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Brave Girl in Scotland- Traveling to Aberdeen: A Four Part Adventure

Part 1: Orange County

My absolute favorite way to fly in and out of Southern California is through John Wayne Airport (Side note: if it is possible to fly through Long Beach, even better, but since most of my travel never crosses that tiny airport, my first preference is SNA.) LAX is the worst thing to happen to an airport, and starts all travel with a tremendous amount of stress, because getting there, then getting through the constant traffic that surrounds it, will put you on edge. Then you get inside and realize just how long the lines are, how many people are crammed into one place demanding to be given attention first, and it just gets worse and worse.

Orange County airport is different. It’s small, and mostly domestic, with minimal lines and an easy terminal to navigate.

I’ve spent the last ten years of my adult life moving around. Since I was 18, I’ve moved a grand total of 15 times. Fifteen moves in the last decade. At this point, I don’t think it’s even a surprise to my family when I announce that I’ve decided to do something different, to move somewhere new.

When I was preparing for my move to Aberdeen (my fifteenth), people kept asking me who was going with me. I was confused by this question, mostly because at this point in my life, I’ve moved so often and traveled by myself so frequently, that it doesn’t even occur to me to have anyone else there. My family is incredibly supportive, and my mom in particular has helped me move more times than I can count, but even she has her limits, and I very much doubted she’d want to make the two day journey to Aberdeen just to move me into a dorm. (I was right, and we both laughed about this when I mentioned it to her.)

I knew my parents were going to drop me off at the airport, but when people asked me if they were flying with me, I’d jokingly told them that I wasn’t even sure my parents would park. “They’ll probably pull up to the curb and say have a nice flight,” and that would be that. It was a goodbye I was familiar with, and the thought of it didn’t bother me in the slightest.

In reality, I knew better. My parents did park, and they even walked inside with me to check in. We said our goodbyes in front of the security line (how those TSA officers can still smile after seeing goodbyes all day is beyond me), and after several hugs and a couple of jokes about crying, I was off.

The thing I love about John Wayne, is this: I have TSA Precheck, and in a place like John Wayne, it really makes a difference. I walked right to the front of the Prechcek line, and by the time my parents had hit the doors to the parking garage, not twenty yards from where we had said goodbye, I was through security and on my way to my gate. It was just that easy.

To be fair, it’s not always that quick, but it is more often than not.

My first flight was to San Francisco and most of that flight was spent chatting with the lovely gentleman next to me. The plane was small, only two seats on either side of the plane type of layout, and the hour went racing by. We landed smoothly and I was off the plane in a matter of minutes. I had a lot of stress beforehand about seats assignments, since I hadn’t been able to book seats on two of my three flights, but I worried for nothing. My flight to SFO was great and I had a nice window seat which allowed me one last look at Orange County.

Goodbye Southern California!
My winter boots that I had to travel in. In August. From California.

Part 2: San Francisco

The Race to the Runway

Coming into land, we seemed to be in a race with this Southwest flight for the runway. It was a close call.

I landed in SFO around two in the afternoon. I was fortunate enough to be near the front of the plane, which meant I got to de-board quickly, and within moments I was heading out of the terminal. I discovered that the international terminal was actually a bit of a distance away, and that because of the nature of my flights, I’d need to go back through security again. This was fine, as I was still in the US and my precheck still counted for something.

After finding someone who could confirm for me that I did not need to pick up my bag and recheck it in in the international terminal, I made my way over. My first flight was on Alaska, an airline I am very familiar with and that I love. This next flight, the one that was going to carry me across North America and Atlantic Ocean, was on Thomas Cook Airlines. I’d never heard of them before booking, but I was willing to give them a shot. I found the counter (literally the furthest one in the terminal check in) and hopped in line to get my boarding pass.

Here I was, standing in line for a flight to Manchester with nothing more than a small backpack on my back while everyone else in line had piles of luggage (I swear, one guy had a mini bike wrapped up). The looks I got were skeptical at best.

After checking in, I made my way through security with minimal fuss. I stopped to buy some snacks and a nice salad for lunch before settling at my gate.

If you’ve ever flown internationally, you’ve probably noticed that those planes don’t board in the very front. Instead, they board a little further back, allowing first and business class the front of the plane, and the rest of us commoners in the back.

My seat was that first seat you see when you get on the plane. Yes, the one that is right next to the door. As in my toes were being stepped on as people boarded. It was though, the seat I had chosen, and in the end I was glad for it. It turned out to be a great location, with all the leg room a 5’4” giant like myself needs.

The flight itself was fine. Because of my location I was able to stretch out a bit more, which helped me settle into a slightly more comfortable position. In 2011 I broke my tailbone and since then, long periods of sitting have been brutal. I need to get up and move as often as possible, and on this flight, despite being next to the window, I could. It was so fantastic to be able to get up and stretch whenever I felt I needed it.

Another feature of this plane was that the toilets were located on a lower deck. There was a set of stairs in the middle of the plane that descended down to a cabin of lavatories, which ended up being awesome for stretching purposes.

The absolute best part of this flight though had to be when we were flying over Canada. I wasn’t sure where exactly we were, but at some point, I lifted the window cover only to come face to face with the Big Dipper. It was huge, bigger than huge, it was infinite. Never had the stars looked so close yet so far away at the same time.

As I was star gazing, a shooting star burst through the ladle, making me smile. Moments later, dozens of other stars followed, providing me with a spectacular view of a meteor shower.

