This week, Nadia El-Awady talks packing strategies, plane seating strategies, marital travelling strategies, and testing plane ventilation systems through farting.
Sometimes inspiration comes to me like diarrhea: “Quick, I need a computer! Quick! I can’t hold it in anymore!” Then I get hold of a computer and suddenly a lot of shit explodes on the screen. This is exactly how the following post came about.
It’s time for me to go visit my Scottish khawaga husband in the UK. Packing for this particular visit has been a challenge. Actually, packing for me has always been a challenge. I have a tendency to over-pack. No matter how short the trip is, I find myself thinking: “But what if I suddenly need to go hiking on this business trip? I’d better bring my hiking boots with me just in case.” Or, “What if I’m on the plane watching a movie and it’s so funny that I pee in my pants? I’d better bring an extra pair of jeans with me in my hand baggage.”
I’m the woman in London’s King’s Cross station pulling so much heavy luggage around with her that several men will stop to help me carry it all up and down the staircases. Yes, it’s a cunning ploy of mine to lure cute men. I put on a great damsel in distress look.
I’m also a travel shopper like any proper Egyptian woman is. The only way I differ from most Egyptian women is the amount of time I need for shopping. I don’t need to go into 101 shops to find out if they have what I want. I can smell what I want from quite a distance away. I follow the smell until I reach the right shop and get it all over with in a jiffy. This does not mean in any way that I don’t buy much. I do. Sometimes I don’t buy a large quantity of things but I buy a small amount of huge things. I went through a rug phase, for example. You just try going to countries like Turkey and Morocco and not come back with several beautiful rugs for your house! It’s impossible! When I know I’m going to buy things like rugs, I do my best to travel lightly on the way there to make space for my booty on the way back. I’m not always successful. I sometimes end up paying for extra weight. Sometimes I buy things you can’t possibly pack in a suitcase. I remember boarding a plane in Morocco several years ago with a huge antique mirror in my arms from Marrakech. The flight attendants had to stow it away in their hidden closet for the special stuff. Another time on my way home from Damascus, Syria, I had an actual table in my arms. You know those hand-made carved wooden tables with inlaid mother-of-pearl? How could I resist?? I had no idea how I’d manage to get it back to Egypt when I bought it. But I had faith. And that’s really all you need when it comes to travel. Have faith and everything will work out for you. So I get on the plane (EgyptAir staff are the coolest people for ignoring me and my Syrian table as I was boarding) and I discover the table is too large to put in the overhead compartment. Of course it was! What was I thinking? Luckily, the flight wasn’t full that evening. So I buckled my precious table into a seat across from me and we were two very happy passengers.
Last time I went to visit Colin in the UK I decided I was fed up going back and forth with so much luggage. I came up with a brilliant idea. This one time I’ll go to the UK with everything I could possibly need and I’ll leave it there in the house. I’ll have two batches of clothes: my UK batch in Colin’s house and my Egypt batch in my house. I was so proud of my geniusness. I implemented my idea. Was it successful? The amount of luggage I traveled with this time is a testament to it being an absolute failure. Since I didn’t have to take lots of clothes with me this time, I started thinking of other cool things I could bring: “Oh! I know! I’ll take my diving gear with me just in case I decide to go diving in the death of the UK’s winter!” And, “Oh, oh, oh! I’ll bring my wedding dress with me so Colin and I can pretend we’re getting married again when we’re bored in the death of the UK’s winter!”
Let’s just say I’m still that same woman pulling tons of luggage around with me at King’s Cross station, waiting for the cute guys to come help me out.
I am very OCD about my seating preferences on planes. I make sure to choose my seat while I am buying my online ticket if that’s an option. I always reserve an aisle seat. I like to be able to stretch at least one leg. I choose the middle row because the middle seat next to me is more likely to be empty than if I took a seat in the window row. My seat must be near the front of the plane. That helps me with my exit strategy. I’m a bolter. I’m a true Egyptian. Once the plane lands and the second it stops, I’m jumping out of my chair, grabbing my carry-on bag (there’s always a carry-on bag), and bolting for the front of the plane. I will push and shove if need be. The airplane door opens and I’m bolting again. I push forward like a crazed woman. I jog up flights of stairs instead of taking escalators because I can’t stand how slow they are and how people just stand on them leaving no room for others to pass. All the exercising I do comes in handy when I’m in airports, I tell you. Why, you ask, do I do this? It’s because I will do everything humanly possible to be at the front of the passport control line. Iwill not stand in a long passport control line if I do not have to. I will elbow jab people and rudely warn them to make way for the crazy woman just to get to those booths before the rest of the plane does. I’m almost always successful except when other flights have arrived at the same time as mine and other passengers from the other flights manage to beat me there.
When I’m in Europe or in the Arab Gulf region, I don’t care how late I am for boarding, I am going to go duty free shopping. The plane is not going anywhere without me, I’m convinced. This was the cause for one of Colin and my very first marital arguments. We were on our way back from our honeymoon transiting through Dubai Airport. Dubai Airport has a spectacular duty free area. I was not going to pass through without getting some stuff! Besides, we had afull hour to get from the plane that just landed and go to the plane that would take us back to Egypt. I realize that Dubai Airport is huge and all, but I have an exit strategy for situations like this! All Colin had to do was follow my lead. I could bolt with the best of them, saving enough time to get my shopping done. Colin did follow my lead (he’s still a newbie husband and sort of listens to his wife sometimes) but then he got all uptight about not going immediately to our next flight’s gate. “Stop worrying so much!” I told him. “Nadia, we need to get to our gate. We only have 20 minutes left!” he said, very agitated. “But Colin, that’s a lot of time! Besides, the plane is not going to leave without us!” I told him. For some reason unbeknownst to me, saying that made Colin very upset. He decided to go past the duty free area and find out where our gate was while I did my shopping. Wanting to be a good wife only two weeks in on our marriage, I only bought a couple of things and I didn’t do any window-shopping. This involved a lot of self-restraint. I found Colin and we headed towards our gate. When we got there we found out there was still a whole 15 minutes before boarding. Colin wanted to go in and sit. I wanted to go back to the shopping area. We were both very upset with each other and we both did exactly what we wanted. I went to the duty free area and he went in and sat. I am not traveling with that man ever again!