Good Weekend

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Foreign correspondence: how Aussies became the ninjas of long-haul travel

Our new column explores the world through Australian eyes – and Down Under from afar. This week: how Aussies became the ninjas of long-haul travel.

"I've always wanted to go to Australia!" is a common refrain you'll hear when travelling around the United States. (Another constant, for some reason, is asking how cold it gets here – a question so boring, I now point-blank refuse to answer it.)

My first instinct in responding is uncharitable. I want to remind the American with whom I'm talking about the existence of international flights, and their ability to purchase them in the thriving capitalist marketplace which is the internet. But I don't. They're only trying to be nice. Instead, I remind myself that thinking of long-haul travel as no big thing is a distinctly Australian belief, shaped by the inescapable fact that we live very far away from just about everywhere else.

This hit me again recently when I inflicted the most selfish possible act on my friends and family: a destination wedding. It was in New Orleans, which if you're coming from Australia is a minimum of two flights away, one of which likely involves Texas. There was a tropical storm brewing in the week leading up to the ceremony. Her name was Cindy and while I tried not to watch the Weather Channel – looming apocalypse is very good for ratings – it was pretty hard not to track Cindy's every move. New Orleanians take the weather very seriously, and for good reason.

Thousands of people lost everything in Hurricane Katrina, which hit in 2005, and the after-effects are still being felt. (Worrying about your wedding turnout? A problem of privilege, I'm aware.)

But while guests from all over the States were texting me frantically with hastily rescheduled itineraries, Australians started arriving in town, quietly, one after another, as though nothing was awry. And, in fact, nothing was, as the storm diverted from the mainland before the weekend. Still, I imagined that the Aussies had flown through some pretty turbulent winds, especially those who'd come from Dallas. So at the rehearsal dinner, I asked one such Australian how the trip had been. "Oh, it was fine," she said. "I mean, everyone was vomiting around me. But the flight was on time." She finished her margarita and cracked open another crawfish, the regional specialty we were serving guests to thank them for sitting on a plane for 20 hours.

It's clear Australians have long-distance travel down to a fine art. On the LA to Sydney flight you can always tell who's going home, because they're wearing elastic-waist pants. Americans, not known for sartorial knowhow, retain the touching belief that even in seat 42A high above the Pacific Ocean they are part of the collective project known as civilisation. Consequently, they don jeans and shirts when they should be slipping on the Australian Flying Uniform: complimentary hotel scuffs, Bonds tracksuit pants and/or a Qantas business class jersey from that one time someone got an upgrade, a pair of reliable noise-cancelling headphones and a mini bottle of screw-top shiraz. On QF12, as far as I'm concerned, it's whatever gets you through the night.

Yet I'd argue Americans are, on the whole, more excited about seeing their own country than Australians are about ours. When you ask an American how many US states they've visited, you'll inevitably get an impressive roll-call. (Though no one's been to North Dakota.) Have you ever heard an Australian boast that they've been to all six states, plus the territories? When Americans say they'd love to come to Australia, I think they're telling the truth. But they'd rather go to Yosemite first.