Culture Shock, Transit Woes, and Other Abundant Travel Mistakes Pt.1
Despite my love of exploring new places, I am not immune to getting my spirits dampened by the travel bug.
It’s easy to get caught up in the highlights. Within the blog hemisphere and carefully curated social media posts, you’d rarely guess anything ever goes wrong. And frankly, it is hard for anyone to admit mistakes or feeling worn.
To travel is a privilege. So when the urge to complain or regret flares, feelings of guilt may accompany. After all, aren’t I paying all of this money to be having fun?
After almost a year now of traveling somewhere each month, a goal I set for myself, I thought it would be fun to write a more transparent post. I believe it will not only be a good reflection for myself to look back onto (and laugh at or roll my eyes at how naive I was), but also it could serve as some solace for other travelers who might feel in a rut.
And most of all, I hope my past idiocy or bad fortune gives you a good laugh.
(This post features incidents from not only my past year of travel, but also from when I studied abroad and lived in Vienna):
The Hauptbahnhoff Vomit Fiasco:
The Berlin Starbucks worker still did not understand my name when I repeated it to her, and on my cup I discovered I had become “Jeni-Hur”.
I found this to be amusing, as obviously in America no one mistakes my name. I’d argue it is within the top tier of the least unique names in America, and I know for a fact that the year I was born, Jennifer was on several lists of “what to name your kid”.
Anyway, I happily sucked down my caramel macchiato and all tasted just fine. I was with a friend who also had obtained a plain coffee and we went about exploring the city… That is, until my stomach signaled to me that something wasn’t quite right. You know the feeling of actual dread that dawns on you right before you puke?
The vomit was coming.
I alerted my friend. We were near the Berlin Hauptbahnhoff, so there were trash cans all around, but there were also people. I panicked at the idea, thinking I’d get in trouble – the Polizei citing me for puking in one of their nice, city trash bins. A ridiculous notion, but I was 19 and my anxiety was peaking with the need to barf.
“You could go to the bathroom in the train station,” my friend recommended. The words barely left her mouth before I took off sprinting. In my state, I conveniently forgot that the bathrooms in several European cities make you pay to pee, and I soon was blocked by the stupid tolls that require you insert a Euro coin. My stomach situation was starting to get dire and I contemplated jumping over the bars, but miraculously discovered I had a rogue coin in my pocket. Cha ching. Bye money. Hello toilet.
I heaved up all of the god forsaken, misspelled Starbucks into that Hauptbahnhoff’s sewage system and that is how I will always remember the Berlin train station.
The Lady Who Actually Hit Me:
In America, when you are standing in line but doing something else, like looking at a menu or a screen, people usually just walk past you.
Apparently this is different in London. As I was waiting in line to buy a train ticket, I stood behind a woman who was staring at the screen detailing departures. There was a long counter of tellers ready to sell tickets, and one shouted he was ready for the next person. The lady didn’t budge.
Now, granted, I could have asked her if she was ready to move along or if it was alright if I cut her. But I was a solo, shy, and overwhelmed tourist who actively wanted to avoid any conversation, and instead did as the Americans did. I passed by behind her while she stood and approached the man at the desk.
As I began the process of purchasing my train ticket to the airport, the woman approached me from behind without me knowing. WHAP! She struck me hard across the back of the head.
“Next time don’t cut the queue, bitch!”
She walked away and I am certain my jaw dropped to the floor.
The man helping me at the counter pretended it didn’t even happen, though I am sure my cheeks turned a shade of a cherry red in embarrassment.
The Drunken New Orleans Fight:
David and I rarely fight.
When we do actually get into heated exchanges, it is usually about the most idiotic stuff. New Orleans was no different.
It started out as an exceptionally fun and touristy day. We walked around the French Quarter, drink in hand, and had our tarot read (and found out that we are apparently very fertile – yikes). We bought masks, walked in and out of hot sauce shops, and ate our weight in beignets. Afterwards, we made our way back to our Airbnb to ready ourselves for the Chewbaccus Parade – a Mardi Gras event devoted to all things sci-fi, AKA David’s dream parade. As we waited for the hand-crafted floats to pass by us, we were welcomed to hang out at a tattoo parlor on the corner offering us free booze. Subsequently, we got incredibly intoxicated.
After the parade was all said and done, we decided to stagger back to our Airbnb and sleep. The conversation that followed is fuzzy, but it all built up to a HUGE argument on whether or not we would dress our potential, future child in Goodwill attire. David adamantly resented this idea, claiming we’d have enough money to purchase them new clothes, while I shouted that kids grow and what’s the point of buying new clothes when they won’t be able to fit in them in 5 months. Eventually the yelling put us both to sleep.
I blame the tarot card reading.
That Time I Slipped and Fell Into a Cactus:
After visiting New Mexico, I recognized that one of my favorite landscapes was the desert. I had had an inkling that I would like the desert terrain (hot and dry), but I wasn’t prepared for how mesmerized I would be by the diverse fauna. Being from a city where you are surrounded for 4 hours of corn, New Mexico was like being on a different planet for me.
