I got the idea of this post while being wheeled through Metropolitan Hospital’s Emergency Room in the middle of the night. I’m writing it so maybe someone can learn from my stupidity and maybe it’ll save a life, who knows?
See, a few weeks ago, one of my comedy friends called me up and said she was taking a trip to Tokyo, her first to Asia ever. For those of you that haven’t booked a flight to Asia, here’s how your first one plays out in your head. First thought: WOW, This will be incredible! I wonder if it will live up to my expectations!! What an adventure! To the other side of the world we go!
Second thought: I have to be in a plane for HOW LONG?
So when my friend calls me up and asks, “Brad, how the hell am I going to survive a 14 hour flight?” I tell her have no fear, I've done this lots of times, I know juuuust what to do:
In case you can’t tell by now, yes, I’m talking about blood clots. I have always known blood clots are a thing that can happen, and that certain people can get them on long flights, but, you know…..other people. Not a healthy 32 year old man. But here I am, sitting at the moment in the ER, after several days of leg pain and a bulging, hard vein after landing from Bali via Shanghai. Once I started getting chills, I knew something was up. An ultrasound shows I do, indeed, have a blood clot in my leg, but it’s superficial and I’m not at high risk of much more dangerous complications. But I’m one of the lucky ones. One of my best friend’s sisters had one with life threatening complications, and just a couple weeks ago, a woman died on a flight from Hawaii to Dallas from a pulmonary embolism, which is where the clot travels to your lungs. She had stopped breathing by the time the flight landed. She was a 25 year old newlywed nurse. My leg’s been been bothering me for a few weeks. God, I’m so incredibly lucky.
It’s a bit ironic because I’ve been working on a piece entitled How Travelling 100,000 Miles In a Year Showed me How Small the World Is. But that’s a bit naive. Yes, it boggles my mind to think how the past 6 decades years of commercial travel has shrunk the planet, but it would be short sighted of me to not acknowledge that travel can kick your ass sometimes, and not just the “Papa needs a grande cafe con leche today” kind of kick-your-ass. I’ve spoken to a few of my professional travel friends since this incident, and I was shocked to find out I’d been left in the dust on this. My friend is a travel and alcohol writer and says she doesn’t touch the stuff on a flight. “Heellll no, gotta stay hydrated.” Another pro traveller friend told me he takes aspirin on every long haul flight he takes. Period. I should perhaps mention his aunt died from a blood clot.
It turns out I’m not the only one that’s been in the dark on this. 100,000 to 300,000 deaths from blood clots occur each year, which is greater than the total number of deaths caused by AIDS, breast cancer, and motor vehicle crashes combined. Yet in the United States, only 57 percent of those surveyed were aware of deadly blood clots, while about 90 percent were aware of heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure, according to the Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis (voted world’s sexiest magazine 3 years running!) Yeah, there’s a reason they have those videos of people rotating their ankles and flexing their calves on long haul flights.
So, from here on out, I’ll be the guy getting up every couple hours to do laps in the aisles, passing up wine for water (or as I call it, the Reverse Jesus), and wearing my sweet sweet compression socks with pride. Will I ever watch Baywatch, though? Eh, that probably can’t be good for my health.
HAHAHAHAHAHHAHA I’m Such a goddamn SHAM. I AM NOTHING. NOTHING IS ME.
Sometimes, I get to thinking I'm hot shit. I went to 16 countries on 4 continents last year, successfully managed my non-digital job back home, and performed comedy weekly in New York. Aw man! I’m awesome, right?! RIGHT?! Occasionally, when people are picking my brain about travel, I'll drop a line like, "Throw me into nearly any semi-developed area of the world, and I can find a place to stay that night, something to eat, and something cool to see..." Often, their eyes open wide and their jaw drops. "Wow, I could never do that! So brave!"
Lemme hear ya say UHHHHHHH! Damn, I'm cool. Pat myself on the back, cuz I'm FUGGIN RAD, BAABBYYY.
Except I’m nothing.
Cue Tony Giles. AKA Tony the Traveller. In an interview with The Telegraph, he says his goal is to travel to every country in the world. He's already done 127 countries on all 7 continents, including the entirety of South America, and all 50 US states. He’s written two books. He stumbled into Mali's capital during a military coup. He was arrested at the Ethiopian border. Dude’s got stories. Oh yeah, one teeny tiny thing: HE'S 80 PERCENT DEAF AND COMPLETELY BLIND.
I am nothing, nothing is me.
I mean.... how?
No seriously, like....HOW?
Okay, so let's play the Travel Game here, shall we? He speaks English fluently… that’s a big one, so +2 points for him. He’s also a white male... that helps too, so add a few more points there. Hmm, let's see... oh yeah he's fucking blind so MINUS A MILLION POINTSSS
So how does he do it? Yes, of course there’s the obvious to-do’s of booking a flight and a hotel and getting from your house to both of them, but what about all the stuff that happens out there? I mean, I've been caught with my travel pants down before: I got stranded by a cabbie in India, accidentally sauntered into a knife fight in Medellin, and was forced to hitchhike in Thailand. I’m prettttty sure seeing and hearing my surroundings were integral to me getting home safe. I imagine if I were blind and deaf, I’d be doing a lot more crying in ditches on the side of the road than Tony.
I think we could all learn a thing or 12 from Tony the Traveller. He says, “getting to places is a challenge but that adds to the beauty.” Oh yeah, I buy that. I think a lot about how the process and the result in travel work together to form something neither of them could have been on their own. The juice IS worth the squeeze, Tony.
It seems limiting to travel while only relying on three senses, but think about it, these are the three senses that stick with you the most. I can see the Great Wall of China, but I won’t feel its years. I can see Oaxaca’s bustling food markets, but I’ll never forget the smell and tastes of the meats and fruits and spices, blending into something completely its own. You don’t forget that easily.
But the biggest sensation? The one we all need to be reminded about? I’ll let Tony take this one in his own words. He says, “I can also feel space, which is difficult to explain. I sense the change in space when hiking the narrow trails of a forest, as they lead out to an open field when the fresh wind hits my face.” Oooooh. That’s it. That’s the stuff. I need to allow myself to tap into that more when I’m out there. It usually involves forgetting about my camera, unplugging my headphones, and just shutting up for a minute or two, but it’s there.
It’s so funny, we always use the word see to describe travel. We say, "I saw Trevi Fountain." You would never say, “Oh you went to Paris? Did you taste the Eiffel Tower?” Or “Make sure to hear the Penis Museum in Reykjavik*!” Saying the word "see" as a catch-all sets us up for an experiential failure.
Yeah, go see the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, sure, but you’ll seriously be doing yourself a huge disservice if you forget to pack the other four senses in your bag. To put it this way, this was Tony’s experience in Antarctica: “It was nine days of magic. I touched whale bones washed up on the shore, sat on huge chunks of ice, stroked glaciers and listened to the cackles of penguins all around.”
When I’m out there, I personally like to view the whole world as a playground, and it sounds like Tony’s waaay ahead of me there. Thanks for reminding me how it’s done, sir.
* - I was tempted to say "Be sure to taste the Penis Museum in Reykjavik," but after all, this blog is really for the kids, right?