The Quiet Traveller: Day 1 – Bournemouth

My journey began at Bournemouth bus station, where I was due to catch the early morning service to Heathrow. Having been up since four am, I was in a slightly bedraggled state, coaxing my tired eyes open with the thought of the adventures that lay ahead. After being dropped off by my dad, who has always provided a fantastic taxi service for me over the years, I walked – no, more like waddled over towards the waiting area. My trusty Berghaus rucksack was overloaded with everything I would need for all kinds of climates, from the sweltering heat of Melbourne and California to the frozen wastelands of Iceland. I took up a position under the concrete shelter and set Bergy down, and then my ears informed me that bagpipes were playing. Bagpipes over the loudspeakers. At 5:30 in the morning. This was a bizarre start to my trip. Appropriate if I was heading to the Highlands I suppose, but I was not headed in the direction of Braveheart and friends.

Sadly I later found out that these bagpipes were not compulsory listening for coach passengers on their way to Scotland, but instead a method of keeping homeless people from sleeping in the bus station. From midnight to 6:30am, Bournemouth bus station becomes a cacophony of squealing pipes, and according to the council, this has solved the problem.  The Mayor, himself a bagpiper, says ‘You cannot play them for too long, it is somewhat of an acquired taste.’ If your acquired taste is being used to remove people from an area, that’s not an acquired taste, that’s just bad taste.

The first buses of the day began to arrive,  so I joined the queue on the correct bus stand. I spotted some aircrew on their way to the airport as well, so I knew I was in the right place. Well, I would end up at an airport at least.

My fears of ending up at the wrong place were alleviated when I saw the bright orange lettering of ‘Heathrow’ bounding towards me through the morning drizzle. With a hiss and spluttering halt of the engine, my first of many buses was ready to whisk me on my way. The driver waddled down the steps, sporting a gruff demeanour and a lack of hair on his head. You rarely see a healthy looking bus driver. They may be anywhere between friendly, grumpy, disinterested or jovial. But it’s not often they’re healthy. This one had a classically round belly, and made clear his mood when he asked me where I was going.

‘Terminal 4?’ he said, reading off my what my printed ticket said.

‘Sorry?’. I hadn’t fully understood his question, as he reeled it off as more of a noise rather than actual words.

‘FOUR?’ came his reply.

‘Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, four’ I regurgitated back, in typical British fashion.

He seemed satisfied with my ticket and gestured me to get on board. As I took a seat, I realised not only that National Express coaches are rather nice nowadays (wifi and leather), but that I was now at the mercy of the world. It would be difficult to recharge over the next few days, and the jet lag would only enhance this problem. At least I would be able to meet Pete (my cousin) once I arrived down under. After Australia was the true no mans land.

‘Terminal Fouuuuuur’ announced the driver, in a tone that sounded like his lunch money had just been stolen.  I gathered up my things, grabbed my bag from under the bus, and waddled into the terminal. I do enjoy airports. Which is unusual for an introvert I must admit. Airports have crowds, loud noises, and a high potential for stress. But I like them because everything is so orderly for the most part. If you read the signs and work out where you’re supposed to be and when, everything generally runs smoothly. And the people watching is simply world class. All kinds of people are going all kinds of places. Sit down with a coffee and a book in a corner and you can watch away.

This is a great example of using a ‘restorative niche’ to recharge in a place where an introvert cannot usually recharge. Restorative niches can be any place that allows recharging, not necessarily complete solitude, but away from people. Toilets are probably the most common one I use, especially at parties. Need a bit of time away from people and to re-charge a little? Spend a few minutes just chilling in the toilet. It’s an easy fix, and everyone else just assumes the the lumberjack is at work, floating his products downstream.

Fun fact – the phrase ‘High and dry’ comes from lumberjacks failing to float their timber cuttings down river due to insufficient river levels. So timber would be left high and dry on sandbanks rather than making it to the sawmill. Now you know.

A few hours later, I was on my way to Qatar, where I would have a stopover of 6 hours at Doha International Airport. I am by no means a plane spotter, but I do find aeroplanes interesting in general. I think everyone should take at least a small interest them.  At the end of the day it is good to know what exactly is carrying you at 36000ft above the earth. The Qatari A380 I was flying on was simply magnificent. The way it looks too heavy to fly with its droopy wings and double deck, but then once airborne it’s by the far the quietest commercial plane in the skies today. But by far the best part of the flight was the fact that the seat next to me had no human presence whatsoever. So I was able to stretch my legs to the left whilst looking out over the wing onto the fields of Europe.

