The hardest part of travel

Posted by Tyson Jopson on 19 March 2018

Packing? Navigating a foreign city? Ordering food in another language? All easy compared to this…

Mountain hermits probably never have to say goodbye to anyone. Or hello. That, I suppose, is part of the appeal. Photo by Tyson Jopson. 

If you travel often enough, the one thing you learn how to do is say goodbye. It’s not easy. There are a number of factors to consider when creating a good and, most importantly, awkward-free farewell. For one, make sure you’re going in the opposite direction once the goodbyes have been said. There’s nothing more ridiculous than having to hide behind the sour worms in Sweets From Heaven for an hour because you didn’t realise the backpacking mate you just said goodbye to at the check-in counters is actually on the same flight as you.

But, in fact, there is something more ridiculous: someone who says goodbye while you’re still on the aeroplane, where there’s nowhere to go. This happened recently on a flight to Joburg. I don’t often strike up conversations in mid-air but the book I’d just bought was taking a turn for the rubbish and the man beside me was wearing spectacles. On the egregious assumption that bespectacled folk are more interesting than regular people, I decided to get to know him. James and I made quick headway through the usual ‘how do you dos’, ‘what do you dos’ and ‘who do you dos’ before entering into an enthusiastic conversation about the merits of Angela Merkel.

‘She’s rather badass, actually,’ said James.

‘Heck, yes! She is!’ I said, slamming my fists on the tray table and almost emptying a can of Coke on his lap.

We touched down and, almost immediately, James turned to me. ‘It was nice to meet you.’ Then he stood up to get his bag out of the overhead compartment and said, ‘I’m sure we’ll bump into each other again.’

I hadn’t pegged James as an early stander. He seemed reasonable, not the sort of person who would put seated passengers through 15 minutes of the Crotch Show just to shave 1.7 seconds off his travel time. But there he was, James and his Giant Crotch, bumping into the side of my head. Now I would have to hate him secretly for eternity.

Oddly, that wasn’t what bugged me the most. It was what he said.

‘I’m sure we’ll bump into each other again.’

I guess that, technically, we were ‘bumping into each other again’ but that’s not why James said it. He had said it because, like so many others, James had crumbled in the face of reality. It was a lie. We would not see each other again. We would each go off and live our own lives, nary setting foot in the same space at the same time again.

Instead of filling that pause with a long meaningful look – remembering how we shared that bag of peanuts and how I’d almost spilled my drink on him; drawing smiles as we acknowledged silently that this was the end – James said the thing many of us say when we simply cannot bear the gravity of it all. He eeked out those words, ‘I’m sure we’ll bump into each other again,’ high-pitched, slow and impotent, like a balloon animal with a little hole in it.

I would never do that. I’ve been meeting and unmeeting globetrotters on my travels for Getaway for the past seven years. I’ve developed the stomach for these kinds of things. Life is finite and fleeting and it will do you no favours to wonder if the people you’ve met along the way might hopefully be people you meet again. It’s hard, but it’s necessary.

And that, as it happens, is what I must do now. Say goodbye. The story on page 44 is my last as Getaway’s deputy editor, as is this column. I’ll be spending the next few years in Europe, writing new stories about different places for other people, and stalking Merkel. I have had the most incredible time here. Your travel stories from far and wide are an inspiration I will draw on for years to come.

And so this is goodbye. It’s been a wonderful ride.

I’m sure we’ll bump into each other again soon.


This story first appeared in the April 2018 issue of Getaway magazine.

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