England was sleeping off the New Year’s excesses, and so we departed rather unassumingly on a frosty and still morning. We set off, leaving our home and what ensued was an unnervingly quiet and somewhat surreal journey to the airport. The journey had passed in no time at all and before we knew it, we were there.
Waiting in the departure lounge prior to a holiday, the time usually never goes quick enough. Whilst we had looked forward to this moment for years, dreamed, planned and saved for it. “It” was always so far in the future. Rather amazingly, hours passed liked minutes and the LED dots on the departure board had changed and it was time for us to board.
So, on we stepped into the plane. Farewell crisp and cold air, I don’t know when we’ll meet again. And as we made our ascent we waved goodbye to the green and pleasant land that is home. The patchwork of fields had disappeared beneath the clouds and it was at that moment that it finally dawned on us what we were doing. With nothing else booked, and no time frame on which to guide our course, we could be gone for two months, or two years. This was a deliberate choice on our part, because we didn’t want to be slaves to restriction. We anticipated, hoped even, that our loose plans would change, that we would meet people and those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities would present themselves along the way.
The apprehension of what lay ahead subsided a little when we made use of the free drinks on board. Our usual plane journeys with Ryanair and Easyjet aren’t so generous (infact they are positively stingy) and so we delighted and indulged in anything that Emirates so kindly offered. Plus, our budget days had begun the moment we had stepped on that plane. Yes please, we would like another drink. Oh yes and some nuts, thank-you. We clinked our plastic cups together and toasted the unknown.
Half way through our journey, we had to pass a few hours during our changeover in Dubai. As daytime turned into night, it welcomed Mark’s 25th birthday, and so we celebrated it, rather surreally, in a nocturnal and palm tree filled airport. With a bottle of water bought with the few dollars that we carried, we raised it in “cheers”, trying to envision what this year might bring.
Restless with excitement and nerves, needless to say we didn’t get much sleep on the last leg of our plane journey. Plus, we wanted to make use of the extensive in-flight entertainment. Years of saving and forgoing cinema trips (and the rest) meant we had lots to catch up on. After a few movies and competitive rounds of Battleships, we were all of a sudden on our descent. Beneath us was a deep teal ocean dotted with cargo ships, surrounding the dense and intimidating concrete towers that frame the city.
After going through passport control, bleary eyed we drifted through the airport, admiring how immaculately clean it was. Singapore Changi has repeatedly been attributed to being the ‘Best Airport Worldwide’. Now, we haven’t been to every airport in the world, but of all of the ones we have been to, it’s certainly been the most impressive. Beats the utterly dismal Heathrow any day. Surrounded by gleaming glass and spotlights it boasted a colourful array of tropical plants that tower to dizzying heights as you walk through arrivals.
Prior to setting off, we were convinced it would be just our luck to start our trip with our backpacks having gone astray. Thankfully, what few belongings we did have, emerged from the conveyor belt safe and sound. First things first, we took our winter shoes and socks off and swapped them for our highly unattractive sandals-a small relief from the encroaching heat. (It turns out we performed the exact same ritual in reverse a whole 6 months later.) We had our unconvincingly clean backpacks, our never been worn sandals, and a look of terror infused excitement on our faces. We were ready to leave the comfort of the airport, and step into Asia for the very first time.