Manchester, England. I was back, later than expected owing to a late departure from London’s labyrinthine Heathrow Airport. However, I still had the best part of the day in Manchester to go on a shopping spree.
As quick-footed and nimble-fingered as ever, I chased and caught a train direct from the airport to Piccadilly station, admiring the dark silhouette of the Pennine mountain chain on the horizon through the cloudy morning gloom.
One might wonder why I hadn’t flown straight to Bangkok from New York. In all honesty, I wondered the same. At least one day back in old England allowed me a little breathing space, a snippet of time on familiar soil between trips.
Easing my weary, sleep-deprived body through Manchester city centre’s early morning crowds, it struck me that an awful lot of children appeared to be playing truant from school. Once I’d immersed myself in Arndale Shopping Centre, such a problem seemed even more acute than first feared; boys and girls of all ages were strutting around in gangs. Little did I know that everything was in order: the half-term holiday explained why education was being temporarily forsaken in favour of retail therapy-inspired loitering.
I needed to be organised, to waste not a minute. I’d roughed-out a skeletal shopping list to keep me on track, to ensure I accomplished the important affairs first. First and foremost, I required a new pair of trainers, bought in a flash from one of the shopping centre’s sale-throwing sports stores. Next, I treated myself to my very first Lonely Planet guidebook. Knowing very little about some of the Asian countries through which I intended to pass, guidance of any nature wouldn’t go amiss.
The Waterstones cashier swooned when I approached with my purchase. You could say she saw me coming. Bagging my book with an ear-to-ear grin, she confided that she’d backpacked through southeast Asia the previous year. ‘How long were you there?’ I asked. ‘Oh, it took me a full year to travel through Thailand and Malaysia… and I still didn’t get to visit all the places I wanted to,’ she sighed in reminiscence. ‘A year?’ I spluttered, suddenly concerned I was planning to cram far too much into six months. ‘So you’re telling me that I’ll be rushing things slightly?’
My change was returned with a cunning glint in her eyes. ‘Well,’ she advised, ‘if you wanna live fast and die young, you go right ahead.’
Steve’s first book about backpacking is available here