Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mental games

When I travel, I am usually very good at separating the "getting there" and "getting home" parts of a trip from the trip itself. At the end of a trip, I am very experienced at figuring out precisely when I must stop sightseeing, having lunch, talking to friends or whatever it is I am doing and must head for the airport. There is a precise moment when I change into going home mode. After this, my focus is entirely on the journey. Before that, my focus is not on the journey at all, other than knowing that there is a moment coming when things will change. As another way of putting it, I do not allow myself to become stressed by the journey until I need to.

Except, last Monday I didn't manage this. I spend Sunday night in a hotel in Prizren in Kosovo. My flight was from Skopje airport in Macedonia. The journey from Prizren to Skopje takes three hours by bus - probably two to two and a half hours by private car. I was taking the bus.

There are two direct buses a day from Prizren to Skopje. These go at 5.30am and 9am. For some reason there are none after this. I got the 9am bus. The journey was uneventful, other than that I spent three hours on a bus. I was thus in Skopje at midday. I didn't need to head to the airport until maybe 4.30pm or 5.00pm. There were one or two things in Skopje that I could have gone to see, but I had been to the city twice before and had seen most of the sights already, so things were not *that* pressing. I was hungry, so I sat down in a cafe beside the river, and had a steak and a beer, and read my book for a bit. I had been traveling for a little over a week, so I was a bit tired, but I discovered that I did not want to get up and sightsee. Apparently I had been mentally in "going home" mode since boarding the bus in Prizren at 9am. So I had another beer and kept reading my book, but I didn't feel completely relaxed. Apart from a brief detour to a supermarket, I kept reading until about 4.30pm, at which time I headed to the airport. No real hassle, but upon reaching the airport I discovered that my plane was 75 minutes late.

Actually, by the time the plane left it was around two hours late, and rather than getting to Luton airport at 9pm, we arrived at 11pm. There were still trains running to London, but by that time they were stopping at all stations rather than running as expresses. And due to the Thameslink 2000 Programme works, they were stopping at St Pancras rather than running through to London Bridge. So, I had to get a night bus from King's Cross to South London. No problem, but more hassle and slower than just getting the train. I was in bed by 1am - not bad given the arrival at Luton at 11pm, but still a slower and more stressful journey than if I had arrived at 9pm. And I was exhausted, since I had been traveling since 9am.

The funny thing is this. If there had been a bus from Prizren to Skopje at 2pm, I would have managed to stay in holiday mode rather than travel mode until about 1.30pm. I would have been mentally far fresher when I got home, as the total journey time would have been shorter. The fact that I spent four hours and some in the middle of the journey simply sitting down and eating, drinking and reading didn't help. This was travel time.

Although there are only two buses a day from Prizren to Skopje, there are many buses throughout the day from Prizren to Pristina, and quite a few from Pristina to Skopje. I probably could have left Prizren at 12 if I didn't mind changing buses in Pristina. The total time on buses would have been longer, and there would have been more opportunity for something to go wrong, so I was right to get the direct bus at 9am. However, if I had done this and nothing had gone wrong, I almost certainly would have felt less exhausted when I finally got home, despite the greater complexity of the journey.

The mind can play funny tricks.

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