If you’ve ever looked at my travel photos (or anyone’s travel photos) and thought, “Wow. Traveling is easy, exciting, glamorous, living your best life…” well, that’s not wrong. It’s also not the whole truth.
Travel can absolutely be easy when you’ve put the work into planning the trip.
Travel can obviously be exciting when you’re seeing a new place for the first time.
Travel can be totally glam when you’re living like you don’t have a job for a week.
And, travel can be an opportunity to live your best life when it’s the fulfillment of a goal or dream.
Stuff happens when you travel that doesn’t fit into any of those categories. Stuff that can be quite the opposite, in fact. This is truth talk, friends.
And, in the spirit of transparency, lemme share with you some stories from my December 2018 trip to Europe – stories that are soooo not easy, exciting, glam, or living my best life. Behold, the travel blooper reel.
Day one. My plane arrived in Brussels at 8 a.m.… about 30 minutes early. Normally, arriving early is a bonus, but not that day. Since I couldn’t check into my Airbnb till 11 a.m., that just gave me an extra half hour to lug around my luggage. For the first time, I was seriously thankful that going through Customs isn’t quick. Still, it felt too quick this time. So did the metro ride to the stop closest to my Airbnb. There I was in the streets of Brussels, rolling my suitcase around with about 90 minutes to kill. Also, I was hungry. Also (number two), it started to rain. I spotted a tiny grocery store, navigated the aisles with luggage in tow, and bought some sushi, yogurt, and carrots – which I ate while sitting on the covered steps of a building overlooking a courtyard where a few people stared at me as if I were homeless.
Day three. Somehow, in all my meticulous planning, I missed that the Christmas market in The Hague was not open the one day I was there. I also didn’t realize this unfortunate truth until I had already walked two miles to the market site. Oops! Oh, and I thought I was good at safely crossing the road, until I was nearly run over by basically all the people on bikes. The Dutch are serious about cycling.
Day four. My train ticket for Brussels to Luxembourg didn’t indicate that I needed to switch trains anyplace along the way – so I settled in for the long haul, passively listening for the city name at each stop. It helped that all the announcements were also made in English. Well, almost all the announcements. About 30 minutes before its scheduled arrival in Luxembourg City, the train stopped again, but with no English announcement. It’s not your stop, I quickly reassured myself. Earbuds back in, I lost track of time before a train attendant approached. “Luxembourg?” he asked. I nodded, and he gestured out the window. “You need to be on THAT train.” Whaaaaaaaa??!! Bolting out of my seat while simultaneously shoving things inside my backpack, I’m sure I babbled “thank you” a dozen times before busting out of that train car like it was on fire. Suitcase in hand, I sprinted across the platform in what I’m certain was record running-with-luggage time. And I don’t think I exhaled once until my butt was seated on that second train.
More day four. After gaining entry into the apartment building of my Airbnb, I noticed there was one door per level. Certain my Airbnb host had said first floor, I tried the key. Didn’t work. Then, I tried pulling up the host’s message, but the Internet signal was too weak. Rather than go back outside to regain service, I justified that it couldn’t hurt to try the key on the second floor – so I did. Nope. Third floor? There were shoes outside the door, so I didn’t even try the key. But. I was out of floors. So, outside I went, leaving my suitcase in the hallway and praying for a strong signal. Finally, it loaded. My host’s message with the check-in instructions. Instructions that read ground floor, not first floor. I had to go down the stairwell – which, I’d wrongfully assumed led to a storage area. Back inside, I descended the stairs, saw the door, tried the key. And. It. Worked.
Day five. Boarding the train from Luxembourg to Paris, I could not find my seat number. As in, it didn’t seem to exist. I was in the correct car, but the seats stopped at 60. The number on my ticket? 64. Completely bewildered but not wanting to stand there like a complete dunce, I finally slid into empty seat 54, thinking mayyyyybe it was a typo. Not likely, but possible?? My plan was to ask the ticket checker person to HELP ME. But tickets aren’t checked right away, so I studied that ticket like there was gonna be a quiz. I poured over every letter until… there it was. The answer. In tiny capitalized letters under my seat number: DUAL SIDE BY SIDE TOP. Top. Somehow, I’d boarded the train without noticing that each car had an upper level. Whoops! At the next stop, I humbly dragged my suitcase through the aisle to the end of the car, where, sure enough, there were the stairs. And, sure enough, I found my seat. 64.
More day five. I’ve got another Airbnb story for ya. It’s quick, though. I promise. In Paris, my Airbnb was only a block from the nearest metro stop – a major win for minimal suitcase rolling through the streets. But inside the building, I was not so lucky with the suitcase situation. My apartment was all the way on the top floor of the building and there was no elevator. Helloooooo total body workout.
Day six. The first time I visited the Eiffel Tower (January 2017), I wasn’t able to book a ticket to the top. So, this time, I made sure to buy one well in advance. I arrived slightly early for my scheduled time, and the man checking tickets told me that the top was closed due to high winds. Nooooooooo. But I was hopeful. I took the elevator to level two and waited. Sure enough, the top reopened! Okay, you’re prolly wondering why this is a not so happy story, and I’ll tell you. Visiting the top wasn’t the dreamy experience I’d imagined since I was 9 years old. First, it was COLD. That wind? I swear it was biting my face off. It also nearly knocked me over. Then, a guy who spoke no English gestured for me to take his photo. Well, more like 20 or 30 photos of him in all these different poses. I seriously didn’t mind, except that it was just so dang COLD. He did snap two photos of me, but I was good after two. I just wanted to escape the wind. Photo sessions done, I quickly scanned the view from all angles and bolted for the elevator. Memorable? Yes. Magical? No.
Day seven. I almost missed my 6 a.m. train from Paris back to Brussels – which would have resulted in me missing my flight back to the U.S. And by almost missed, I mean by mere minutes. That morning, I left the Airbnb about 15 minutes later than planned. But I’d given myself some extra padding, so I wasn’t worried. That is until I arrived at the metro station and realized that the trains don’t run as often that early in the morning. Instead of waiting maybe 3 minutes for the next train, I waited for at least 15. By the time I reached the train station, my train was scheduled to leave within 5 minutes – and, in my frantic state of mind, I struggled to figure out which platform it was leaving from. While shooting up desperate prayers, a station employee happened to walk by and notice what I’m sure was a cross between confusion and panic on my face, and he asked if I needed help. Thank you, Jesus! I held out my ticket and he immediately pointed me toward the platform on the upper level. It was at this point that I started running. And then I ran faster when I realized that my car was at the very, very end. The train left 1 minute later (no exaggeration!) and I could not have been more grateful or relieved to be on it.
So, there you have it. Some realities of travel. Stuff that happened between the pretty pictures. Confessions of a not always so put-together adventurer. Do the bloopers ruin trips for me? Absolutely not! If anything, they make trips even more of an adventure. I always say I love a good challenge, and travel certainly doesn’t disappoint.
What sort of travel challenges have you experienced?