returned to being slow and understandable. It was without any trouble at all that I found a taxi driver whom would not only charge a reasonable cost but didn't exude a shady air, openly chatted about Khmer culture, and drove me around town in search of a suitable guesthouse within my limited budget.
Five star hotels rocketed out of the earth on all sides, and my eyes flickered with the light of a dreamer. This place was nice. This place was clean! I would have gladly walked barefoot or had dinner on the curb of the main thoroughfare. Rith, my new friend, laughed and continued to navigate the flooded streets without a blink, follow the rules of the road, and go the speed limit. Heck, there were speed limits again!
Rith (which is pronounced in no way like it appears) took care to inquire at each guesthouse for vacancies and keep looking when the inn turned me away. Once an open room revealed itself, he remained on the ground level to make sure I was satisfied then gave me his card for future service and parted into the night. The glistening teeth of his smile as he left reminded me; the unprovoked smiles from Africa were back. The Midwestern girl in my nomadic shell rejoiced.
There was a moment before I left my room in Darjeeling, when my bag was packed and strapped to my resting frame, that I took a deep breath and realized the transit days ahead of me. I knew I wouldn't be comfortable until my room in Siem Reap materialized and my proximity offered chances for Angkor temple explorations. Flopping my bag onto the floor and landing on one of my two queen sized beds covered in comfortable bedding, that moment reoccurred to me. A deep sigh left my unburdened being, signifying the other bookend to the journey between. I was finally put.