The pet peeves of a frequent traveller
I know that this week, as I sit down to write this column, everyone is outraging about the new tax regulations that require all tax-paying Indians to declare their travel abroad (and how they paid for it) in their annual returns. And while these would make life difficult for frequent travellers – yet another set of bills to preserve, yet more payments to keep track of – this is not what I want to talk to you about today.
Instead, I am going to give you a rather exhaustive (and very exhausting!) list of the many things that leave me irritated at best and incandescent with rage at worst when I am travelling.
• The palaver of packing: After all these decades of travelling, you would think I would have the act of packing down to a fine art. Well, you would be quite wrong. Oh, I get the essentials in the suitcase, all right, no problems there. Then, starts the internal dialogue. Should a pack an umbrella? Or is it easier to borrow one at the hotel? Overcoat or light jacket? One pair of heels or two?
And then, after much wrestling – both figurative and literal – when I have got the suitcase shut, begin the doubts. Did I pack my charger? Did I put in my favourite pair of jeans? Scrambling around in the case doesn’t answer my questions, so what is a girl to do but unpack and repack again?
• Pinging my way through security: Being something of a pro at this (even if I say so myself) I take off everything that could conceivably ping as I go through the metal detectors. To no avail. I always ping as the metal detector band swishes across my body. The woman officer looks bewildered. Is it possible she has never heard of an underwired bra? I attempt to enlighten her, but it’s too late. I’m already being subjected to a frisking so intimate it could double as a full-body massage.
Reeling from this unnecessarily close encounter, I go to collect my carry-on bag. But like always its been pulled over to the side for inspection. Repressing a sigh, I pull out the usual suspects: my house keys. Do they really look like an offensive weapon in the X-ray? I guess I’ll never know.
• Passport checks: What is it about being at an immigration counter (even one in your own country) that makes you feel like a criminal? Is it the sinister camera pointed straight at you? Is the suspicious look of the officer as he looks at your passport photo and back at you, trying to work out if you are the same person? Or is it the Gestapo-style questioning: where are you going? (Er, it says so right there on my boarding card.) Do you have a valid visa? (Um, I just handed you my passport with the page open on the visa in question.) The harder you try to be insouciant, the shiftier you look.
• Hotel woes: What is it with hotels and their electronic keys? Why must we keep them away from mobile phones, coins, car keys, etc.? (I mean, where do they expect us to carry them? Tucked away beneath the soles of our shoes?) Credit cards seem to survive living in our wallets so why do hotels keys give up the ghost (usually in the middle of the night, when you are much the worse for wear) so often?
And don’t even get me started on bathrooms! The shower taps are so complicated that you need a tutorial to understand how they work. And since you are never given one, you end up cowering in a corner as cold water splashes all over you, trying to figure out how the damn thing works. By the time you’ve sussed out how to access the hot water, you’ve already had a cold shower by default. Brrrrr.
Plug points are the other bane of my existence in hotel rooms. They are usually placed behind cabinets or tables so that you have to crouch on all fours to access them. Or they are placed along the skirting of the wall so that you have to bend down to use them. If you have creaky joints, dodgy knees and bad backs, like most of us over 40, good luck trying to get up again!
Ditto, in-room safes. They are either placed so low down that you have to get on your knees to operate them. Or they are so high up in the wardrobe that you need to perch on a chair to check that you haven’t left anything behind. What is up with that?
• And then, there’s the return: Maybe someday someone will explain to me why in Indian airports, it is not enough to get the immigration officer to stamp your passport to validate your return to your country. Oh no, that would be too simple. So, instead, the good babus have deputed an additional two officers at the exit of the immigration area to check that your passport has, in fact, been stamped. Why? Do these people have no confidence in the ability of immigration officers to perform even the simplest of tasks? Or is this just another way to create jobs for the boys (who would otherwise be unemployed)?
Don’t ask me. I am too busy practicing my insouciant face in the mirror for the next time I head out of the country.