Photo by Petros Papakonstantinu/Shutterstock
Photo by Joseph Pearson
Finding the right friend to travel with can be tough—which is all the more reason to stick together once you’ve found each other.
Novelist Jacqueline Winspear clicked with Corinne on their very first training day as flight attendants. Once they started traveling together, their friendship really took off.
We landed on Heraklion, the largest city in Crete, fizzy with the excitement of being in a new place. Corinne, my flatmate, and I had no plans, not even a guidebook. The year was 1978, and we’d chosen our destination at random, drawing upon our perks as flight attendants. Just six hours earlier, we had arrived at London’s Gatwick airport with nothing but a bag each and a week’s vacation to fill. Within 15 minutes, we had chosen our destination, received our tickets, and headed for the gate. Now, as we walked out into the sunshine, we were about to do what we’d done from the moment we’d begun traveling together: Wing it.
I’d met Corinne on our first day of training to be flight attendants. I was 21, fresh out of college, with a desire to see the world. As an insolvent graduate, I wanted someone else to pay for the travel, so I searched for employment that would meet the demands of my wanderlust. Corinne had been working a desk job for the travel agency Thomas Cook and was experiencing that same urge to seek adventure minus the cost. So, there we were, one day learning how to serve coffee without scalding a passenger and the next launching ourselves down emergency slides into a swimming pool. We also learned that, should an aircraft crash in the Arctic Circle, eating polar bear liver was to be avoided—it’s highly toxic. I remember glancing across the room of young women in red-and-black uniforms, wondering if I was the only person suppressing laughter. Everyone else was taking notes—and then I caught Corinne’s eye. We both started to giggle, and I knew that she, too, was visualizing herself in wild pursuit of a polar bear somewhere in the Arctic.
We found a flat together near our base at Gatwick, and from our first flight we knew that travel together would be a blast. It was evident the moment we dropped a box containing 30 airline meals while trying to secure it in a locker. Most new flight attendants would have been mortified, but we couldn’t stop laughing as we scraped lurid red Jell-O off individual servings of chicken and coleslaw. After discovering that for many air crew, being “down route” meant hanging out in a bar—which didn’t appeal to either of us—we started requesting matching flight schedules so we’d have someone to adventure with in a new city.
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It was in Crete that I realized just how good Corinne was at getting free stuff, a skill that has continued to serve us well. (My skill? I’m the one who remembers the way back to a hotel after a walkabout—or after hiding under a seawall.) Corinne had met a lovely British woman who owned a hotel with her husband and who had invited us to use the pool and enjoy a free lunch. Great! Except that, in return for this golden opportunity, Corinne had volunteered us to be “models” for a photographer working on the new hotel brochure. This entailed Corinne languishing on a sun lounger with a cocktail in hand, while I throttled back and forth in the pool, looking up only when the photographer yelled, “Smile, Jackie!”
We set ourselves a limit of only two years in the air before we’d figure out what we really wanted to do in life. In the meantime, we made the most of our benefits, traveling throughout Canada, the United States, the Caribbean, and Europe, as well as venturing to other parts of Britain, becoming travelers in our own country. Inevitably, we transitioned to our chosen careers, immersing ourselves in work that left little opportunity to travel. In time, I would move more than 5,000 miles away to live in California, and Corinne and her husband would raise two daughters in Yorkshire, England.
Yet at some point we resumed traveling together, slipping into our old pattern with ease, planning trips without any dithering or dissent. Corinne is better at finding hotels we like, and I’m good with flights—15 minutes after we decided on four days in Marrakech, everything was booked. And that’s when we dusted off a pact we’d made in our early 20s—in an insouciant moment, we’d promised that, when we reached the grand old age of 60, we would commit to a travel adventure every year until we could no longer drag ourselves aboard an aircraft, train, ship, or bus. Time whipped around, and in 2015, soon after we entered our 60s, we traveled to Costa Rica, followed by Alaska the next year, and then Kenya, a place we’d dreamed of visiting for years.
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