As I watched the natural fireworks, I became aware of the clowds below starting to shift. I don’t know when it happened, but all of a sudden, they took on a green hue and then bam, there were the Northern Lights. Just like that.

It was the king of cosmic alignment that you have to witness to believe. I watched those lights for almost three hours. They faded to almost dull grey sometimes, and other times they blazed bright green. Sometimes they were so clear, I could see them writhing through the sky like a serpent. It was indescribable.

My attempt at taking a photo of the northern lights. If you squint and get lucky, you can see a faint line on the bottom left of the photo.

Part 3: Manchester

When I landed in Manchester, I was perhaps the third person off the plane. Even though I was literally at the door, they wanted to hold off the economy seats from exiting while the first class got off the plane. So I waited for the first couple to get off, then I slipped behind them while the next couple struggled to their feet with their belongings. I got through customs in record time, honestly, I think it was about three minutes, and I was literally thinking to myself, yes, this is the place to fly into!

Then, it happened. I don’t know if I was tired and not paying close enough attention, or if the airport was just lacking in decent signage, but suddenly, I couldn’t find where to go next. I was out of the terminal, I had to go through security again, but I didn’t know where to go. I went up to the departures desks in Terminal one, examined the departures boards and felt my stomach sink when I realized my flight wasn’t listed. I knew I was in the wrong terminal, but I had forty minutes to get to my gate and there were two other terminals to check.

After panicking, I finally found someone who could help me. She gave me directions to terminal three and after thanking her, I took off. The first step was getting in a lift that took about five minutes to come around and after trying to just go down the stairs—only to find the stairs didn’t go down, just up, I gave up and settled on waiting for the elevator.

Terminal 3 was out the building and around several corners and by the time I got there, I was feeling all kinds of stressed. I took a deep breath, told myself to calm down, then got into a mental argument with myself about being stressed.

Clearly, very relaxing.

I found my flight on the departures board finally, and headed into the security line, which was odd and confusing and utterly backed up. I went through security and of course, they pulled out my bags for inspection. It would have been fine, but there were no less than ten bags ahead of mine for inspection and I had less than fifteen minutes to get to my gate.

So I waited. And I waited. And I tried not to have a heart attack as I waited some more.

Finally, my items were up. She dug through my bag and pulled out a bottle of oils I forgot was in there, glaring at me. I shrugged at her. I’d been up for more than 24 hours at this point and I wasn’t going to apologize for forgetting a bottle of peppermint essential oils at the bottom of my bag.

Finally, I got all my things back after getting a lecture about liquids in my bag (pro tip, the UK is way stricter about liquids than the US has been), I hauled ass to my gate.

I was at gate 148 of 150.

I stared at the departures board, slightly stunned and imagining having to sprint past 147 gates.

Thankfully, it wasn’t so bad as all that, and I was able to slide into the gate as they began boarding. My flight was through Flybe, whom I have never flown with before, and it was mostly fine. Another two by two seat plane, though this time I was sat in the aisle. The flight was only an hour though and at this point, it felt like nothing.

Of course, being me, I found things to be memorable on a tiny hour-long flight. The first was that the person I was sat next to was almost certainly a fellow student, coming into study from New York.

I didn’t talk to them though, so I don’t know for certain, but since they had a massive Anarchy tattoo on their face, I think I’ll recognize them if I see them around campus.

The second was something that I had never quite experienced before. I’ve hit black ice while driving, and I’ve hydroplaned as well, but I had never experienced that sensation in a plane.

As we were making our descent, the plane would hit pockets of air where all of a sudden, we were just skidding through the air. It was alarming to me, but since no one else seemed panicked, I guess this was normal?

I also experienced a tremendous amount of pressure in my sinuses on this flight, and I don’t know if it was because the cabin wasn’t pressurized well, or if it was just because of how many times I’d been in the air already. In the end though, it was all good and I finally arrived in Aberdeen.

Part 4: Aberdeen

I was shocked, utterly shocked, to find my luggage at the baggage claim. I knew that it was supposed to be there, but the fact that it could go through the flights with me without a hitch, crossing three different airlines, was a miracle.

After I collected my bag, I made my way outside where it was simultaneously warm and cold. It war about 63 degrees out, but the wind was whipping. I pulled on my hoodie and started trekking up the road to my hotel for the night.

Twenty minutes and one encounter with a raven which honestly felt rather significant, I was finally crawling into my hotel. Thankfully, my room was ready though it was an earlier check in than expected, and I immediately went upstairs for a shower.

Once clean, I felt like a human being again and even had a decent amount of energy. I managed to stay awake until about three thirty, at which point I decided a nap would be fine. I set an alarm for five, just in case, and promptly passed out.

Around seven thirty, I woke up, realized what time it was, and forced myself to get up and go downstairs for food. I hadn’t eaten since that salad in San Francisco who even knew how many hours before, and though I wasn’t even sort of hungry, I knew I would regret not getting food while I could.

I ordered chicken and brought it up to my room, chowing down before passing out again.

I slept another four hours between eleven and three and I have been up since then, trying to convince myself to get more sleep.

But since it’s already seven thirty in the morning, I think in all likelihood I’ll get up, get some breakfast, and just get my day started.

Today’s agenda includes hiking back down to the airport to get a free ride to my housing, checking in and setting up in my room before hunting down the post office to finalize visa paperwork.

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