From Wednesday to Monday I was in the northern, southern, eastern, and western hemispheres.
It’s nothing to brag about. There was nothing brilliant about it. On the contrary, it could be the worst-planned travel itinerary ever. The only accomplishment is that I survived it. But I did experience it, and that’s worth talking about. It was extraordinary.
I didn’t intentionally plan such a marathon. It only happened because there were two travel events that I absolutely could not miss. They happened to be very close together on the calendar, and very far apart on the globe.
I had already booked my flights to the Arctic Circle when it came time to book flights for the trip to Durban, South Africa. I considered canceling the flights and rebooking so I could fly from Svalbard down to South Africa. But it was too complicated. And I wanted that two-day layover in Jersey. I didn’t want to drag my winter gear, my voluminous insulated pants, and parka to South Africa. I needed to go home, regroup, repack and take off on a very different kind of trip.
To explain why both trips were unmissable, the first trip was an opportunity to travel on Lindblad Expeditions’ new National Geographic Resolution to the island archipelago of Svalbard, which crosses the 80th parallel. Number 90, for reference, is the North Pole.
It was the first Arctic voyage of the Resolution, which was just christened last November and started its sea life doing Antarctic trips during the austral summer of December, January, and February. The company’s founder and chairman, Sven Lindblad, was set to be a special guest on the trip. In addition, it was going to be the first time Lindblad Expeditions ever sailed to Svalbard so early in the year. The trip was called “Svalbard in Spring.” Previously, the company’s Svalbard journeys begin in June, but this was set for late April. So, it was a very special opportunity, and I could not imagine my life going forward if I missed that trip.
The other trip, to Africa’s Travel Indaba in South Africa, was also unmissable. Indaba is one of the largest travel trade shows in the world, focused exclusively on Africa. While most of the big travel shows cover the whole world, Indaba is concentrated on Africa; and the collective Africa-centric energy at that event is like a great hurricane of human interaction and activity.
Though Indaba began as a South Africa travel show, in recent years, as other trade shows have come to South Africa, Indaba has branched out to cover all of Africa. It provides a concentrated experience of Africa and comprehensive access to the travel industry of the entire African continent. For people who have any kind of special interest in African travel, it’s a necessary yearly activity.
This Indaba was to be the first Indaba in three years. Indaba 2020, scheduled for May of that year, had to be canceled when the COVID lockdowns came down in March 2020. The next year it had to be canceled again. In 2022, Indaba was back, and the industry was hungry for it.
I was worried heading into that period of heavy travel. When I thought about my itinerary, I wondered, is this humanly possible? Is it sane? It was indeed a grueling itinerary. But that’s the way things happen sometimes, so I gritted my teeth and moved ahead with it.
It was only when I was looking at the flight map on the screen while flying from Zurich, Switzerland, to South Africa that I realized that I had actually been in all four hemispheres. Zurich came into the itinerary at the last minute.
Initially, I had been booked to fly direct on United from Newark to Johannesburg. But United canceled a number of flights because of a fuel shortage in South Africa. I was re-booked on Swissair, with a stop in Zurich of about 10 hours. It added a day to my flight time.
Since South African Airways is not flying the transatlantic route now, as it works through its bankruptcy, there are few options for traveling from the US to South Africa without going through Europe or Asia. I actually flew northward from Jersey to Zurich before I could make the southward journey to South Africa from Europe. United’s cancellation further complicated an already-complicated itinerary.
Here’s how I crossed back and forth among the hemispheres. I went from west to east, to west to east, to west. At the conclusion of the Arctic trip, on Wednesday, I flew from Svalbard to Oslo, Norway, and spent the night. On Thursday, I flew from Oslo to Newark to stay for two nights. On Saturday, I flew back to Zurich, and on Sunday down to South Africa. When Indaba was over, I went back west again.
In regard to the North-South axis, I went from a point 600 miles from the North Pole to almost the southernmost point of the African continent.
It was a six-hour time change from New Jersey time to both Oslo and Svalbard. Out of 24 time zones total, that’s a quarter of the way around the globe. Then after returning to Jersey, I traveled back over seven time zones to South Africa.
The experience of the time change was further jumbled by the fact that the sun never sets this time of year in the Arctic. It’s daylight all the time. Our circadian rhythms are synched to the cycles of the sun rising and setting. But once we got to Svalbard, we didn’t see night again till we returned to Oslo about a week later. In Svalbard, they won’t see night again until late August.
While the ship had a daily schedule of meals, activities and events, the 24-hour daylight made it seem like a timeless zone. It never got dark. When you wanted to sleep, you just pulled the shades and pretended it was night. I never really quite adjusted to the six-hour time change. It got to where it didn’t matter what time it was.
Now that it’s all over, the schlepping around wasn’t nearly as bad as I might have feared. The trips themselves were stellar, over the top. Making those transfers was tiring, no doubt. But that’s just the nature of air travel. It’s nearly miraculous that the international flight system can move us across the world the way it does. It beats the hell out of wagon trains. And with the possibility of remote connectivity, airports can be good as offices or just places to hang out.
When I was traveling between destinations, I didn’t grasp the magnitude of it. It was more or less just a car and a plane and a room and a coach and a plane in series. And although I didn’t intend to travel so much in six days, it was in itself a mind-blowing experience. It was one of those experiences that make you really aware that you live on a planet, a sphere that rotates in space.
After two years of being more or less stuck within a small area, it was exhilarating to get back out and do some serious traveling again. It proved to me that I can still do it, and it reminded me how inspiring and stimulating it is to travel to foreign places and expose yourself to many things that are different and challenging to you.
It was head-spinning to go from snow-draped mountains and frozen sea to sub-Saharan Africa on another side of the world, and about as different as it gets from the polar regions. Either trip alone would have been seriously mind-altering. Putting them together multiplied the effect.
There’s still the extra element of navigating through COVID protocols. But it’s just part of travel now, and it is getting easier—gradually.
That brings me to a place where I can say that, for me, the lockdown is finally over. I did all that traveling and did not contract COVID or suffer any bad consequences. So it’s a good place to be. For me, travel is back. And welcome indeed.
David Cogswell is a freelance writer working remotely, from wherever he is at the moment. Born at the dead center of the United States during the last century, he has been incessantly moving and exploring for decades. His articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Fortune, Fox News, Luxury Travel magazine, Travel Weekly, Travel Market Report, Travel Agent Magazine, TravelPulse.com, Quirkycruise.com, and other publications. He is the author of four books and a contributor to several others. He was last seen somewhere in the Northeast U.S.