What would you do, if you were faced with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something crazy, ridiculous and spectacular, and get everything you’ve ever wanted in one fell swoop? Would you take it? I think I just embarked on the craziest, riskiest and flat out stupid thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.
The day started like any other. I woke up late on a Sunday morning, had breakfast at my go-to café and did my washing, hoping to edit a couple more photos and maybe even do some exercise. I began to think about my planned trip to Montréal for 9 days over the mid-semester break. I desperately wanted to go back to Montréal, I missed it more than anything in the world. It got to the stage where I hit breaking point at the turn of the New Year, and promised myself that I would go there this year in 2015.
It was 55 days to go before my planned departure, 11 days past my 66 day formula for cheap flights. Prices generally bottom out at that point and then start to rise. After hitting up the web I discovered the flight to be a hefty $2400 return, and then all the other complications started to reveal themselves – I’d be going for 9 days which is actually about 6 days in Montréal when you factor in those 24+ hour flights (plus jetlag), it would be in my mid-semester break which would mess up my grades, and it would be during everyone’s finals so no one would be able to see me. Screw that.
After scrapping that idea I sat back in my chair, and after a brief moment of clarity I decided to check, as a joke – how stupidly expensive a last minute flight to Montréal would be. My mild amusement and curiosity turned to shock when it turned out that it wasn’t. On my computer screen laid a $1594 return ticket for a full 2 weeks in Montréal, a whole $50 cheaper than my original one-way flight there. And it left in 2 days. Holy crap.
I decided to check, as a joke - how stupidly expensive a last minute flight to Montréal would be. It turns out that it wasn’t.
My mind kicked into overdrive as I tried to comprehend the scope of the opportunity that laid before my eyes. It felt like something out of a movie. I’ve always toyed with the idea of taking a last minute flight to the other side of the world and how ridiculous it would be, but now the opportunity was here, and it was real. I have the money. I have the desire. I have basically no responsibilities. I could actually do this.
I frantically paced about my room thinking about whether or not I actually wanted to go through with it. It was a huge risk and a ridiculous thing to go ahead with. I wanted to buy that ticket more than anything in the world but my force of my impulses were in an unending battle with my brain which wanted nothing more than a bit of normalcy. We’re all taught to go through life along what I like to call “The set path”, but the only reason why that’s so is because it’s safe. It’s easy. But the real fun lies beyond it.
I messaged an old friend of mine who told me to do it. My well-reasoned and logical-minded housemate told me to do it. I had planned a Skype conversation with Cat my friend in Montréal that day, she told me to come and that I could stay at hers. I was just about convinced. The only person I haven’t asked is my boss.
I tried calling him once, no answer. Second time, nope. Third, no. Fourth. Fifth.
I bought the ticket.
The moment the payment was confirmed I was instantly transported to a state of absolute euphoria. I started jumping up and down on my bed through sheer impulse. I had never felt happier in my entire life – suddenly everything was beautiful again, and I felt like myself once more.
I was breaking the norm and deciding to do something completely and utterly ridiculous and spontaneous. I was living life, following my heart and doing exactly what I wanted to do. Grabbing life by the balls. Screw rules and responsibility. I’m going to Montréal.
After that initial surge of excitement my mind struggled to comprehend the gravity of the situation. Just a couple hours ago I expected to waste the rest of my summer on this unfulfilling, unpaid engineering internship and now I’m about to head off on a spontaneous trip to the other side of the world. Just one-click for my entire life to change. I was in a state of disbelief. Did I really just do that? I’ve done a reasonable amount of insane stuff in my life but this takes the cake. Who even am I anymore?
Travel, for most people and for the entirety of my life up to this point was always considered to be this big, complicated thing that you had to plan for… and I’m just going to GO. Tossing all that organisation aside and going to the complete other side of the world on a whim. Just like that. It was breaking my reality of what was possible. It was liberating. It was exhilarating. And I loved it.
If everything falls perfectly in place for a trip right here, right now – what’s there to stop you?
It was at this point that my boss ended up calling back and asked me what the hell was going on. At first I tried to see if I could go back to the internship after my trip but after that looked impossible I decided to ditch it. My boss tried to convince me otherwise to stay and said I was making a huge mistake but I wasn’t having any of it. He did convince me to come in the next day instead of just running away all together though, and I did because I felt like I owed him that much.
My friend Marie was fervently pushing me to buy that ticket to go to Montréal, but as soon as I went through with it I came up with the idea to make it a surprise. She’s gonna freak. No one else except Cat and her flatmate knows at this point so it’s all a massive secret. Montréal isn’t gonna know what hit it. I pretended that the prices went way up and that I backed out of the whole thing, to which she expressed her extreme disappointment. She really thought I was going through with it. And I did.
