My heart beats a little faster as the butterflies in my stomach flap wildly. My palms are sweaty and I don’t feel like eating anything even though I’m hungry. My stomach grumbled and I gulped down some water.
I lean out of the back seat of the taxi and check the time on the dashboard clock again. Two minutes have passed, but it feels like an eternity as we weave through the traffic on our way to the airport. You can see the faces of other travelers sitting in the back seat of the taxi or leaning against the steering wheel. As if leaning forward would make traffic go faster. I unzipped the front pocket of my bag again and triple-checked that my passport was indeed there.
For just a few seconds, my passport is hidden behind my wallet, I feel my heart drop into my empty stomach, my head spins, I realize it’s hidden there, and I go back to checking the time. Ta.
As a frequent traveler, I still amaze myself with the excited nerves I feel every time I board a plane. Even though I take an average of 30 flights a year, I still end up panicking on the way to the airport.
You panic that you’ll miss your flight or forget something important. I have an irrational fear of losing my passport, which I tell myself he loses about every two and a half minutes.
But this panic is tightly wrapped in excitement and anticipation for the journey ahead.
This is me just before leaving for Heathrow Airport for a trip to Australia in 2009
Traveling has been my favorite thing in the world for over 10 years. Ever since I boarded a plane to Australia with just a backpack and a one-way ticket, I’ve been hooked on the adrenaline of travel. There’s nothing I love more than arriving at a new destination feeling overwhelmed and confused, navigating a new airport and using a new language.
My taxi finally arrived at the airport and entered the drop-off zone of the terminal. I pay the driver and make sure he has his passport. Just in case my passport slipped out of my zippered bag while I wasn’t looking! As I slam the door shut, I feel the clouds lift, my nerves and anxiety disappearing.
It’s done! You’ll be there in time! I have a passport!
As I pulled my suitcase behind me and jumped into the airport, my body relaxed and my muscles relaxed.
I purposely board a plane early, partly because I can’t stand the stress of being late, but also because I love the cozy familiarity of an airport. Once I get through security, I love nothing more than browsing the shops and finding a cafe. I buy coffee and ham and cheese toast. These two are available at almost every airport in the world (because who doesn’t love ham and cheese toast?). His flight leaves an hour early.
i usually have a travel guide downloaded onto my iPad and excitedly flip through the pages as I plan my itinerary and bookmark things I want to see and do. But most of the time I’m just hiding behind my iPad and people watching.
I watch as stressed-out families struggle past with too much luggage and excited children jump up and down behind their parents. We see a couple in love huddled together and happily talking about their trip. I see a businessman loudly making an important phone call while everyone around him stays silent and wishes they were sitting somewhere else. You’ll see backpackers with dark tans and shabby clothes. And no matter where you are, you always see people desperately looking for an outlet to charge their phones.
The uneven formula at the airport is the same no matter where you go. Even the layout of most airports is the same, from airport security to airport shops. That’s why every airport feels so welcoming and familiar to me, and I feel immediately relaxed sitting in a metal chair while looking at a small screen of flight information.
I have a personal routine of buying water, snacks, magazines, and organizing my luggage so that I can reach everything I need during the flight. I head to the boarding gate, call my mom and text Sam and her kids, which I always do before a flight. I rarely call Sam when I’m out. Because I will miss Sam and the boys. So I have a near constant stream of his Whatsapp messages explaining my every move.
I sat by the gate and waited for the line to disappear and was the last to join. I’m not 100% relaxed and excited until I buckle my seatbelt, sit in my seat, and the plane slowly drives toward the runway.
Actually, I’m going!
I love the feeling when a plane takes off. My stomach heaves and my chest heaves. I stare at the bright, fluffy clouds and the sky, which is much bluer and brighter than it appears from the ground. I had a bit of trouble keeping my eyes open before succumbing to the weight of warm sleep…and I was gone.
When the plane landed, I was jolted awake and briefly disoriented and confused.
The man next to me is smiling. “I wish I could sleep like that on a flight!” he said, leaning towards me to look out the window.
“I’ve had a lot of practice,” I smiled back before turning to look at myself.
It’s shocking to see just how far the countryside stretches, with patchwork fields of varying shades of green stretching out for miles around. As you approach, you’ll see a small square of houses that look very neat and tidy from the air. I always have my eye on garden pools and get excited every time I see one. This is a game I used to play with my brother when I was a child. We thought we must have found a movie star’s home, believing only famous millionaires have pools.
As our plane taxied onto the runway, everyone around us quickly removed their cell phones, and beneath the engine noise we could hear the familiar beep of an incoming message.
There is just one message confirming that the taxi driver is waiting in the arrival hall.
My excitement returned to the point where I wanted to climb into the front seat and make my way to the front of the plane, but we headed out through the tunnel and slowly formed a formation along the hallway.
None of the passengers admit this, but they all know very well that they are in a race. We avoid suitcases, push our legs out to go faster and farther, and move as fast as we can without actually running. Because no one wants to be the guy who runs like that. I arrived at passport control, looking sideways at my main competitors, a little proud, but smug at my victory. I may not have won the gold medal, but I think I can definitely aim for the bronze medal!
I handed my passport to the security guard, who looked like he had been sitting in the booth for about 35 years. His stern eyes darted back and forth between my passport photo and my face, and he told me I wasn’t actually that fat, it was a weird photo that made my face look like a rugby ball. I wanted to.
I smile brightly at him and consider it a personal victory if he smiles back. They rarely do that unless you’re traveling to the Caribbean, and they’ll let you stop and chat all day long.
He nodded and released me and I was free!
I gently carried my carry-on case through the baggage carousel, silently congratulating myself on my decision not to check a bag.
I headed for the exit and held my breath as the automatic door slid open. People gather around the door and you can’t see anyone. My eyes scan the crowd as I try to keep moving without blocking the exit, but all I see is a crowd of people and a handwritten sign with a stranger’s name on it.
My eyes turn too fast and I feel dizzy. And you can hear it.
Little hands outstretched, big smiles, and clumsy little feet running excitedly towards me.
I drop my bag and scoop my boys into my arms, something I won’t be able to do for much longer. Then Sam’s arms were around us and I was home.
“Your taxi is waiting,” he said, and I couldn’t have been happier to be back.
Heathrow Airport is friendly and feels like home. It used to be that getting on a plane home was something temporary and necessary, so I dragged my heels as I boarded the plane home. As I trudged through Heathrow Airport to take the tube to my small apartment, I felt depressed and discouraged. Returning for a few days or weeks between trips before the next exciting journey begins.
But these days, I look forward to going home just as much as going out. The departure flight was filled with excitement and excitement, and the return flight was even more exciting.
Just because you love coming home doesn’t mean you hate leaving. Quite the opposite. I still love to travel, but every time I go I find something that makes me appreciate my hometown even more. Sometimes it’s a newfound love for PG Tips or the deliciousness of British fried ups. Sometimes it’s the awkward British politeness, or the coziness of a traditional British pub.
If you’re like me, you also love the feeling you get when arriving or leaving the airport. Whether it’s the excitement of a new adventure or the warm relief of coming home, you’ll never tire of traveling.
Check out this beautiful video by Caleb Femi and Heathrow Airport. Caleb is a highly acclaimed Spoken He’s Word He’s an artist and reading this amazing video gave me goosebumps and every word made me look forward to my next trip abroad.
This post was created in collaboration with Heathrow Airport. Follow the conversation on social media using #LHRxCaleb.