Friday, 14 March 2014

An extraordinary friendship that spans continents

When I was 16 I had the misfortune of having my appendix removed in Vietnam. The unexpected side effect of the surgery was an unusual friendship that has now lasted longer than a decade and spans continents.

The trip I was on at the time that my appendix decided to stop behaving and earn the attention it had always craved was organised through school. As well as a group of my peers, two teachers accompanied us on the jaunt and one of those was my English teacher, who stayed with me in hospital throughout the surgery and my recovery.

It is amazing how such an experience cements a relationship and at the time we agreed we would have to be friends forever. The days were spent answering quiz questions from the Weakest Link quiz book and drinking juice made from the most exotic fruits imaginable.

So far we have remained true to our promise and despite no longer living in the UK, I consider my former English teacher among my dearest friends. This is why my forthcoming trip to Malaysia is such a special one, as it is an opportunity to spend some quality time with Ms O'Farrell talking at 100-miles-per-hour and keeping that promise alive.

You see Ginnie (we dispensed with the formalities a long time ago) now lives in Penang and I will spend the first week of my holiday staying with her and her family. As well as an opportunity to explore what is said to be a fascinating location and one that is well tipped by the experts at present, it will be a proper catch-up session.

Since those days in the early noughties in the North East of England, Ginnie has lived in El Salvador, Istanbul and now Penang, raising her daughter. Apart from a trip to Turkey to visit her several years ago, our friendship has survived on annual visits that last half a day and the exchange of Christmas cards.

The chance to spend hours talking about books, writing, travel and all the things that mean 12 years down the line we keep in touch is one that I am relishing. And that is why this trip to Malaysia means so much to me.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Preparing to pack

It is something of a Dodd tradition to start packing for a trip well in advance. It usually starts several weeks prior to departure with items being laid out on the spare bed. Over the course of the next few weeks more and more clothes, chargers, suntan cream and the rest get added until eventually everything you can possibly think of is laid out.

My dad did this back in February before he and my mum set off for Vietnam and everything was packed up and in his backpack four days before they were due to leave. They hadn't thought to find out what their Skype password is (having not used it for a year), but that's another story.

While we all mocked my dad at being overly organised, I have to confess that I indulge in the same activity before I go away. So about a week ago I started to lay out all my bits and pieces, slowly adding to it as I thought of things.

I tried to encourage my other half to adopt the same approach when he was preparing to head off to South America a couple of years ago. But alas, Healys are not Dodds and simply do not work in the same way. After a week of encouraging him to put everything he would need on the spare bed I went in two days before departure and there were three pairs of underpants and a toothbrush.

But I digress. So with a week to go until I set off for Malaysia the pile on the sofa bed in the spare room is getting larger. It is a while since I have done a trip such as this one, so I am trying to remember exactly what I will need. I have treated myself to new walking shoes and a lightweight jacket, as well as the usual holiday paraphernalia of flop flips and sun cream.

My sister (once a Dodd, now a Dixon) jokes that I pack so lightly that I don't even take a towel and this is true. Towels are large unwieldy items that are simply not suited for travel. They take up far too much room and too much water, meaning they are never dry by the time you wish to leave. I always take a sarong - big enough to wrap me up in my entirety and tries in a fraction of the time - in my mind it's a no-brainer.

You see I like to have all the bases covered, but hate carrying a huge bag. Over the years I have found that the most annoying thing when travelling is to have too much luggage. It makes it difficult when moving on, tires you out in the heat and impedes your flexibility. Instead of being able to jump on a local bus with a little backpack, you need to get a taxi or another form of transport.

It is unusual to feel the same level of frustration at not having an item as the one I get when I am carrying around something that I haven't used. If I take a backpack that is too big, there are simply items at the bottom that never see the light of day.

This is why the stage of my packing process before putting everything into my backpack is whittling down what I need. After a week and a half of gathering things together I can look at them on the bed and systematically work through them deciding what is truly necessary. I can also cross reference items of clothing, working out which ones can multitask and therefore make others superfluous to requirements.

It is in this way that I will whittle down my luggage to the minimum and hopefully achieve my aim of taking only hand baggage on my trip to Malaysia. This will cut down on the time spent hanging around at the airport and that agonising moment when you are stood next to the luggage carousel and there are no more bags coming and you still haven't got yours.

This feeling of unease is only heightened when you are travelling on your own and therefore have no companion with whom to share clothes while the airline attempt to track yours down. For the first three days of my solo adventure in Croatia some years ago, I had only the emergency essentials the airline deigned to give me and the clothes I stood up in.

The essentials pack from Alitalia included a one-size-fits-all tent - sorry I mean T-shirt - some slippers and an interesting selection of cosmetics and feminine hygiene products. I now know that if I do check a bag in, then a change of clothes strategically placed in the hand luggage is an absolute necessity. Nobody wants to be wearing bargain basement Croatian multipack pants for the first three days of their holiday!

So the question is this - will I have struck the perfect balance of bringing just what I need and no more? Or will I find myself desperately missing something I should have packed while another item languishes at the bottom of my backpack? Fingers cross it's not the latter!