The race to prepare
Now that I bought the ticket I had to gather the gear needed to survive the unforgiving winter of Montréal – all of which was stored in my parents’ house 2.5 hours away in Newcastle. Cue me rocking up at the train station in Newcastle at midnight, basically unannounced needing a very peculiar collection of shoes and clothing for the middle of the Australian summer. I wasn’t even planning on telling my parents at this point (they would flip out, I mean who wouldn’t), and made the excuse that I was grabbing my winter jacket and boots for a friend who was “going skiing in Vancouver in a couple of days” and needed winter clothes. It worked.
The next day I took the train directly into work to drop the internship. To try and gently massage the burning of this bridge to the best of my ability I was there for three hours helping out and doing work. It was awkward. Like unbelievably, ridiculously awkward. He asked me if I changed my mind but I hadn’t. I still managed to get my 5 days counted towards my Industry Training which was great but right as I was about to leave my boss told me he emailed my dad about the whole thing. I didn’t even know he knew my dad. Either way this is not good. As I left the office I tried calling my dad five times but he wasn’t picking up. I decided to leave it and get packing. I’m leaving for Montréal tomorrow. This all feels so surreal.
It was while I was packing in the late afternoon that it turned out my boss then decided to call my dad directly and tell him that his son was about to jet off to Canada. Not cool man. After receiving that call my parents ended up calling me, and they went into total meltdown. My dad started screaming at me asking what the hell I was thinking and my mum started crying and thought I was leaving forever (to which I repeatedly told her I wasn’t and that it was a return ticket). They tried to do everything in their power to make me stay including threatening to cut off my rent in Sydney, but my mind was made. I’m going to Montréal tomorrow. I don’t blame them for freaking out, who wouldn’t – but I wasn’t going to back out now. I dropped my internship, freaked my parents out, I’m $1596 out of pocket already – I’m going all the way.
Going to Montréal for me turned from a want to a need, and the perfect opportunity to do so fell into my lap, at a time when all my friends will still be in Montréal and not yet have graduated. When they’re gone it’s not the same place anymore. It was a now or never opportunity. If you’re looking for the most extreme case of post-exchange syndrome around then I think you’ve found it.
Going to Montréal for me turned from a want to a need
By the next day my parents were kinda cool with it, and just made sure I got travel insurance (which I did). They were still calling me repeatedly and telling me how I’m making a mistake, but I didn’t care. What I found really interesting was the divide in opinion based on age/generation. All the parents/baby boomers think I’m doing the dumbest thing in the world and sacrificing my education (which should be no. 1 apparently), while all the Gen Ys think it’s completely crazy and awesome and amazing. My reasoning, apart from it being the opportune time to go Montréal is simple – How many chances do you get in your life to do something as crazy and spontaneous as this? I wasn’t even purposefully searching for a last minute trip, this all grew out of what was essentially a joke. Completely unexpected, completely spontaneous, absolute insanity. I saw an opportunity and I took it. If I didn’t take it I’d regret it for the rest of my life.
The thing is at this point I didn’t even know if I would actually make it to Montréal. This is part of why I was debating it so heavily. My flight takes me through LAX and JFK in the United States, and the state of my US Visa was a bit of an unknown since I had a bit of a sketchy exit out of the US last time as I left to Europe. It’s an interesting story on its own, but the gist of the story is after a bunch of complications with my expired visa waiver I was given a new one, but the man told me to surrender the waiver to US customs or I might get removed from the Visa waiver program. And… I forgot to. I checked a bunch of times on the ESTA website and it said it was fine, but I wasn’t so sure.
Flying to Montreal
As I was walking through Sydney airport I was absolutely giddy with excitement and utterly terrified at the same time. I broke into an ecstatic grin when the check-in staff asked for the debit card I used to pay for the ticket, a unique requirement for when someone takes a last minute flight. I can’t believe I’m doing this.
On top of my Visa concerns I was absolutely delirious with the flu, so the entire flight I was completely out of it and thinking “Lashan. This is what’s going to happen. You’re going to take this $1596 return flight, arrive in LAX after 13 hours in the air, they’re gonna tell you no and you’re going straight back home.” That was the only thing going through my head. Lashan what on Earth are you doing?
I probably looked like a complete maniac to everyone on that first flight. Couple my health with my nervousness with my boundless excitement and you have quite the cocktail of insanity on your hands. I got moved from my window seat in a 3 seat row with 2 old Americans to another window seat in an empty row, score (pro traveller tip – look like a crazy person on the plane to get sweet seats) and after a couple of trips to the bathroom a flight attendant walked up and asked if I was okay. I ended up getting through US Immigration without issue, but on the next flight to JFK I was boarding the plane and this guy tapped me on the shoulder excitedly and said “Hey I remember you from the Australia flight!” Oh dear. I must have made quite the scene.
