I was born in Australia to an Aussie mum and a Kiwi dad. Like most Aussies and Kiwis who love to travel, I’ve experienced my fair share of long-haul flights. The first one was when I was four years old. When I was twenty-two, I made a great decision to relocate to a country that’s virtually as far away from Oceania as you can get (Sweden) and I’ve been flying regularly between the Antipodes and Scandinavia ever since. There’s no sugar-coating this: when you are travelling for over 24 hours by yourself, it can really suck (even more so when you have an intense fear of flying as I ironically do. But more on that another time, perhaps). My European friends often ask me what it’s like to fly such long distances multiple times a year. So when I booked a journey from Sweden to New Zealand that I calculated would take me almost 40 hours door-to-door, I thought I’d document it. Here is the result: a diary of a 38-hour journey from Karlstad in Sweden to Clevedon in Auckland, New Zealand.
A word of warning: I wrote the content for this on my phone during various stages of exhaustion and emotional instability. I’m editing the final result while incredibly jetlagged and wired from too much caffeine. It’s all for authenticity purposes, folks.
My partner drops me and my luggage off at the Karlstad bus station. We say our goodbyes (always painful and emotional, especially when you’re going to be gone for a long time) and I jump on the bus, pulling out my laptop in preparation to get some work done over the 4-hour journey. I’ve got social media scheduling to do, a blog post to finish and emails to respond to.
The wifi runs out after about half an hour. I check social media on my phone for a while and then stare out the window at snow-covered fields until about 3pm, when it starts to get too dark to see anything outside. I spend the remainder of the journey contemplating the meaning of life and wondering if I’m going to die on one of my flights later today.
Arrive at Stockholm Arlanda airport. It’s just past 4pm and completely dark outside. Thankfully, in about 34 more hours, I’ll be sitting in the sunshine in 20+ degrees celsius on the other side of the world.
The first of three flights begins – a British Airways leg from Stockholm-London. I’m in the middle section sitting in the aisle seat and the seat next to me is free, so I get comfortable, taking advantage of the additional space. I flick through ‘High Life’, the British Airways in-flight magazine. In the directory section, there’s a plug for their ‘Flying With Confidence’ course. It’s for people like me who spend the duration of their flight with their toes curled and stomachs tensing and releasing with the outside air currents. It says we can watch their video on one of the TV channels, but there aren’t any TV screens on this flight. It’s a pity, as we begin to experience from turbulence and I feel as though now would be a great time to watch it.
The turbulence continues during the food service. The guy across the aisle to my left spills water all over the chair next to him, his suit jacket and his mobile phone. I’ve been given two serviettes from the air hostess for some reason, so I offer them to him.
The turbulence gets a bit worse and I clutch the edge of my tray table, inhaling deeply. Once more, I wish that this flight had TV screens. I’ve been binge-watching The Killing recently and I think about how watching some crime right now would really add to the sense of panic and heightened anxiety. But all I can do is ponder my own mortality without distraction. Until the crew come by with dinner. Thank god. I love that I’m not flying one of those budget airlines that I usually get, where you have to pay for your meals. Free dinner, here I come…
…or not. Got a choice between a pack of crips or biscuits. I choose the biscuits. There’s two of them, buttery and covered with white chocolate. I was a kid the last time I flew with British Airways and they gave us backpacks and colouring books and it was magical. Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing.
To my left, I look past the guy who spilt his drink everywhere and spot the ‘super moon’ through the window. From the short glimpse that I get of it, it doesn’t look like anything special. But hey, I saw it.
We land at Heathrow airport. After eating my two biscuits for dinner, I need some sustenance. I find a restaurant at the airport that serves all-day breakfast. I eat some eggs florentine for dinner while finishing off a blog post. I check my email, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook. A Facebook friend who currently lives in Christchurch has posted an update on Facebook that she’s safe – there’s been a 7.5 magnitude earthquake in Kaikoura. I scroll down my feed. Tsunami warnings. Aftershocks. Shit. I email my relatives in Auckland to make sure they’re okay. I’m fairly certain nothing’s been affected there but I want to make sure no one was nearby when it hit. Then I head to my departure gate for the next flight, Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong.
Long flight. Dark. Tired. I rewatch Spotlight, then Equity, a movie about corporate espionage, then the remake of Ghostbusters. I get an hour or so of sleep – pretty good for me as I usually don’t sleep at all on planes.
