In a former life (the one where I exhausted myself daily, suppressing my fear of everyone and everything to present what I thought was a cool and carefree exterior), (for full disclosure, I still exhaust myself with my fear of everyone and everything, I just no longer suppress it), I had the opportunity to go on an adventure that called my bluff on how cool and carefree I really was. A friend, along with a host of people I didn’t know, were going to Turkey for three weeks. I was invited to join them. Alas, I could only get two of the weeks off work. As it turned out, one of the guys in the group was in the same situation. So – because I was cool and carefree – I said;
‘Hey, Stranger, let’s grab a plane together, rock on over to Turkey and meet them there’.
And that’s what we did.
I had just started seeing someone and thought it completely appropriate to ask him for a lift to the airport, so that I could fulfil the plan to grab a plane with the Strange Man and rock on over to Turkey for a fortnight in the sun without him. Unbelievably, he agreed.
Let me just put a spotlight on how out of my depth and comfort zone I was; this was only the third time I’d ever been abroad, I was all but 30. The previous occasions were school trips. This was only the second time I’d ever flown anywhere and, given the previous sentence, it was my first flight as an adult. I had NO IDEA how airports and the activity of boarding a plane worked. I don’t remember ANY details from my teenage flying experience, so had nothing to draw from. I was in over my head and – stay tuned – this was the easy leg.
I met up with the aforementioned Stranger and luckily he was a Bonafide Adult, so we navigated the airport and its system like pros.
As per my childhood flight, I have no recollection of this one whatsoever. When we landed, I think I gave a man some money. It may have been for a visa. It may have been a bribe. I was so inwardly terrified, that I was now dangerously open to manipulation and totally reliant on the goodness and kindness of others.
Now that we had arrived in our destined country, all we had to do was meet with the rest of the group.
We had to find them first.
There are some crucial cultural and historic details needed here. This trip happened before mobile phones were mainstream. I was still two years away from sending my first ever email. All communication was done by landline, letters, and in this case, hand-drawn maps. We had the name of a town and instructions to head to the Tourist Information kiosk which was near a bar. The bar would provide liquid entertainment for the others as they waited for an indeterminable amount of time for our arrival.
Meanwhile, over a hundred miles away, I was attempting to harness my inner nomad, in the company of a guy I’d only known for about five hours, conversing with people who didn’t speak my language, in a bid to ascertain what transport would take us to our meeting point.
Against all odds, we found a bus that would do just that.
The rest of the trip was incredible. Thanks to the ‘insider’ element of some of our group, we paid Turkish prices, not Tourist prices. We travelled and stayed in different locations, including five days at sea. The two weeks flew by and all too soon it was time to go home.
For the others that is.
You see, as we’d all booked our flights independently, our returns were unavoidably staggered. And guess who was the last to leave?
Not only was I the last man standing, I was the last man standing for the last night on her own!
By this point we were in a cute little Turkish run B&B. I was assured I’d be safe. A taxi was arranged to take me to the airport in the morning. All I had to do was entertain myself for a few hours, eat, sleep, pack, pay my bill, wait for taxi.
I braved an evening walk to the town’s market to kill some time and get used to the idea I was ON MY OWN IN A FOREIGN LAND.
Morning rolled round and the taxi turned up as planned. Being on my own in a taxi is nerve-wracking enough for me, but this took it to another level. The language barrier didn’t help, but I’d bought a mostly English-printed newspaper to give me something to do and help give off that ‘Yeah, I’m relaxed, I travel in Turkish taxis all the time. Boring.’ vibe.
I side-eyed the road signs as we travelled, confirming we were heading to the airport. Thankfully the symbol for ‘aeroplane’ is fairly universal.
And then we were no longer heading for the airport. We were turning off the main roads and going most definitely off the beaten track. A shortcut? I wasn’t sure what to do. Should I say something? I was promised I was safe, this taxi driver was well-known to our hosts. Even if I could cohere any words, my heart pumping in my mouth would’ve made it impossible to speak.
The driver got out and went into a house.
I contemplated running. But then what?
Sit tight, Lockwood. Play it cool. There’ll be a perfectly logical explanation.
Damn. Unable to think of a perfectly logical explanation.
The door of the house opened and the driver reappeared.
He was heading back to the taxi. I concentrated on the blurred words of my newspaper.
He was laughing and waving his arm at me as he got back in the car. What was he holding? A wallet?
A WALLET! THIS WAS HIS HOUSE AND HE’D FORGOTTEN HIS BLOODY WALLET!
I nearly smacked him round the head.
I smiled, wryly, and swallowed my heart. And my stomach. And the imagined next day’s headlines.
We set off again, and as the airport loomed into view, I relaxed having cleared another hurdle.
The only thing I recall from the return journey was of a kind traveller guiding me through the airport process. She had a lot of luggage and, in gratitude, I offered to give her a hand. Thankfully, she was one of the good ones and educated little naive me to NEVER offer to carry someone else’s luggage in an airport. The pennies fell into place and I apologised for being so helpful and stupid. A security dog came and sniffed my bag. Thankfully fear smells different to cocaine, so I was let be.
I arrived back in England with no memory of the flight or the process. The next time I was to get on a plane was two years later. That return trip was ‘The Big One’, and my last.
Or so I thought.
We have just booked and paid for flights for a short break in the Autumn. It is a very big deal. But I’m trying to take the power out of the fear by talking about it. All the chuffin’ time.
I shall leave you with some of the lessons I learnt on my Turkish Adventure;
- I’m seldom cool or carefree.
- The stars go all the way to the horizon.
- There are flying fish in the Aegean Sea.
- I read newspapers upside down when I’m nervous.
- I lived.
Thankyou so much for reading and joining me on this little excursion. If you’re up for more tales of this ilk, I’d love you to visit The Lockwood Echo’s Travel Section. Dip your toes in anywhere. The sea is warm and the sand is cool. Beachside cocktails two-for-one on Wednesdays.
You can also find me on Twitter, where I ……. errr ……. twitter.