Catch you later Cooly!
Peeling myself out of bed after a couple of hours sleep at 5AM, I felt unexpectedly upbeat for someone who had downed 7 rum and drys and dropped it like it was hot on the d-floor the night before; especially as these festivities had followed a very successful boozy lunch of pizza and cocktails. So not quite checking any boxes on the sensible international traveler checklist. Nutritional dinner? Nope! Solid nights sleep? Nada! Wholesome breakfast to kick start the day? Not quite. The bananas I’d been saving had pretty much liquefied so I gave them a miss, but I did pop all my naturopath pills – so points for that at least.
After my rock star pal Alice dropped me off at the airport, I breezed through customs with the five other people at customs and made an a-line for the cafe to get me some breakfast. Unfortunately, the one café in the international departure zone could accommodate two vegan options: a vego burger for $18 or a sad looking sandwich (one of those ones that come in their own little triangular houses) for $7. I panicked and paid $2.50 for an apple, which I ate very slowly whilst reminiscing on my poor life choices. I knew I wasn’t going to get fed on the first leg of my travels, but decided not to panic as the flight was only six hours long, plus I had picked up some seaweed and tamari rice crackers and an avocado especially for the occasion. Despite the shortcomings of breakfast, I felt well equipped and very grown up for thinking so far ahead with my flight snacks. But of course, this was too good to be true. Remember how different countries have different time zones? Yep. So my flight was now looking more like an uninvited 8 hour fast. No need to worry! The souvenir shop has plush key rings of mini koalas wearing kangaroo hoods and mini kangaroos wearing koala hoods… and snacks! I found a raw nut mix and some chickpea chips, but then left with two packets of the latter because the cashier smiled at me and told me there was a promotion and I am a marketer’s dream. Good start on the budget European adventure.
The flight was squishy and disturbingly turbulent, but I watched an inspirational documentary about the ‘barista Olympics’ and my food haul was more than sufficient. I was particularly proud of the way I ate my avocado á la boiled egg, picking the top off and scooping out the insides with my trusty plastic spork. Note: always carry spork. The vegan vacation was off to a great start.
Arriving at Singapore airport I felt chuffed about officially being a lone ranger in a foreign country about to explore the -albeit most chartered- territories of the globe. I knew there was a shuttle bus that I was looking for, but I had no idea where to find it. It was one of those situations where I needed an adult far adultier than I, a theme that would become a common one throughout my adventures. After pacing up and down the airport for at least 20 minutes (at one point going outside, experiencing the suffocating 39-degree heat and seriously considering camping out at the airport until my flight at 8PM the next night) I found the counter and a nice man in an air-conditioned minibus took me to my hostel.
Despite living in Coolangatta, I have real problems with stifling heat. My Hermione Granger hair (which I had washed and blow dried at 5AM) was expanding at an alarming rate and the downright lack of oxygen in the air was making me miserable. However, equally so, I was determined to make the most of my time in Singapore. I made a deal-with-self that if I did all my sightseeing that day, I would bail and spend tomorrow in the air-conditioned luxuries of the airport. I ventured off to the Gardens by the Bay which I highly recommend; very beautiful and nature-ey. On my way there I made a pit stop at a very fancy (they have an ice-skating rink…), air-conditioned, shopping mall. The air-con was ace, and I decided food was a good idea. There were fancy restaurants a plenty, but the common theme was grill/BBQ/steak, so I headed for the food court. I figured vegan Singapore noodles were a good idea; when in Singapore, you know? Well anyway, I got really overwhelmed by the food court and I must have looked super feeble and foreign, because the vendors kept violently trying to sell me their food while I pled: “Vegan! Vegan, please! No meat, no milk, no egg!”. I ended up with a lovely ‘vegan’ stir-fry, which I’m really confident was actually egg noodles cooked in shrimp paste. You win some you lose some.