Arrive at Hong Kong airport. I spray some deodorant, wash my face and change my socks and underwear in the toilets. Then I walk around for a while, looking at some of the duty free. I’ve got three hours before my connecting flight, so I take a seat at a quiet-looking departure gate try to do a bit of writing. After a while I get hungry so I look around for a snack and end up getting a bottle of water and a quiche at Starbucks, the only place in sight.
My departure gate is announced – gate 70. On the way, I pass several Asian restaurants serving dumplings and immediately regret my decision to eat at Starbucks. If only I’d known that these places were here. I’d take dumplings over a reheated quiche any day. Oh well. I take a seat outside the gate and pull out my laptop.
Before long, a couple sits down next to me and the man starts to make conversation. I’m in a complete daze from lack of sleep but I try to respond in a comprehensible manner. It turns out he’s a former navy pilot who has travelled all over the world. He’s originally from Northern Ireland but I can’t even detect a trace of an accent. He tells me about when he travelled through Gothenburg and other places in Sweden and recommends that I visit Norrköping, where I’ll supposedly find a church with a famous window of Mary. The tip is mentally noted – I’ve never been to Norrköping. We then start talking about Australia and he tells me how he used to transport sugar up the coast of Australia to Singapore. He and his wife are headed to Auckland to see their daughter and are planning to take the ferry from Wellington across to Christchurch. I wish him luck – from what I’ve been able to gather from my brief checks of social media, there’s devastation to roads and infrastructure in the south island and Wellington and the ferry situation is uncertain.
An announcement calls all the fancy passengers to board and the couple stand up to join the queue. I sit and wait until economy class is called.
Another long flight. One of the perks of ordering a vegetarian meal is that it arrives way before all the standard ones. A guy across the aisle from me looks hungrily over at my meal every time we get served and I think he hates me just a little bit. The food isn’t great but we do get Haagen Daas ice cream afterwards.
I try to sleep but can’t manage more than a few minutes. So I watch the first five episodes of Animal Kingdom and then four episodes of Modern Family. I think long-haul flights started the original craze for binge-watching. And if so, then I’m the original binge-watcher. I put on the original Ghostbusters because I want to hear the theme song. After hearing it twice, I’m over it and try to sleep again.
Sleep is not happening. The girl next to me is wrapped from head to toe in her blanket, her eyes covered with a blindfold. She’s been passed out the entire flight and in over 8 hours has not once gotten up to use the bathroom. I’ve gotten up to pee and stretch at least four times. Is she dead?
She’s not dead. She wakes up when breakfast comes along with about two hours flight time remaining. She gets out her arrival card and asks me for help; she doesn’t know which box to tick for one of the questions. She’s just out of school and taking a gap year before she starts university in Denmark next year. After a G Adventures tour around New Zealand, she’s planning to head over the Australia and work in hospitality for several months. We chat about her trip, studies and our long journeys (she’s also been travelling since Sunday) and laugh about how we’ve been deprived of sunlight in the Scandinavian winter. It’s funny but also true; when we’re instructed to lift up the shades for landing, the light is so intense that we both need to turn away and cover our eyes.
We touch down in Auckland. This is the first time I can allow myself to feel excited. I’ve survived! People laugh at me, but whenever I board a plane (which, as an avid traveller, is pretty regularly), I prepare myself for the worst. So when I land at my destination, I feel a sense of relief that I’ve made it. I seriously need to take that British Airways course.
I go straight through the e-passport gates and customs, where my cousins are waiting. We drive from the airport to their parents’ house (my aunt and uncle) in Clevedon. So much for sitting outside in the sunshine – it’s pouring with rain! I guess there’ll be no sunbathing for me today.
The experience of taking a long-haul flight across the globe is a unique one. With the lack of sleep and long periods of time spent waiting, sitting, trying to fall asleep and watching terrible movies, you sort of lose track of where you are. Things feel surreal. Major events occur – it could be a natural disaster in the country you’re flying to, government changes or terrorist attacks. There are fleeting encounters with strangers (“so, why are you travelling to New Zealand?” Hmm… is “I’m having a quarter-life crisis” an acceptable response?) There’s usually a great deal of anxiety or stress. And when you finally make it to your destination, you realise that your journey is only just beginning.
Follow my adventures in New Zealand and Australia this summer on Instagram!
I’m not sure if this put you off taking a long-haul flight or made it seem less terrible than you imagined. Perhaps you can empathise with some of these experiences by drawing comparisons with your own flying experiences. Whatever it is, share your thoughts in the comments, I would love to read them!
Feature image credit: David Spinks