I had a dream last night. I was at an airport searching for my luggage and every case on the carousel looked identical. I frantically pulled each one from the conveyor belt and checked the label for mine, but they were all labelled in Arabic script. The dream probably came about after seeing news reports about the disasters being experienced across the world as a result of the post Covid dash for travel. I can really sympathise with travellers as flights are cancelled and luggage lost, not to mention the long, long queues at airports and below par service that’s being provided. As airlines and customers come to grips with a return to business, not everything is going to plan.

After a lifetime of travel for work and leisure, I dream a lot about planes, airports, hotels and cities. I’m usually lost in a labyrinth of hotel hallways or wandering up blind alleys looking for a way to the airport.  It’s not the first time I’ve dreamt about luggage either, and it usually ends just before the strip search at the hands of a belligerent customs officer. Thankfully that never happened in real life, but lost baggage was certainly a constant hazard of my travels. Most times I had my luggage back and delivered to my hotel within hours, but there were a few bags that never returned from the lost luggage black hole that it went down.

I recall one instance when I arrived for an important meeting in Bologna. I was to meet the directors of a large company with a view to a new business partnership. The airport was busy with excited passengers, anxious to get to their final destinations. There’s nothing worse than standing at the luggage carousel and watching others grab their bags and haul them from the conveyor, the crowd of passengers dwindling down to nothing as the last bags are taken from the belt. You can’t help thinking that the last passenger to leave the hall with their bags intact had a little giggle and a smirk as they left you standing alone, still waiting. Occasionally there’s one piece of luggage going around and around with no one to claim it, but it’s not yours and all hopes are in tatters. On this occasion, I eventually conceded defeat and registered my claim at the lost luggage office.

Unfortunately, as it always seems to be with catastrophes, it happened to be the weekend – Sunday to be exact – and Sunday in Italy is still very much a rest day for everyone. So, as you might guess, finding a shop to buy emergency clothing proved to be an impossible task. With no other option available, I prayed that by morning I would have my suitcase and hoped I could still look my best for an introduction to what I hoped would be a long and fruitful association.

I stunk like an old dog blanket

Monday morning came and with it no sign of the luggage. With my meeting scheduled for 9am, I still had time to rush out and buy some suitable attire. Not so. Everywhere I went, the signs read: Chiuso! aperto alle dieci. 10am opening. This was a disaster. I’d spent 36 hours travelling from Sydney to Rome and then on to Bologna. My tee-shirt looked like old rags, jeans had red wine stains and I’d already turned my undies and socks inside out as a refresher. And, though I’d been able to shower, it seemed to me that I still stunk like an old dog blanket.

After a frantic search, I came across a sports shop where I begged the arriving owner to open up early and help save my trip. The clock was against me, but after some quick selections I was able to don fresh clothes and head swiftly for my negotiations. I wasn’t sure what was said exactly but the interpreter who had been called in to facilitate the meeting was able to explain to the immaculately dressed Italians in their Brunello Cucinelli, Giorgio Armani and other finely tailored Milanese fashions, why I’d shown up in track pants and a bright new Nike tee-shirt that read: BIRTH-SOCCER-DEATH across the chest. (I couldn’t resist it.) At least I had clean undies and my new collegues had a good laugh.

Lost bags aren’t the only luggage disasters in my catalogue of travel adventures. My wife and I were in Osaka when calamity struck. We had arrived in the city after driving a rental car from the north of Japan (an adventure for another blog) and had dropped the car off at the train station from where we would take the train across the city to our hotel. Unfortunately, we had arrived just in time for rush hour. Anyone who’s taken a train in a Japanese city at rush hour knows that it’s not for the faint hearted.

We’d boarded the packed train and were taking deep breaths so as not to panic over the crush, when our largest suitcase, packed to bursting, did exactly that; it burst completely. The zipper decided to let go under force, like a Jack-in-the-box, shooting the contents of our case into the air and spilling it around the feet of bemused commuters who tried to dodge the fallout. We tried to appear unfazed, in that embarrassed sort of nonchalant way in which we English tend to act when disaster strikes. Don’t panic!

Remaining calm and composed, we gathered our belongings from the floor, even as they became tangled under foot in the stampede for the exit. “Sumimasen! Excuse me, sir, you’re standing on my knickers.” Now, while Japanese people are wonderfully polite and accommodating folk, they tend to be more single-minded during rush hour in the city. No one felt obliged to come to our aid as we scrambled for our things, and when the doors opened, we were lucky to get out in one piece. To this day, I’m sure I saw some guy getting off the train carrying a briefcase and wearing Christine’s nightie.  

Sumimasen! Excuse me, sir, you’re standing on my knickers

After millions of kilometres (yep, 2.4 million by my calculation) of travel since leaving England in 1982, it’s no wonder I dream about it. There’ve been a few nightmares, but all in all I’ll take them along with the wonderful experiences. May there be many more dreams to come, but I might wait a little longer until they sort out the luggage problems.

May there be more dreams to come