When Travel Goes Wrong

February 4, 2015

Security at Paris Orly can rest easy tonight knowing they’ve confiscated a dangerous quantity of moisturizer from me, a truly radical traveler hell bent on world domination. I normally don’t let things like this get to me, but I’ve never had that appropriately sized bottle questioned at any major airport, which reinforces my fear that security personnel are at best idiots, at worst actually believing what they do stops terrorists. I suppose Paris is on high alert after Charlie, but I still find no point to these measures. And now I’m down $20 in cosmetics which can’t be replaced until I fly back to Honolulu.

I’ve had a lot of things go wrong in my travels. No missed flights, thankfully, but definitely late arrivals and extra expenses to book last-minute transportation. One camera stolen in New York City. I’ve had Couchsurfers cancel on me when I was alone in a foreign city, and had to cancel non-refundable accommodation due to unforeseen circumstances.

This trip has been no exception. In fact, the exception seems to be things falling into place. I had originally planned to fly into London Heathrow and bus out to Southampton to stay with a friend for a week to cut down on expenses and see into her corner of the world. Unfortunately, she got offered a lucrative position in Wales and had to immediately relocate. If she had been a flight delay or hotel overbooking, I would have been filled with righteous anger, but she wasn’t, and I had to take everything in stride. What could have been a disaster was instead an opportunity to stay with a cool host in Hammersmith and get to know some Lithuanians in Liverpool.

I’ve been telling someone I knew from New Zealand that I had planned to see her in early February down in Lyon, France. But again, circumstances popped up: a search for a new apartment with her beau that would prevent me from being able to stay (even if I had found a host or hotel down there, she told me she wouldn’t have time to hang out). So again, another opportunity: I advanced my plans for Prague and booked a last-minute flight on a budget airline, Transavia (though I’d recommend searching on Skyscanner first).

One of my German friends has a possessive boyfriend who apparently doesn’t like her hosting men (FYI, we met on Couchsurfing when I hosted her in San Francisco), so I didn’t really appreciate her suggestion that we could hang out if I was willing to cover a hotel for a week. I suppose it’s not really her fault, but in a way it is; I don’t mind her telling me she’s unable to host because she’s busy or there wouldn’t be any space with her boyfriend around. She didn’t even mention that it made her uncomfortable hosting me, just that he didn’t like the idea. So as long as they’re dating, I guess we won’t be spending any time together. I’ll have to see what comes out of this: maybe time to reconsider staying in touch?

Even this evening, a mere two hours before I was to board my plane to Prague, my friend told me she missed the last train and wouldn’t be able to meet me this evening. Mistakes happen, but with my nerves a little frazzled from airport security, I just saw it as the last link in a chain of unpleasantness.

This trip hasn’t been a disaster, but it hasn’t gone remotely like I would have planned. And that’s ok; that’s good. I still have the power to keep things in perspective. I’m still clean shaven and dressed business casual on this day and capable of being treated with respect. I can find other options when something falls through. And I try to remember what has gone right so far: I still got to see Paris with a special lady, and finally gazed upon the Mona Lisa.

To be honest, even the Louvre, the paragon of every traveler’s French trip, fell short in my opinion. The crowds of Japanese and Korean tourists combined with the entrance being directly across from an Apple store only highlighted that it’s hard to find anything truly beautiful that hasn’t already been commercialized and exploited. To further prove this point, when I did finally make it inside (only a 30-minute wait on a free day when I arrived at 8:45), all the prominent signs directed people to the Mona Lisa. And there they stood, snapping pictures but not really taking the time to appreciate her smile.


The point is, traveling to lands unknown leaves a lot in the unknown category. And experiencing this when you’re expecting everything to be smooth sailing is, in my opinion, what pushes someone from the tourist label to becoming a traveler. You learn that things aren’t always going to go as planned, and you learn to find contentment in the challenge of discovering something new.

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