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Heading home; trouble with international travel

Published: February 14, 2014
Section: Opinions


About a month ago, I was sitting in a seat impatiently—the same seat I had been sitting in for the 14 hours preceding that moment. That doesn’t sound great, does it? I was, in fact, sitting on a plane, watching it descend sluggishly over Vermont on the video screen as we approached JFK Airport in New York, only to hear the captain come over the PA system announcing that because of the runway closures at JFK, my flight was being diverted to Toronto. I could almost hear everyone on the plane groan and grumble at the prospect of our flight falling even further behind schedule.

Let me give you a bit more context here—I’m an international student. I was born abroad and lived in several different countries, and my family now lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which is between Thailand and Singapore. I love Malaysia for several reasons, and I have always enjoyed going back there, but the fact that I go to college on the East Coast of the United States means only one thing: extremely long and grueling journeys home. The distance between Boston and Kuala Lumpur is a staggering 9269 miles, and the hoops I have to jump through to get home loom over my mind every time I pack my bags and get ready to head to the airport. Since there are no direct flights between Kuala Lumpur and Boston, I have to take multiple flights with connecting points usually in New York and Dubai. On this particular trip, I was coming back to the East Coast after spending two weeks at home with my family. I started with a seven-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai, only to find upon arrival in Dubai that my connecting flight to New York had been delayed about three and a half hours because of all the snow that had been accumulating at JFK due to a snowstorm that hit during the first few days of 2014.

And now I bring you back to that moment I described in the first paragraph: The captain told us, after about 13 hours of flying that we were diverting to Toronto. Once we landed, we waited about two and a half hours until JFK’s runways opened and the plane refueled, without being allowed to leave the plane at all. Once we landed in New York, and after waiting an hour and a half for the plane to taxi to the gate, I got off the plane at about 5:00 p.m.—eight hours late.

Now, I’ve recounted this story to many of my friends since I’ve been back, and every single time I’ve told this story to someone, he or she almost always says, “That’s horrible!” I’m used to this response by now, and as tiring as the journeys are, I’ve never personally described them as “horrible.” After all, by now I know what it takes to survive these journeys and, believe it or not, I’ve actually had worse travel experiences. (I was once a full two days late getting to my destination.)

However, the more I compare my long and tedious journeys home to the four-hour drive to New York or New Jersey that my friends undertake, the more I realize how numb I’ve become to the whole experience of traveling. Sometimes I start to remember how excited I was as a little boy to be sitting at the gate waiting to board the plane, fascinated about all these other huge planes at the airport. I used to always relish those travels as a kid, both the journey and destination, regardless of whether I had ever been there before. Watching the young families board the same plane as me, I remember I was once that young boy—the little ball of energy that could barely contain his excitement about the new and unknown experiences that today’s voyage would bring.

To say the least, traveling is markedly different for me now. I’ve been on so many planes, on so many flights and in so many airports in my life that I’ve whittled the whole journey down to a set of routines. From the seat that I choose to which security line I use, I have created a sort of checklist set of habits that allow me to maximize comfort and minimize annoyances and disruptions during my long travels. Although these routines have made my journeys less troublesome and more efficient, I’ve come to realize that I’ve lost much of that sense of adventure I had as a young boy. Maybe it’s just me getting older and more mature, but I’ve managed to reduce exhilarating forays into the new and unknown down to a block of time that I set aside to go through the motions of returning home.

It wasn’t always like this, and despite how dull traveling has become for me, I will always be thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to embark on these journeys and the incredible experiences I’ve had. These experiences have allowed me to learn from a wide variety of other cultures and their people. They have equipped me with the ability to adapt to new environments. They have greatly and positively shaped me and how I see the world and, most importantly, they have allowed me to learn a great deal about myself in ways that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. But now whenever I hear someone talking about how excited they are about going abroad, I feel envious of their joy and enthusiasm about being able to experience travel—something new to them that has unfortunately become so commonplace to me.

Enjoy your travels and adventures before it becomes tedious. If you decide to go abroad, whether to study or just for a holiday, make the most out of your time and money, and do things you wouldn’t normally do. There’s a lot to see and do out there in this world, and a lot to learn. Go out there, and immerse yourself in those experiences while you can, because, just like anything else that’s repetitive, traveling eventually gets old, and if you do it enough it will stop feeling like an adventure. The thing I learned most about myself through all this traveling is that I’m someone who actually prefers predictability, routine and a stable life. Will the same be true for you? Well, I guess it’s time for you to go find out.