It takes seven hours to reach Doha from London, and as I had the space to snooze and the need to, having been up very early, I dozed for an hour or two after the inflight food. I slept awkwardly as per the norm on aeroplanes – it’s difficult to sleep without being sideways. I awoke to the smell of tea, at which point I realised I had missed a crucial event. The cabin crew had brought tea and biscuits round whilst I was unconscious. This was a complete shambles on my part. I should have predicted this afternoon snack round. And being British, there was no way I was going to make the crew go out of their way to address my urgent problem. I threw a jealous glance at my fellow passenger two seats next to me as he snacked away. Lesson learnt.

I now had six hours to kill at Doha International. Doha airport is a modern glass infested design, filled with treasures bought by oil, such as high end supercars and modern art. I can appreciate a bit of art in an airport; it breaks up the mundane and will get great exposure.  But the art consisted of a giant yellow bear that looked like Winnie the Pooh had been enjoying a little too much of the Colombian snow. I half expected an overdosed Eeyore to be lying around somewhere.  Sometimes there is such a thing as too much money.

IMG_2043

Above: Winnie slumped upright, his right hand dipping into the ‘honey pot’.

There were plenty of shops around, and I eventually found myself in a food court, where I sat down and once again began to people watch. People watching will be a recurring theme in this series, mainly because it is a fun activity for an introvert, but also because it yields such interesting observations. This time, I spotted a man taking a selfie in the middle of the food court, with the half-filled seating area in the background. He appeared to be alone. I could not understand what made him want to take a selfie with such a bland background. People do take a lot of  rubbish selfies I suppose. Crap photos used to be blurry disposable shots of your Nan in the garden; in the future grandkids will be going through reams of selfies.

‘Granny, what was Snapchat? Why did everyone alive in 2016 have the face of a dog?’

Because the airport was so big, I managed to find a little niche hidden away, and I settled down with a crossword book for the rest of my wait. A wait which would have been more enjoyable if the air conditioning wasn’t so freezing, but I suppose it was a preferable alternative to slowly roasting in the cloying Middle Eastern heat.

Track of Day 1 – Rusted Root // Send Me On My Way

 

Advertisements

The Quiet Traveller: Preface

The Quiet Traveller

by Simon Phillimore

In 2013 my life was changed by a book.  The completely ice white cover intrigued me, so I picked it up, and from that moment, although I did not yet know it, my perspective on life would be altered.

That was how the Bible became my source of inspiration. I have spent the last years as a Jehovah’s Witness, going door to door, saving sinners from the fiery depths of hell, repenting their sins and subscribing them to a biblical barrage of religious literature.

In reality, the book was called ‘Quiet’, and was created by one Susan Cain, who had a career as a lawyer before becoming a successful writer.  The book’s tagline was ‘The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’. To summarise, it’s all about introverts and how they fit into our societies, what their abilities are, what their preferences are, and most importantly for me, how they should view themselves.

What exactly is an introvert? The terms extrovert and introvert get banded about a lot on places like Buzzfeed these days (I simultaneously loathe and love Buzzfeed) but it’s hard to find a genuine definition. Introverts prefer one on one conversation to group chats, mindful activities like reading, and need time alone to recharge their batteries. The battery is a fantastic analogy for introverts. Solitude recharges the battery; social activities drain it. But it is important to note that this drain is not a necessarily a bad thing, it is simply a consequence of a social activity. Spending time at a party might be an enjoyable experience for an introvert – they get to see their friends and laugh with them and share stories. But this also drains the social batteries, and after a certain amount of time, varying person by person, the battery will be empty. At this point, solitude beckons to relax and recharge.

The reason ‘Quiet’ changed my life, was because it made me realise I wasn’t broken. Year after year, during parent evenings at school, the teachers would always report that I was a great student, but just didn’t participate enough. This was incredibly frustrating for me. ‘Fuck you’, I thought. ‘I’ll speak when I feel like it.’ But at the same time, this made me wonder, what exactly was I doing wrong? Why couldn’t I speak more in class? Why was I so quiet compared to everyone else? What was wrong with me? There was undoubtedly a layer of shyness, which has been very nearly completely lifted at this point in my life. But there was something deeper than that. I hadn’t realised that my personality was that of the introvert, someone who was being drained by the large groups that make up day to day classroom life.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to say all this when I set out to write this, but I’m on a roll so let’s roll on. It’s really quite depressing to think you’re broken. Numerous times I just collapsed in my mind, because I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. It didn’t help most of my friends were and are real characters, so I was comparing myself to people who didn’t have a problem participating and floating their conversations from person to person.