The next day I woke to brave the less-then-sanitary hostel showers and face the first backpacker breakfast dilemma of my trip: do I save money and live off shitty bread and jam or do I suck it up and scavenge fruit each morning? These guys had peanut butter so I pled protein and opted for the former. I took myself off for a walk around the neighbourhood, but dignity decreasing as the temperature escalated, thighs chafing and hair reached new dimensions, I decided to spend my last coin on two green apples (elaborately dressed in plastic outfits then glad-wrapped onto a tray), and evacuate to the airport.
Sounds like a cop out, but it was seriously the best decision ever. I lounged around eating my remaining chickpea chips for several hours, then made my way into the international terminal when check-in time rolled around. This was a really exciting advancement at this point in my life. There would be shopping, food and a bigger variety of places to sit. Doing nothing at the airport is really draining and food sounded like a fun, low-key activity. For an hour I paced up and down the massive international terminal scoping out my food options, looking for this mythical food court with a magical vegetarian restaurant that was advertised everywhere. I was really excited about it, guys, but I could not find it anywhere. Bleak. The international terminal was starting to really feel like home by now. Not in a homey way though, in a prison way. In a “you can’t leave so this is your home now” way. I admitted defeat and paid $8 for a handful of lettuce and three cherry tomatoes, then promptly stumbled across the enchanted food court. I was too vanquished to be furious, so I took my salad, wrapped myself up like a burrito, and sulked until it was boarding time.
Despite being in a rather hostile mood, I was pretty cheery to discover that the next leg of my journey was on a big, fancy plane with a whole row to myself. I was also really excited to eat all the vegan plane food, so it was pretty shit to discover that there had been a miscommunication between the airline and my travel agent and I had not been noted down for vegan meals. I turned into a really awful person at this point. Textbook disgruntled, privileged jet setter, and for that I am sorry; I was really hangry. I said things to the flight attendant like: “I know this isn’t your fault” and “I’m sorry for being an inconvenience”, but also things like: “you seriously need to find me something to eat because I am so hungry and food was included in my plane ticket and this communication calamity is not my fault!”. It also didn’t help that the flight attendant kept substituting vegan for vegetarian; because despite the amount she insisted they are the same, they are not. Astonishingly, magical vegan meals did materialise in the end, and it was a great time. I had a lovely veggie curry for ‘dinner’ and a soggy bread roll with tomato and cucumber for ‘lunch’.
When we got to Abu Dhabi at 2:30 in the morning, I was no longer human. Hair a top of head and still wrapped up like a burrito, I muscled through the crowds and clouds of duty-free perfume to get to the airport food court. Despite being plenty full from my vegan plane food, the nice flight attendant had emphasised that she couldn’t guarantee there’d be food for me on the next leg of my flight, so I should buy something during my stop over. There were café sandwiches with all the meats and cheeses, a kebab shop or McDonalds. In my surrendered state, I paid $17 for a potato and salad wrap from the kebab shop after an exhausting explanation of what ‘vegan’ meant. I walked away with a big, chunky tortilla filled with cos lettuce and chips. Like, fish ‘n’ chip shop chips. Seems legit, right?
The flight attendants on my next flight didn’t have me down for vegan meals either, but once again, with a little harassment, vegan meals surfaced out of thin air and I had another soggy roll for ‘lunch’ and beans with a hash brown for ‘breakfast’. After sincerely alarming the lady sitting next to me as I sobbed into my jumper-blanket while watching the incredibly expected, but nevertheless heartwarming end, to the film Brooklyn, we touched down in Edinburgh. My eyes sparkled with possibilities of meeting a foreigner abroad and falling madly in love like Eilis and Tony.
Phase one: complete. Destination reached without too many obstacles. I suppose that when you’re a vegan on vacation there’s always going to be a little explanation and negotiation at mealtime. But as a wise, wayfaring comrade later so aptly told me: “sometimes, when you’re traveling alone, you just have to be a bit of a bitch”.