How I Traveled for 30 Hours Straight and Didn’t Become a Monster

Somehow, someway, my new husband and I traveled for 30 hours together on 1 bus, 3 flights, and 1 car ride and did not kill each other. We did eat McDonald’s outside of the Ho Chi Minh City airport. Maybe that helped? All the grease could have blocked the anger reflexes in our brains. 

I’ll be real. The trip to Asia 3 weeks ago did not go well. We landed in Tokyo and soon realized I had screwed up. I had booked the convenient hotel—the one adjacent to the airport—for the previous night. In other words, the night we had spent on the plane. Our reservation for the day we actually arrived was located in the city, a 40-minute drive from the airport. After it dawned on me that we would have to navigate the convoluted Tokyo metro system on top of our exhaustion, it wasn’t pretty. Poor Joe.

So for the flight back, I was determined to redeem myself. But how would I manage, when the return trip was twice as long?

I decided to use the “bird by bird” approach, taken from Anne Lamott’s book of the same title. In the book, she mentions a school project on birds that her older brother was struggling with when he was 10 years old. Her father’s advice was to take it “bird by bird.” One step at a time. As far as writing advice goes, this is top notch. Turns out it is also useful travel advice.

In order to arrive home to see our wrinkled goofball—our pit bull named Ruby—and also finally to be able to drink tap water, we needed to survive 4 legs. The first was to check out of our resort at noon (they denied us a late check out) and to occupy ourselves until the airport shuttle bus departed at 3:20 p.m. The second was to fly from Phu Quoc island in the south of Vietnam to Ho Chi Minh City, and wait at the airport for 3 hours until our flight to Tokyo left at 11:00 p.m. (and then sit on a 6-hour flight). The third was to wait in the Tokyo airport for another 4 hours until we boarded a 12-hour flight to Washington, D.C. We would then be picked up at the airport with our dog in tow. 

All of this together sounds like a nightmare. But when taken as individual steps, it wasn’t bad. Bird by bird, flight by flight.

During each leg, I asked myself what could make it a little better. While we waited at the resort, wearied of the sparkling pool and ocean view, we decided to hop on our rented motorbike and order pizza at a well-rated restaurant nearby. The food was surprisingly delicious, and the distraction made the hours go by quickly.

On the second leg, food improved our lives again when we enjoyed McDonald’s for the first time in Asia at the Ho Chi Minh airport. (We slightly regretted it later, but that’s beside the point). Also, we uncovered an empty room in the airport with a television playing The Avengers without sound, and passed the time making up our own script. 

Then we arrived at the Tokyo airport, and I had brought a full change of clothes and a toiletry bag. Because I’m a genius. I took time changing in a dressing room thoughtfully provided by the Japanese—go figure. The Japanese think of everything. I brushed my teeth, combed my hair, re-applied deodorant, and afterward nearly felt like a new person.

I felt a little better. That’s all I wanted.

On the long flight, I got up to stretch any time I thought about it. Or when my skin started drying out, instead of simply ruminating on it and growing grumpy, I took down the bag from the overhead compartment and applied lotion. Or when I felt thirsty, I walked to the back of the plane and asked the attendant for water. Or when there was one man at the end of a row of 4 seats next to me, and I worried that it might be rude of me to lie down, I asked him if it was OK. He said fine, and I slept for 5 more hours than I otherwise would have. I felt a little better.

And at no time during the trip did I turn into a werewolf or an ogre. I remained fully human, to Joe’s relief. Honestly, I felt fine when we landed.

Maybe this was a lesson in self care. As I sink into not having a job, adjusting to a brand new schedule that is a bit overwhelming, I can think back to this day. The 30 hours of travel helped by a dab of lotion, a drink of water, and a bite of fast food.

Until next time,

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