Having a year to plan this trip, you would think I’d be organized but I wasn’t. Leaving on Thursday was hard—I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing, that I wasn’t ready to go. Leaving for my last trip was easier and more exciting. I had never been to Asia before or traveled continuously for more than six weeks. This time I knew what to expect and let my experience cloud any excitement I had built up. This time I also had to pack up most of my belongings in case my mom gets her house ready to sell. I’ve lived in the house for 27 years and had amazing amounts of junk to sort through.
With all of the time I had I didn’t start packing until a few days before leaving. Finishing up my projects for school took longer than I’d anticipated and I had trouble imagining how I would fit hundreds of books, CDs, DVDs, art materials and shoes into a few boxes. In-between my packing and procrastinating I managed to get about five inches cut off of my hair, get horribly sunburned at a Cubs game and order one last Chicago style hot dog.
One thing I didn’t do until Wednesday night was pack my backpack. Over the past week a large pile of items began to form next to my pack. Watching it grow, I knew it wouldn’t all fit. Instead of tackling the problem I avoided it, waiting until less than 24 hours before my flight to pack my bag. After my sleeping bag and coat went in the bottom I knew I was in trouble—those two items took up 1/3rd of my pack! I was looking forward to my nice down sleeping bag for the Mongolian nights but it was the most obvious choice, it had to go. Surely without the sleeping bag I would have plenty of room, I kidded myself. But still, it was full. At the last moment I took out my extra novel, extra pens and a few more toiletries.
I’m not quite sure what’s making my bag so full. I don’t remember having such a full bag on my first trip until the end, when I was bringing home lots of souvenirs. I am taking a new camera, but it only adds one small cord and a charger to my pack. Perhaps I brought more toiletries than usual, but after my bad burn at the Cubs game I decided to bring two bottles of sunscreen so I wouldn’t feel the need to ration it. I might have an extra shirt or two, but nothing big— the extra space they take is worth not having to find clothes that fit me in Asia. I’m also bringing more socks this time, as my thin socks wore through in one week of walking around Japan at the start of Phase 1.
I did manage to get my bag closed, but once I got to the airport my suspicions were confirmed—I am not weak, my pack just weighs 35.5 lbs! That’s not including my cameras or laptop, so once I’m carrying all of my bags the load is closer to 45 lbs. Some of the things will be used, like the granola bars or peanut butter, but I’m at a loss of what else to leave behind. I may reevaluate my packing before heading to Mongolia and see what I can do to save my back.
With 35.5 lbs checked in I headed for my plane thinking it would be an easy 12 hours. After 30 hour bus rides in China I’m a pro at long distance travel, or so I thought. The 12 hours to Tokyo couldn’t have gone slower. I was seated next to a 12 year old boy leaving on an exchange program. It was his first ride on a plane and at first the questions and excitement were endearing until he started insisting I look on his TV screen to see where we were flying over. After explaining three times that, from my angle, I couldn’t see his screen I gave up and nodded when he looked at me and pointed. When that didn’t stop I tried to look engrossed in the movie I was watching. Apparently he thought Tristan and Isolde was as boring as I did because he proceeded to poke my in the side until I would agree that we were flying over a mighty big lake. Once he started poking me to tell me it was his bed time in America I was about to snap. I told to go to sleep or not go to sleep, it was up to him, but to please let me sleep.
By the time I sat down on my connecting flight to Seoul I could barely muster any witty banter for the US serviceman seated next to me. According to him, and all of the other US military I’ve observed so far, anywhere is better than Seoul. If I had been more awake I would have asked if he’d rather be in Iraq, but I didn’t have the energy. Finally I told him if he hated the military so much he should get a new job. Even though he only had a desk position I was very concerned that someone with so few comprehension skills and somewhat lacking intelligence would be in the US military.
Thankfully, I got through immigrations and baggage quickly enough to catch the last bus to Seoul around 10pm. The bus cost 8,000 won ($8.50) compared to a taxi, which would set me back anywhere between $50,000 and 80,000 won ($53–84). Armed with a map and my hostel reservations, I walked up to Seoul Backpackers around 11:15 and fell to sleep by 12.