Transportation, Travel

Traveling ON your birthday

Many of us travel to celebrate special occasions, especially birthdays, but what if you had to travel ON your birthday? As in, spend most of the day on a bus, train, and plane? Sometimes the need to save money and book flights with optimal departure and arrival times results in spending a significant time traveling on one’s birthday. This is exactly what I had to recently consider when I was booking my trip back to the US from the UK. So what was it like spending my birthday basically alone, taking on various modes of transportation, and traveling over 3,000 miles? Join me as I relive this not-so-bad day!

Heathrow London to Boston Map
Just over 3,000 miles to get home! (image source: Google Maps)

Travel thought process:

My birthday falls right before one of the busiest times for traveling. When booking flights, I usually choose the flexible dates option to see what combination leads to the least inexpensive journey. There are also the departure and arrival times to consider, because I still had to take a 2 hour trip to the airport and leave at least 3 hours to check in my bags and go through passport control. Not to mention that I had to arrive at a time when my family or friends can pick me up at the airport.

So, why not book an earlier flight way before the busiest time of the year? Due to my teaching responsibilities, I had no choice but to look at dates after my last class. Usually, this is no problem, as I’ve been able to book my flight at least 3 months in advance for a really good price. As it so happens, this combination of my schedule and budget led me to reluctantly book a flight out of London on my birthday!

I reasoned that I traveled throughout the year, so spending one birthday going from one mode of transportation to another wasn’t such a big deal. I was still a bit wary though; I know traveling can be a very stressful event, but adding in one’s birthday and the fact that I would be alone might make this day really depressing.

Day of my birthday!

Needless to say, I shouldn’t have worried. The day of my birthday arrived, and after a week of celebrating and dinners with friends, I was feeling very grateful to be surrounded by such kind and wonderful people. And the kindness didn’t stop there!

Taking the bus:

First, since I had such a heavy suitcase (20 kgs!), I walked the 8 minutes to the nearest bus stop and then took the local bus to the bus station. Since I’m in the UK, we’re not talking about some drab and neglected public bus. No! The buses in the UK are mostly double-decker buses that are pristine compared to the buses I’ve taken in the US. After those experiences, taking the bus in the UK is really something I looked forward to with the same joy and anticipation as I have when I travel. So, 6am or not, my birthday is off to a pretty great start!

Paris in Boston London Double-Decker Bus
An example of one of the clean, modern, and civilized buses in London

I wait only a short while for the bus to London to arrive. My luggage is stowed away and I’m seated comfortably. There are not too many people on this bus so I get to travel all the way to London with no one in the seat beside me. This is great, luck is on my side and my birthday is still going well!

Taking the train:

Arriving at London, I have to traverse the bus station to go to the nearby underground station. Here’s where things get tricky. My luggage is pretty wide, so I have some trouble getting through the gate. The gate ended up closing while my luggage was still behind me, so I had to pull my bag through the opening at the bottom. This was a bit embarrassing since the people behind me had to wait as I struggled to drag this heavy bag to the other side of the gate. Once my bag was safely on the other side, I just continued walking towards my platform as if nothing happened – something I learned from years of being klutzy!

London’s Tube system has lots of escalators, which is especially helpful as some of the platforms seem like they’re hundreds of feet underground. Nevertheless, I still had to carry my suitcase up some stairs when changing lines. This was turning out to be the moment when I starting to regret booking my flight on my birthday. I got my suitcase up the first set of stairs and took a little break before I carried on. But someone must have been looking out for me because before I had to carry my suitcase up the steepest set of stairs, someone offered to carry my suitcase to the top for me!!! This person had no idea it was my birthday, of course, but this small act of kindness made such a profound impact that day. Thank you so much whoever you are! So far, my day couldn’t be better and surprisingly, I’m feeling much more content that I thought I would be when I booked my flight.

Taking the plane:

After taking the train, I got out at the Heathrow stop, took the escalator, checked in my luggage, and went through security checks. Once that was done, I decided to eat an early lunch and wandered around to find a restaurant. I usually treat myself to a nice meal whenever I fly alone. It gives me something to look forward to and lets me relax a bit while I eat a good meal.

After lunch, I decided to continue wandering around and look at the shops. I really like Heathrow because they have shops for Harrods and my personal favorite, Fortnum & Mason. Both are London institutions and are beautiful shops to visit. Browsing these shops in the terminal lets me do some last minute shopping for gifts.

London Heathrow Harrods Airport tea
Some of the gorgeous packaging for the teas in Harrods

My flight was smooth and I caught up on a few movies on the in-flight entertainment system. I try to book an aisle seat, and luckily there was no one sitting in the middle seat next to me. While this was great, this wasn’t as great as my previous flight home where I had not only the whole row of 6 to myself, but one of the rows of 2 next to me was also free! This is something that first class can’t offer 🙂

A little bit of Disney at the airport:

The birthday surprises aren’t over yet! I arrived at Boston and quickly got through passport control, where they played the soundtrack to Soarin’ from Disney World and Disneyland! Beautiful and inspiring, isn’t it? If you know me, I’m a huge fan of anything Disney, and I was completely not expecting to hear the soundtrack to one of my favorite rides. What an awesome surprise on my birthday!

Taking the car:

My friend was waiting for me as I exited the gate into the main Arrivals area. Isn’t it great when you arrive after a long flight and see a friendly face immediately after exiting baggage claim? When we were talking a few months prior and I told her that I would be traveling on my birthday, she insisted that she pick me up and organized a dinner with our friends at any restaurant I wanted. Of course I picked a French restaurant! I had been to Aquitaine for brunch before, but never dinner. It was a lovely way to end my birthday, and by the time we finished dinner, it was around 3am UK time and I was practically falling asleep (although it could have been the wine and champagne).

Aquitaine Restaurant at Christmas
A delicious French meal with good friends to cap off a birthday filled with lots of traveling

After 22 hours full of traveling, transportation changes, kindness of strangers, fun surprises, reuniting with good friends and family, and delicious meals, I ended up having a pretty eventful and fun birthday!

Would I book another flight on my birthday? I think it depends on where I am and where I’m going. I probably won’t because this experience far surpassed my expectations. What about you, have you traveled on your birthday? How long was the journey?