My first time – overseas travel through fresh eyes

Sydney

Do you remember what it was like to take your first big trip? To take your first big plane ride, go through customs for the first time, to stay in your first hotel and negotiate your first taxi ride into a new city? I remember my first big trip, which was to the USA and Mexico with my family (my Dad is American) when I was four years old, and I have one clear memory from that trip: my grandfather dangling me over the cliffs of Acapulco by my feet. Fun times.

In today’s blog I want to share with you a recent trip I made across the ditch that reminded me of what it’s like to travel for the first time, having not travelled overseas for a few years. It was a quick trip to Sydney – one night and some meetings – and I decided to act like a tourist.

So I rock up to Wellington airport on a Sunday afternoon. I’m flying Qantas, that kangaroo-emblazoned airline I have heard so much about, and I line up. Second in line, this should be quick. Nope. It strikes me that airline check-in staff have a particular knack of appearing completely disinterested in any kind of urgency. Four of them huddle together for some time speaking in hushed tones. This travel lark is going to be slow and painful.

I make it past customs and security without incident – no fireworks whatsoever in my bag – and make my way onto the plane. Now we’re talking. On my seat is a blanket and a headset. A headset! That means entertainment, and it doesn’t disappoint. Nevermind the fact that my knees touch the seat in front, I have touch-screen control over my choice of movies and TV shows. Hanna it is, a decent little flick although Eric Bana’s German accent isn’t as good as his kickboxing in The Castle. Add free drinks and a passable lasagne into the mix and I’ve got to say, I love this flying thing.

At Australian customs I must remind myself that this is not the time to try and be funny. When the man asks me if I have anything to declare, it is NOT a good idea to say “an undying love for the Irish rugby team”.

Outside and the first things I notice are that it is really warm and the air smells different. My senses are telling me that this is a foreign land. The taxi system is sensible but very officious – a queue arrangement with a gatekeeper that tells you which cab to go in. With the endless arrangement of bollards behind me under a corrugated iron roof, all I can think is, “thank god it isn’t summer”.

We arrive at the hotel:

It’s nothing amazing, a nice apartment style place but I’m keen to get out and about and have a look around. First stop is King St Wharf on Darling Harbour and just footsteps from the hotel. Jeez that’s a waterfront and a half. The scale, the infrastructure, the variety. I love Wellington’s waterfront but this is a few leaps ahead. The beer wasn’t much chop though, nothing like a decent Epic Pale Ale in my humble opinion.

My new-to-travel eyes notice that these Sydney-ites dress differently to Wellingtonians and they act differently as well. They seem to have a much more active lifestyle which is probably thanks to the climate and the reliability of planning on being able to get out and about training, running, biking etc. No wonder the Aussies are often world beaters in sports that require decent weather.

In cafes and shops, the service in general was up a couple of notches from NZ – a lot of smiles, thank you sirs, my pleasures. The extra mile was evident and really enjoyable from a customer point of view.

I didn’t get much of a chance to look around on this one-day trip, and after stopping to buy my wee ones a little stuffed toy koala and kangaroo it was time to head back to the airport. I didn’t notice it on the way in, but this time the sheer scale of the airport struck me. Coming from little old Wellington, the check-in desks stretching for a long way make a big impression. Going through security I again reminded myself not to crack any jokes.

Once on the plane and officially heading home, I stop pretending this is my first trip, and where I stop comparing Australia with New Zealand, Sydney with Wellington. I love Wellington and will take its wind, amazing coffee and its character any day of the week. And right now, I just want to get home to my family. But first, where is that headset?

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