On November 10th, 2021, I packed my bags, said goodbye to my family and friends, and headed to the airport. I had gone to REI the weekend before and bought a Cotopaxi medium-sized backpack and a smaller carry-on bag, as well as a neck pillow and weighted eye pillow. I really had no clue what I would need to pack for my potential 4-month journey, so I brought a little bit of everything. I thought I would need pants for some strange reason and went light on the underwear (big mistake!) and swimsuits. I brought one pair of Keen hiking shoes, some Steve Madden water shoes, a pair of Puma slides, and a pair of worn Universal Threads sandals. And way too many socks!
My dear friend, Abby, took me to the airport with my gear. I had been saving frequent flyer miles on Alaska Air for the past 15 years and had 50,000 miles... Just enough for a free one-way plane ticket to Phuket, Thailand. I only had to pay $14 in airport fees! My first leg was to LAX where I had a several-hour layover and met some interesting characters in the only airport bar that was open. The international partner for Alaska is Finnair and as I waited to board my plane to Stockholm, there was an intense security presence at the gate. Five armed officers escorted the very few passengers onto the plane. I was thinking of COVID precautions, but apparently, there was a crisis between Poland and Belarus involving middle east refugees that was escalating in Europe and went under the radar in US news. I boarded the plane to the unknown.
Finnair was fantastic! The flight attendants were all Nordic goddesses with beautiful skin and long, thick healthy hair. They had no fewer than 3 wardrobe changes during the 10-hour flight to Stockholm and would go down the aisles in complete unison to a huge plane with 11 rows across. In my cabin, there were only 4 other passengers. It was all very odd. I took a Clonidine and slept most of the flight across 3 seats.
The plane arrived to a rainy and extremely green Stockholm mid-morning the next day. All I can say about the Stockholm airport is that it is weird AF! I had to go through security to get to my connecting gate and was told to wait for about 15 minutes for what reason I don't know. None of the security people were wearing masks. The airport itself was immaculate; hardwood floors, fancy shops, and dining areas. All of the other travelers were European and dressed to the nines, but none of them smiled or made eye contact. There was one gal named Victoria who had been on my plane from LAX and was traveling to Thailand to study Thai massage and cooking in Chang Mai. She was friendly but jet-lagged and as shell-shocked as I was. Victoria was the one who told me about the refugee situation in Poland and the tense security atmosphere. I couldn't wait to get out of there fast enough.
What Time Zone Am I In?
As I tried to board the gate to the plane to Phuket, I had to show my Thailand Pass, travel insurance documents, passport, and negative COVID test. I had gotten my test the day before I left and it had to be within 72 hours of boarding, I assumed the plane to Stockholm, but was stopped and told it was actually the plane to Phuket. The time in Sweden was about 10 hours ahead of Boise and so my test expired according to the Finnair gate crew. I panicked. I hadn't jumped through all these hoops only to get stranded in Stockholm. I asked to talk to a supervisor who spoke English and had to literally google the current time in Boise to prove my test was within 72 hours. I made it by less than 1 hour and they let me, board.
The 11-hour flight to Phuket was pleasant. I decided to watch a movie and chose Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar. It's a ridiculously dumb comedy starring Kristen Wiig about 2 middle-aged best friends from Nebraska who go on a trip of a lifetime to Florida. They end up taking Molly and having a threesome and spoiling a villain's plot to destroy Vista del Mar. There were some funny parts but what struck me was the spoof on the stereotype of middle-aged women. I realized I was past middle age at 49 and traveling alone to the other side of the world. I started to panic again. What if I was seen as this ridiculous out of touch stereotype? What if I didn't meet any friends in Thailand?
I pulled out my Solo Girl's Travel Guide to Thailand Islands and Beaches and started rereading it. I read about the hostels and the full moon parties. I flipped to the back of the book for the first time and realized the author was in her mid-20s! I thought to myself "oh man, what have you gotten yourself into Jen," just as the plane was landing in the pouring rain in Phuket...