6:15am: At home
The third alarm goes off, meaning it’s time. I grab my phone charger, last-minute cosmetics, put on my contacts, and quietly finish packing. One last survey of the room results in the standard grab-everything-you-can-before-you-zip-the-suitcase-shut panic. I stuff the last few pieces of clothing into my suitcase. I’ll probably never wear them, but that’s okay, it comforts my nerves. I pull the zipper closed for the last time.
6:45am: At home
One purple pod straight into the Nespresso machine, as this will be the only decent coffee I’ll have for 24 hours. Hear my husband’s alarm go off, I know departure is nearing. Squeeze my kittens, my husband, and take one last mental picture of what is home, it’s time to go.
7:15am: Airport, outside of security
The car door closes, everything changes. I have one thing on my mind: get through security as calmly as possible, to not be unnerved by other passengers, or the lack of process that is the International Terminal at SFO. Pass through with no hiccups, pull out one of the few United lounge passes — it’s early enough before the flight to justify the use of the “get out of Jail free card.”
7:45am: Inside United lounge
There’s something about an airport lounge that is binding between travelers. Perhaps it’s the approach of a long flight or the patience it requires to move through the process of traveling that translates the same in every language — “I get what you’re going through.” Give a chance to the snack mix and a watered-down cappuccino, and finish last minute emails to cap off the minutes before departure.
Pass over my boarding pass. Yes, I still print mine (even though I have the mobile pass), solely because I like the feeling of holding a paper ticket. Call it nostalgia or old school. Through the hall, to the right, and step on board to what will be an un-homely home for the next 10.5 hours to CDG. Cross my fingers that my co-passengers are tolerable, make sure there’s enough room for my feet to spread out, and quickly put in my head phones. The boarding process is my favorite to observe. As families, couples, and business travelers find themselves to their seat, it’s a friendly reminder that we all put our two feet into our pants the same way and we are in it for the long haul together.
There’s something exhilarating about takeoff. I can never decide if it’s the hope of what is to come or the time alone to my thoughts. Either way, the ascent of a plane is magical and transformative. I love looking out the window over San Francisco, picturing what everyone might be doing at that very moment. With the last squint, the city gives way to what will be a month long journey.
10:30am: In the air
There’s a method to the madness that is surviving a long-haul flight. I’ll stay awake for the meal, watch a movie, fall asleep to the second movie, and stay asleep until the chime of the landing bell. Then again, the child who has had it with being confined will let out a shrill, or the decision to sit aisle ultimately results in a half-asleep passenger stumbling over my lap in route to the bathroom, will add up to a few wake ups along the way. But I don’t mind, I was once a child and am often half-asleep myself.
11:30am: The meal
I tell myself every time I get that tray of food that I should pack my own. Needless to say, the croissants or long dinners in France will jar my memory enough to forget again until the next flight. Eat just protein, the bread to fill the belly, and drink unabashedly as much white wine the stewardess will pass over (guilty).
6:00pm: In the air
Sigh, still 4 hours to go. One hot lap around the cabin to pass the time.
7:00pm: In the air
3 hours to go, the time moves like molasses on board. My plan didn’t work out. I’ll pull out my phone and look at old photos. Moments that made smile, and that are dear to my heart. Occasionally a funny video pushes me to laugh out loud, and I’m reminded just as quickly I’m in a public space surrounded by people with the same curse of being wide awake.
8:00pm: In the air
The 2 hour mark seems to be the most releasing. In thirty minutes or an hour and half before arrival, they’ll serve a form of breakfast. That kills at least forty-five minutes, meaning there will only be forty-five minutes left before arrival.
10:00pm PST / 7:00am local: Wheels down at CDG
The onset of panic that happens as the wheels touch down is incredible. Suddenly, we’ve all forgotten where we’ve placed our carry-ons just a short 11 hours ago, and the madness to find them so we can get off the plane as soon as possible is well, maddening. The chaos creates a widespread urgency to get to the passport control before the other passengers onboard. My reckless naivety of trying to be first through passport control is abruptly apparent. The realization of not being the only 747 to have just landed settles in, all too quickly.
I always think it’s a shame to arrive to Paris so early. The first impression of France should be a mid-afternoon light over the Seine, not the rush hour traffic into the city. Grab a taxi, head straight to the hotel, we’re in it for a solid hour and I only speak English (or at least I say I do to grab some shut eye). Arrive to the hotel that I know I can’t check in to only because leaving my suitcases feels like a physical metaphor for dropping off the baggage of flying.
10:30am: Rive Gauche
The debate of whether to try to wait out the release of my hotel room for a shower versus heading out to the city is tough. In one hand my presence in the lobby could perhaps speed the process, but then again every minute in the city of light is precious.
11:00am: Rive Gauche
They win. Though I spoke French this time at an attempt to get the room early, the 2pm check-in holds.
11:05am: On the move
The start of any trip should begin with a strong espresso, a local pastry, and a good view. Hello Paris, great to see you again.