Thursday, September 27, 2012

A visit from the grey nomads

The grey nomads – retirees who travel the country in caravans like elderly, motorised gypsies – in this instance are, of course, my parents; my mother and stepfather to be precise. But when they aren't driving around dragging a tin box on wheels around behind them, they live near Childers in Queensland, so – given that I live in Adelaide – I don't get to see them very often otherwise. But the very idea of doing what they're doing is so utterly horrifying to me – I literally cringe at the very thought of hooking a caravan up to a car and driving long distances.

And it's prompted me to think about why that is, which I've realised comes down to three things.

Firstly, the driving. While I don't mind the occasional fast drive through the some winding hills, when it comes down to it, I don't especially like driving to get places – even the 25 or so minutes I spend driving to and from work each day tends to leave me more than a little irritated (mostly because of the incompetence of my fellow road users), so spending hours at a time behind the wheel isn't something I'd especially want to do. Sitting in a car with someone else driving isn't something I particularly enjoy either, and I certainly wouldn't relish being a passenger for the kind of extended periods you'd have to spend in order to any serious touring.

Then there's the caravan itself, which I would struggle with on nearly ever possible level. Ugly, clumsy, creaking, cramped, thin-walled boxy things with limited facilities for necessities like a proper tv and decent audio setup – and don't even get me started on having to use an amenities block; I spent four years in a residential college and have no urge whatsoever to spend any more time in a shower with my feet soaking in other people's urine.

But the biggest reason – and, unlike the others, is something that I consider an actual problem that I need to overcome1 – is that I am, for want of a better word, travelphobic2.

And that's really not a good thing, because I've seen so very little of the world. Admittedly, I don't actually want to see all that much of it, but there are parts that I do want to see – specifically the UK and parts of Europe and North America and Asia. I'm not especially keen on Africa, the Middle East or any of the tropical/beachy parts of Asia3 – the bits I am interested in are China and Japan. I'm kind of neutral about South America; I have no particular reason to not go, but – despite my fondness for alpacas and giant anteaters – it's fairly low down the list.

But it's going to be somewhat difficult, though, since my travelphobia is the combination of a few different issues, most of which I don't even know how to describe, at least in part because I don't know whether it's the small problems that add up to the big problem, or the big problem that's created the small ones.

Even something as minor as packing, hilariously enough, is something I dislike. I worry that I'm going to forget something vital, or that I'm not going to take enough of everything, or am going to decided once I've arrived that I hate all my clothes. Even going away for a weekend means a lot of agonising decisions, and more than a little angst once I've left the house.

My social anxiety plays no small part in it, particularly since one of the things most people seem to like about travelling is meeting people, which is something I struggle with enough amongst people from my own country/culture. I don't make friends very easily at all, and even when I do it's generally a long, slow, awkward process; instantaneous bonding just doesn't happen for me.

The people thing probably wouldn't be a problem if I was going with someone; not having that option is one of the few things that I consider a negative consequence of being nigh-on terminally single. But, given that people travel by themselves all the time – I've got a couple of friends who've gone over on their own recently (including Di, who's in Europe right now) so it's obviously not that insurmountable an obstacle.

I'm also a creature of habit; pretty much everything I do is done because I know I like it, and I'm not especially fond of climbing over the high, barbed-wire-topped walls of my comfort zone. One of the reasons I do theatre is because of how it provides variety within certain parameters, so in some ways I'm really not too good at finding things to do, particularly when so many of the options are likely to include the disconcerting prospect of being around people I don't know. So that poses a bit of a problem about what I might want to do while I'm there – wherever there is.

But the more I think about all of this, the sillier so much of it sounds as a reason to not go somewhere. Anything I leave behind I can replace wherever it is I am; I can cope with not meeting people as long as I've got things to keep me occupied – and all that would really take is a Kindle with a few books to read, and a laptop with internet access; obviously, for me, a big part of doing it would be as a source of inspiration for writing. And there are any number of organised tours I can go on to avoid having to make too many decisions about what, exactly, to do.
So, given that I've decided I want to – and can – go somewhere, where would I go?

The first specific place I want to go is Edinburgh, during their Fringe festival. That would certainly solve my problem of wondering what I'd actually do with myself, since I have no qualms about sitting in a theatre surrounded by people I don't know. And what I'd really like to do is review over there – if I can get myself a gig.

From there I can see the rest of the UK and Ireland – I want to spend at least a few days in London on the West End seeing even more shows, and do some museum hopping – and, depending on time and money and so forth, get across to the continent, and at the very least see Paris. One of my friends has expressed the possibility of moving to France sometime in the future, so if that happens I'd like to catch up with her as well.

And, presuming the experience is a good one, I can then think about where I can go next. For now, though, I've really got to get that passport application filled out, or I'm not going anywhere.

1I sincerely hope I never overcome my distaste for caravaning, to the point where I've contemplated drawing up a legal document to authorise having me committed if I am ever found to have purchased one of the wheeled monstrosities.
2If this word doesn't already exist, I'll be happy to claim to take credit for having invented it.
3As I've said on a few occasions, if I liked tropical beaches, I'd never have moved from Queensland to South Australia.

1 comment:

  1. Being in the middle of our 10-week trip (or 11-week if you're Jen), it was particularly interesting to read this post.

    Some personal thoughts:

    Caravans - couldn't agree more on all the points you made, except around driving; I actually enjoy driving tours a fair bit. This is partly because of the challenge of driving through new places with new road rules, partly because these road rules tend to be a bit laxer than in Oz, and partly because you get to select your vehicle in each new place. However, all of these potential benefits would be anulled by having a caravan attached to the back!

    Destinations - I can think of more reasons not to go to South America, with the kidnappings and the muggings and the all-round cheapness of human life, etc. I would add seeing locations from Mysterious Cities of Gold to the 'Pros' column :) All the other places you've mentioned are, in my experience, well worth a visit. Haven't done the Fringe, but that sounds like a great choice for a kick-off point for you!

    Packing - everyone hates that. As long as you're not travelling on the bones of your arse, just make sure you have a credit card and your passport and you can't go too wrong.

    Interpersonality - is much easier with social lubricants, such as alcohol, ready-made discussion topics (e.g. your views on a Fringe performance) and shared interests/characteristics (e.g. you're also a tourist who found a particular bar/restaurant on Yelp).

    Pre-organisation - my suggestion would be that I'm not sure they really make tours for people like you/me/us. Booking things in advance, in an informed way, is super-easy since the internet. Just book your accommodation and a few activities in advance then enjoy the freedom to make decisions on-the-fly the rest of the time!

    Anyway, I'm off to see le Louvre. Get that passport!