Turning Off the Autopilot

A Door Opens

I was part of the khaki wearing, button-up crowd of corporate America for precisely 10 months before it was time to climb the ladder. This was my first corporate job and adjusting to the norms, the tupperware lunches, the inter-office cliques and the general way of doing things took a little bit of time.
I found a niche at my job in middle America, an international inclination. It started with me taking a few phone calls in Spanish which then led to conversations about potential transfers to an exciting new division in Mexico City. I leapt at the chance. Sure there would be the potential kidnappings (I didn’t have any kids) and the whole issue with language given that my understanding was cursory at best – though still head and shoulders above my co-workers at the time. I was just looking for someway to rise above the khaki hell all around me. I had preliminary conversations about the role but it was too far out to be a near-term possibility, however, there was a position opening in Manchester, England. It took four or five months to get an offer, but I got one. I accepted the offer, and sold my stuff, I couldn’t have gotten out of there fast enough.

A Willing Partner

This plan all goes fine if you’re by yourself, but if you are in a relationship you need a willing partner. Lucky for me, I had one. I rode the wave of momentum and popped the question to a girl well out of my league that had the same sense of adventure or blindly trusted that I actually knew what I was doing – I absolutely didn’t have a clue.
We were to be married the first weekend after labor day and somehow 90% of both of our families and friends were totally on board with this whole plan. Consider this for a moment, we were simultaneously planning a wedding, moving continents, selling everything we owned and somehow still enjoying the whole blur as it whizzed by us. Her only request was that we didn’t fly on September 11th (the anniversary, not the actual day of the attacks) and nervous flyer as she is, I had no problem flying on the 10th to appease her (though half the flight would be on the 11th anyway due to time changes).
She was awesome and unabashedly onboard from the start. I can’t imagine trying to go through all of that with even the slightest amount of resistance. Lucky for me, I didn’t have to.

Selling Everything (or Burning the Boats)

According to the Internet, when Vikings found a new territory and came ashore they would burn their boats to ensure no one abandoned the cause. I see that (possibly false) example as how we approached our departure. We categorized items into things we could sell right away, things we would be taking with us, and things we would need until right before we left (beds, TVs). Maybe if I worked for a large multi-national, publicly traded company they would have just sent movers and a container to send our stuff overseas. Well, I did, but they weren’t paying for anything other than airfare and I wasn’t in a position to negotiate. I don’t remember what we slept on that final night before we headed to the airport on the morning of September 10th, just the third night we were married and the next day we would be homeless and living in a foreign country. Looking back, we were nuts.

“Will You Be Checking Bags?”

We arrived at the airport and unloaded five checked bags (a couple of them were near 70 lbs in weight) as well as four carry-ons that seriously exceeded most reasonable standards and all baggage sizers. We were a mess. There was at least one bag of stuff that we ended up handing to our family of things that were just too heavy to take, we would come back for them later. It must have been some sight-seeing the two of us and some friends opening all of the bags to move around weight and trade items that did not quite fit into other pieces of luggage. We sat on the luggage to close them, one of us on top of our (clearly) precious goods, the other zipping them shut and testing physics. I am sure there were a few business travelers rolling their eyes, and now I am certainly one of them.
I have had one tough goodbye at an airport. Just one. Before heading to Lima, Peru for a study abroad program just after high school graduation, my Dad took me to the airport in the middle of the day by himself. He and I have always been close, and he is terrible at holding back his emotions. Like a heartbroken little girl. I inherited his quivering lip and softball size throat lump in situations like those. He gave me the typical speech before Peru, be safe, yada yada – I was 17 at the time but had taken a few solo trips. But then he surprised the hell out of me, I saw the lip going, he gave me a firm hug and then just walked off. I headed to security on my own and to Peru that afternoon.
This goodbye was different. My wife has a very large family (like 64 cousins large) and nearly all of them live locally. From the airline counter I turned to look back at them once we were finally checked in and there had to be 20 of them looking back at us making jokes amongst each other – we looked ridiculous.
Heading to security we filled the escalator from the first step to the last and formed an inconvenient circle about 50 feet from the TSA. We went around saying goodbye, thanking them for all of their help through our wedding, making last-minute arrangements for things we had forgotten to take care of but now remembered. I recall on that I occasion that I did not get the quiver lip my Dad passed down, however, my wife was a mess. We went through security and she gave a last wave and then kind of pulled herself together. We got to the gate as they were nearly finished boarding.