‘Quiet’ made me realise that these things I thought were problems were simply my personality, and that a huge number of people have got the same personality as well. It made me realise that there are strengths to being an introvert, which I’ll explore during my tales of adventure.  It made me realise I’m quite good at listening, which can’t be bad given a lot of people I know like to speak a lot of words (which isn’t a bad thing in itself, as long as the words makes sense). And it made me realise it’s ok to be the way I am.

But to clarify, I do like people. I need people. Everyone does. But my favourite kind of conversation with people is 1 on 1. Because there’s no distractions, no external factors, no pressures, it’s simply the two people conversing. It’s a real connection, as explained in this quote.

People are so much more interesting when you know where they come from, what they hope for, why they do the things they do. This information is hard to come by when everything is noisy and high-octane. The quiet moments allow for connection, and connection is important to introverts. – Michelle Richmond, author.

Well, it’s connection until someone pulls out their phone, which is fine if a wild Charizard appears but other than that it’s just a bit rude isn’t it?

On a side note, why do people always assume quiet people are serial killers? My theory is that people are afraid of the unknown, and what they can’t easily make an assessment of. Although I guess yes, it does help if you don’t talk a lot to prevent the spilling of the hidden body location beans.

So the above is the hard spirit of this series. The mixer? Travelling the world has always been a dream of mine, and luckily enough, I got to do just that earlier this year. But at first glance, travelling solo as an introvert does not seem like the logical thing to do. You’ve got to talk to a lot of people. A lot of the time. With few opportunities to recharge. But it can be done, because I did it and enjoyed it. And hopefully, this series will show you how.

To help me with my mission, I made some rules which I wrote down in my journal to remind me of why I was doing this grand adventure. 1. Relax and don’t worry about stupid shit. 2. Be confident. 3. Take lots of photos. 4. Make useful and interesting observations. All were referred to at some point, although number four often turned into useless and idiotic observations.

With that written down and everything packed, I prepared to set off. Where to? A week in Melbourne, staying with my cousin and his wife. 3 weeks in New Zealand on the Stray Bus. Then a month in the USA – 1 week in SF, 1 week in Portland, 5 days in Seattle, 1 week in NYC staying with my uncle and then finally 5 days in Washington DC. And to cap it all off, a couple of days in Reykjavik before returning via the construction site that is London Gatwick. In total just over two months solo on the road. Time to strap in.

 

The Quiet Traveller: Introduction

I’ve recently been attempting to write a book about my travels around the world. But it turns out writing a book is hard. It’s hard to grasp the sheer size and scale of it. And it’s hard to write regularly on it when the goal seems so far away. It’s a literary mountain at my gates.

So I’m faced with two choices. I either give up completely, or find another way to get 68 days of travel notes into a more readable format. Therefore, I’ve decided to make what I’ve got so far and future writing into a series of blog posts. Kinda like Netflix for words. With each season in a different location. Each episode a different day.

There’s a number of benefits to this – firstly, I think it’s important to get the adventure written down sooner rather than later. I won’t rush my writing, but at the same time, the longer I leave it, the more the experiences will fade in my memory. I’ve got extensive notes, but it’s best to strike whilst the iron is hot.

Secondly, it won’t feel as daunting a task. If all goes to plan, maybe I’ll end up with enough content for a book. And then I can just put the words together and hey – I’ve got a book.

And finally, other people reading the content will keep me motivated. I’m no Shakespeare, but if a few people enjoy reading the order in which this particular monkey hits the keyboard, then it does inspire me to keep going.

That’s the game plan for now. But why is the series called ‘The Quiet Traveller’? Well I wanted to combine my experiences with the subject of introversion. It’s pretty obvious I’m an introvert if you know me; too much talking and people and I get worn out and need a recharge. Alongside the details of the adventure, I’m going to talk about how I tackled solo travel as an introvert, because funnily enough, if you travel alone, you’ve got to do all the talking. You see the problem.

However, there will also be plenty of tales about conspiracy theorists, junkies, Americans being Americans,  Germans being unlike Germans, dogs wearing denim, soul destroying jetlag, the boss of an Icelandic shipping company, bungy jumping, ‘losing’ passports, sea lions, cat cafes, Kim Jong-Un’s birthday, a Mancunian, a serious lack of kettles, penis piercings, Alcatraz cell 14, and also eight finger KitKats.

So if that sounds good, do tune in at some point. I might post a few pictures as well.

Simon