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  • Jan Flynn

My Packing List of Expectations

For my big fat vacation

Only in my dreams . . . Image by Sarah Richter from Pixabay

This won’t be just any vacation.

My husband, my younger son, his wife, and her parents will meet up next week in Nairobi. After a couple of nights to let our internal clocks catch up, the six of us will then embark on a 10-day tour of some of Kenya’s fabled wildlife reserves.

I am squeamish about the term “bucket list” but this trip is the realization of a lifelong dream. It’s taken nearly a year to plan, coordinate, and wait for.

And now it’s time to start packing. Squee!

I’m looking forward to it

Which is such an understatement that it’s subterranean. I am can’t-hardly-sleep, sweaty-in-my-PJs, little-kid-level excited. Here’s li’l ol’ me from Boise, Idaho, about to visit a land that I’ve practically drooled over in books, photos, and documentaries. Kenya! I could pinch myself.

Although I’ve never set foot on the African continent, I’ve dreamed about seeing some of its wondrous land, people, animals, and birds for so long that I can’t help but have formed expectations.

And expectations, I’ve learned in my seven (yep!) decades on earth, are tricky things. If you’re unaware of them, they can sabotage your joy and your experience in the moment.

Because that moment, when it arrives, may turn out very differently from the assumptions you didn’t even realize you’d made about it.

Besides, I’ve traveled enough to know that all journeys, especially overseas, entail some tedium, some hiccups, and some challenges. Therefore, without popping every bubble of my fizzy anticipation, here are my expectations for this particular trip, in no particular order of occurrence or significance.

1. There will be confusion at some point at some airport

No matter how many times we review our flight itineraries, or how handy we’ve kept our travel documents, somewhere along the way, either coming or going, we’ll have trouble finding the right gate, or where to stand in line for customs, or we’ll experience a jolt of panic until we realize we’re looking at the wrong boarding pass or we stashed our passports in a different pocket.

That’s air travel. And this trip involves a whole lot of it. Boise to Seattle (1.5 hours), Seattle to Doha, Qatar (14 hours), and Doha to Nairobi (5 hours). That’s four airports, three countries, and 10 — or is it 11? — time zones in which to get kerfuffled.

It’ll happen. We’ll get through it.

2. We will reach a point when we fail to appreciate the miracle of flight

If I win the lottery between now and our departure date, the first thing I’ll do is upgrade us to first class. But that’s about what it’d take for us to afford what is easily triple our economy-plus-a-couple-of-millimeters-extra-legroom fare.

We will be cramped (especially my 6’3″ husband), we will be hot, we will be cold, we will be bored no matter how many novels and movies we’ve downloaded, and our asses will be very, very flat.

We will rotate our ankles in our compression stockings and get up and down regularly to stretch our legs. We will discover a need for the increasingly dank loo just as the attendant blocks our path with an aisle-wide drinks trolley.

By the time we reach Doha, we will be dazed. When we finally arrive in Nairobi, at about 1 AM local time, I don’t even wish to speculate as to our mental state.

I hope the guy who’s supposed to meet us there shows up with a sign we can’t miss.

4. On at least one night, we will be exhausted yet unable to sleep

This has been true of every single overseas trip I have ever taken. It’s not all bad. How else does one get to lie in bed listening to the distant ambiance of Paris cafés or the muezzins calling out morning prayers across Istanbul?

If I can’t sleep because I’m hearing lions roaring or hyenas cackling or elephants scratching their itches on the tent poles, I’ll consider it a win. As long as I don’t have to listen to mosquitoes whining in their determination to offer me an up-close-and-personal experience of malaria.

Yes, we have pills for that. Also for sleep, if we go too long without decent rest.

5. It will be exactly how I pictured it and yet utterly different

I mean, I used to be a zoo docent. I know what an African elephant looks like. Ditto a zebra, wildebeest, cheetah, gerenuk, and so on. And all my time slavering over photos and videos has given me some idea of the landscapes we’ll encounter.

But. Being there in the midst of that landscape, with any or all of such creatures at home in it — rather than in some enclosure, however carefully designed to resemble the real thing — will be, well, the real thing.

There will be smells and tastes and sounds and atmospheric pressures that are unlike anything that surrounds me at home. Much will be wondrous. Some may be distressing. A lot will remind me how very small and how very lucky I am.

I expect there will be some moments when I’m frustrated by my puny capacity to take in, as fully and indelibly as I wish I could, that which is before me.

I expect to meet people I will never forget.

I expect to be awed.

6. I expect some minor irritations and a lot of laughs

You can’t jam six family members together for two weeks without some momentary missteps, some rubbing up against divergent intentions or energy levels or bio needs. There will be times when not all six of us are equally content or happy or satisfied at the same time.

Luckily, I am traveling with five other people of goodwill, generous spirit, and hearty humor. Our shared predisposition to have a good time will go far toward soothing any momentary abrasions.

7. I expect some digestive irregularity

There is little else that needs to be said on this topic. If things get bad, we have pills for that too.

8. I’ll get to know my son, DIL, and her folks more deeply

We’ve spent time together, including a wonderful four days in Costa Rica at the younger couple’s wedding. But we live four states away from them, and it’s been many years since we’ve spent more than a few days at a time with my son and his wife. 

I expect our bond will deepen. I expect some of the moments I treasure most will have little to do with elephants or cheetahs.

And while I’ve enjoyed all the time I’ve spent with her parents, I expect to know them much better after this trip, as well as have a new store of shared memories.

I expect to be wistful when the trip is over.

9. I expect re-entry will not be seamless

When does returning from a trip of any length not entail some hitches? When we first push through our own dear, familiar front door and set down our luggage, we’ll be awash in relief. For about thirty seconds.

Then we’ll discover the air conditioning hasn’t been on for days and it’s 104 degrees inside the house. Or it has been, without a break, and now it’s 58 degrees inside and our next utility bill will be delivered in a hand truck.

Speaking of bills, there will be a cascade of mail to sort through, nearly all of it junk, and that doesn’t even count the email tsunami.

At least one of our houseplants will not survive.

There will have been a heatwave, and/or a dust storm, and/or a wind storm, in our absence, and our yard will look disheveled.

Something, somewhere in our house, will smell weird.

Our cat, once we retrieve him from the luxury cat hotel where we’re putting him up in style, will seek revenge.

We will catch up on the news we’ve missed and find that the handbasket containing the world has officially arrived in hell. It was already there when we left, but the media will inform us of all the ways in which everything is even more awful.

10. My readers, those who I fear to disappoint, will be fine

While I’ve had to talk myself off the ledge several times, repeating to myself like a mantra that a vacation will be creatively restorative, that it’s right and good to take a break from writing, even if my subscribers and followers think I’ve abandoned them or let them down or dropped off a cliff and now they despair of me or despise me . . .

Nobody will have even registered my absence.

Which is great, because I’ll be able to pick up right where I left off. With, I hope, some new material to draw on.

Once I get over the jet lag and figure out where that smell is coming from.

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