At The Time It Made Perfect Sense

We handed our tickets across to the agent, she tore them and sent us down the jetway. We passed one of my wife’s co-workers and a genuine friend who happened to be on the same flight. Carly was at this point still not such a great flyer. She was an emotional wreck because of our departure and the very real stress of the flight had collapsed her into a sobbing mess. So there I am, dragging about 160 lbs of carry-ons that will not fit in the limited overhead bin, absolutely everyone has boarded and they are patently waiting (and some less patient) for us to board so we can all leave. As we find our seats, and I am heaving a carry-on that was over 70 lbs (I weighed it out of sight of the agent) into the bin and squeezing it to fit, onlookers are concerned for my wife. I turn to the four or five rows immediately in sight horrified as my wife looks like she is being taken prisoner and I’m hiding a body in a rollaboard just above their heads and say, “It’s our honeymoon” and then smile. I remember one woman’s face turn from shock to comforted acknowledgement. At the time it seemed like that made sense, that she was so overcome with emotion because she was excited for our honeymoon but in retrospect I would imagine that would have added even more fuel to the fire for those that thought Carly might have been held against her will.

She composed herself during the flight and when we got off we found her co-worker, but that is a story for another day. We made our connection in Chicago and boarded for Manchester. We were so green back then that I remember not collecting miles for the trip because it was not American Airlines (my preferred carrier) – now a mortal sin.

A Rocky Start

Carly didn’t sleep a wink on that overnight flight. I had snapped a photo of her about an hour out from arrival into Manchester. I kept that photo despite her repeated requests for me to delete it. One year I finally did, but for those with a reasonable imagination, picture Carly about 19 hours into a rough emotional day that included sitting on suitcases to get them to shut, kissing her family goodbye for the first time in her life, then a sleepless night scared to death on a plane you were certain would hit the ocean at any minute. Her hair was standing on top of her head in ways that I didn’t know were possible, coin purse sized purple bags under her eyes and an irritation I had not yet encountered in our 4 days of our marriage. I am sure she would dispute her condition in that moment, then I would suggest that maybe I never really deleted it and that I could just post it and let others judge for themselves whether or not my depiction is accurate. If you see a picture below, I have been pushed too far…

We cruised through customs which we had thought would be a much longer process and collected our many, many bags. Once outside we put ten feet in between each other. I selfishly smoked a cigarette down to the filter while she waited upwind and distanced herself physically and emotionally.
We (read: I) dragged our bags across the street to the taxi rank. The portly Manc gave us a long look in a way that only a well-conditioned black cab driver could. He grabbed some of our luggage and started heaving them into the “boot”. There is no way they would fit. We loaded up the cab on the inside as well until we only had a place for us to sit, another one in the front next to him on the passenger side and still he couldn’t get the boot to close. bungee cords appeared from nowhere and strapped the lid to the license plate. I watched nervously as we cruised down the highway, the roads, bounced over potholes that I am sure would have lost one of the pieces – at that point in the day I am not even sure I would have asked him to pull over to retrieve it.
Finally the cabbie pulled in front of a derelict hotel which we would later affectionately call “Dirty Needles”. At the time, it was all we knew we could afford for a couple of weeks until we could secure an apartment. We might have been able to spend more and stay some place nicer, but we didn’t know if we would be there a couple of days, or weeks or even months. Thinking back now to the possibility of having to spend months there I get a little sick in my mouth.
After checking in, and unpacking some things it dawned on me that we had just jumped right off of a perfectly good building, that we had no parachute at all, and that I was in charge of our safe landing. Between spats of exuberance, moments of terror filled my thoughts. I would occasionally get that breathless feeling when you jump off of something you had assumed was much closer to the ground than it was. I had given up an easy, safe job and taken this poor girl 4,000 miles from home under the auspices that it would all be fine (I kept repeating it to her for both of our sakes). The thoughts of imminent failure didn’t leave me for over a year, and the wrath of her father destroying me with simple words, “You took my little girl overseas without a plan?”

I guess I’ll just have to wing it Jim.


Kyle is an accomplished Travel Editor for UPGRD.com, PenAndPassport.com and writes TheTripSherpa.com blog. He has visited more than 50 countries on every continent except Antarctica. He has contributed to articles for Time, USA Today, Reuters, CNBC, MSN, Yahoo!, Huffington Post, Mainstreet.com, Mademan and other media outlets. He flies several hundred thousand miles every year and has lived abroad in the UK, Thailand and Perú. He now calls Pittsburgh home with his wife and daughter who join him on his trips around the world.
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