It was on my third and final flight when we were finally coming into Montréal. I left Sydney at 1:10pm on the 10th of February, and I was arriving into Montréal at 9:12pm on the 10th of February. 24 hour trip. Longest day of my life. I’ll never forget how I felt looking at the lights of my beloved city once again. I stared out of that plane window with nothing but stars in my eyes.
I made it
Touching down into my home city, I was in a state of absolute shock. I was walking with my backpack down the beautiful street of St-Catherine’s on a cool (-10°C) winter’s night – it was lightly snowing and the yellow street lamps illuminated the snowflakes as they floated down. Looking around I thought to myself “I remember this place, this is Montréal… but I can’t be here right now. That’s in the past, this is impossible no this can’t be real I WAS IN SYDNEY YESTERDAY”. How was it possible to go from one place to the complete opposite side of the world in such a small span of time? I was in some kind of dream-like state, feeling like I was watching myself go through an idealised movie version of my life.
When I arrived to Cat’s I got some much needed food and was probably utterly delirious. The plan for tonight was set. No one knows I’m here and it just so happens that it’s a Tuesday night in Montréal, and what we Montréalers do on a Tuesday night is go out to Café Campus. It’s a club in Montréal with $5 pitchers of beer on Tuesday nights and they play 70s/80s/90s music all night long. We all go. It’s a thing. Cat worked her magic and tried to convince a reluctant Marie to meet us there, under the guise of seeing another friend and “oh it’s the last time you’ll see her before she leaves” blah blah blah. It worked. And so began the journey to Café Campus.
Café Campus is a club in Montréal with $5 pitchers of beer on Tuesday nights and they play 70s/80s/90s music all night long. We all go. It’s a thing.
We first paid a visit to my friend Daniella’s house to get some more people to come, where I met a bunch of the new exchangers. Cat begged Daniella to come out into the hallway for a surprise, and after a bit of pressure she sort of figured it out. She started freaking out screaming “WHAT THE F—” and sort of fell to the ground cry-laughing as we hugged. It was pretty great. Time to surprise Marie.
We were walking towards café campus on a chilly Montréal night when I spotted Marie waiting outside wearing her huge coat. I immediately turned around to hide. “What do I do?!” I ask Cat, and everyone else goes ahead of us to meet her while Cat got her camera ready. This is all gonna be on tape. As Marie was talking to everyone else I walk up to her, tap her on the shoulder and turn her around. Our eyes lock for a fraction of a second before she realises and completely flips the fuck out, starts screaming and runs away. It was absolutely priceless. Eventually she came back and I got my hug. It was so good to see her again. The whole time we were all partying she was staring at me in disbelief wondering what the hell just happened. Messing with people is so much fun. When we were walking in I saw a girl walking out who happened to be one of my good friends from my uni on exchange here at McGill, I tapped her on the shoulder too and after a second she grabbed me and screamed “WHAT THE F— HOW WHAT WHY” at me for a good thirty seconds while I shouted back “I DON’T EVEN KNOW” and was laughing my ass off. After Café Campus we went and got poutine at 3am, in classic Montréal style.
Taking the risk and going on this last minute adventure was without a doubt the greatest thing I’ve ever done. It was exhilarating, it was liberating and I had never felt more alive. I have no regrets. My two weeks in Montréal consisted of a lot of surprises– walking around the city randomly running into friends and making them lose their minds in public, like I was some kind of happy-ghost. It was amazing, just having the power to inspire so much joy, shock and horror in people simultaneously with your mere presence. I woke up every morning with a massive grin on my face. It took about 3 days for it all to sink in. My two weeks was a whirlwind of catching up with close friends, meeting amazing new people, partying, enjoying the vibrant city life (including an epic 200-person snowball fight on Valentine’s Day), and eating a lot of delicious food. I got around to doing just about everything I never got around to in Montréal and then some.
It also made coming back to Sydney a lot more bearable. Before I felt like would never see everyone again and that my semester of exchange was a closed chapter of my life – but after coming back it reassures to me that it isn’t closed, and runs parallel to everything back here. For post-exchange students in particular I can’t recommend doing this enough.
After taking this cheap last minute flight to the other side of the world Montréal doesn’t seem so far away anymore, any neither does anywhere else. It does away with all the planning and organisation that normally surrounds travel and makes the very concept of distance ever more abstract.
Within a day I can be literally anywhere I want on Earth.
I should do this more often.
Until next time,