What I was most intrigued by were the cacti. Real life! Growing out of the ground! Not in a succulent bubble! (I am easily entertained). I took hundreds of photos of the plant.
I traveled to New Mexico with two primary goals: see the Breaking Bad House, and hike down from Sandia Peak alone. After accomplishing the first, the next day I set out to travel the 11 miles down from the highest point in Albuquerque. As I rode the tram up to the peak of the mountain, a family next to me asked if I were hiking with anyone. Through nervous dry-mouth (happens to me) I replied no, and they were both impressed and cautionary to me.
Before I had paid to take the tram up to the top, I could see the peak of the mountain in my car and almost turned around. It seemed a lot more daunting in person than it did online. How on earth was I going to complete this feat by myself? We don’t have mountains in Missouri – I was definitely going to die.
Once I began hiking however, my worries vanished. It wasn’t hard, it was just long. And stunning. It took me nearly 5 hours to complete, and I was enthralled the entire way. Halfway through the hike, I began laughing at myself – this was so rewarding! Why had I been so worried?
As I approached the end of the trail, the landscape turned from dirt to sand. My Missouri sneakers weren’t equipped to grasp the grains, and I started to lose my balance more. Rather than slow down though, I began to speed up. I was almost done at this point and a storm cloud was brewing above me. I started racing down a small, steep incline when my shoes finally gave way. I flipped onto my butt like a cartoon character, and rammed my left arm right into a cactus.
I laid there stunned for a moment. Falling onto a cactus was undoubtedly the most New Mexico thing that could have happened to me. When I got up, blood dripped onto the ground and spurs and spines littered my arm from hand to elbow. I had a first aid kit in my bag, but getting it out would involve me having to pull my backpack off over my arm. I decided to just hike the remaining mile while holding my arm out and away from my body, so as to not jam the spikes in further.
When I finally saw my rental car sitting in the parking lot, I ran up to it and carefully slipped off my pack. As I pulled out my tweezers from the first aid kit, the family who talked to me before the hike drove by me.
“You made it, great job!” They shouted, obviously missing the alarming sight that was my forearm.
“Yeah, thanks! ……”
Getting Locked Out of My New Viennese Apartment:
After spending 2 jacky-cola filled weeks with my best friend in Germany, I took the 7 hour train to my new home: Vienna.
I had been dreaming of this moment for years, honestly. I’d known before I was even accepted into my university that I’d be participating in this program of studying in Austria for 6 months.
It’s probably my fault that I over-hyped the experience. Germany is my favorite country on earth, and so I had high expectations for Vienna. That foundation was cracked upon my arrival, unfortunately.
After taking a cab to the university apartment, I found myself outside a locked door on a busy street. The university’s Resident Assistant was supposed to have been meeting me there to give me my key, but clearly had forgotten. Thinking quick, I all but begged the cab driver to stay with me and help, but he had to get going. My next idea was to ask someone around if they new the manager of the apartment – which I did so successfully in German, but they unfortunately didn’t have an answer. My throat started tightening, which meant I was going to start crying, and I fought them back. Instead I plopped down on the curb outside of the apartment for an hour or so, woefully waiting and crossing my fingers that the RA would remember me.
Eventually, I decided I had to cave and break out my emergency cell phone. It was for emergencies because it was still on my mom’s cell phone plan, and I was to keep my phone on airplane mode unless I absolutely needed it. I felt defeated using it so early on – I just got here! How was I already in need of help? Nevertheless, I pulled out the printed email the university had sent me with my RA’s phone number and punched it in.
“I’m almost there,” was the first thing the RA said on the phone, apparently already knowing it was my foreign number calling her.
It took her 20 more minutes to find me (I later learned she only lived minutes away, so SHE DID FORGET ME) and she unapologetically handed me my keys and left.
I walked into my new place and before even unpacking my bags, grabbed my wallet to go down to the grocery store. Only to find out it was closed. As was the grocery store next to it (typical Vienna). The only place that was still open was the train station bakery, where I purchased a loaf of crusty, rye bread.
I brought back to my apartment and ate it while sobbing, which I still look back on and laugh at.
When I Got Lost in London from 12am – 4am:
“When I tell my mom about this, she is going to be so mad.”
While I had traveled alone on my own before, I had always had someone to pick me up from the airport and stay with upon arrival. This was the first time I would be going to a new city independently. I booked the flight, tourist attractions, hostel, all on my own and was excited to go on my London adventure.
Because I was studying abroad, all of my side travel excursions were kept on a tight budget. I’d saved a decent amount of money before heading over and I wanted to maximize the use of my funds. This meant that nearly all of my flights were taken on budget airlines: RyanAir, and the unsightly orange and sardine-like Easyjet (the McDonalds of the sky).
Easyjet does not fly into Heathrow (the closest airport to London’s city center, which connects to the Tube), so I chose a flight that would take me to Gatwick. I was well aware I’d need to grab an hour-long bus ride to get into the city, and once in the city I’d take the Tube to my hostel. I didn’t research any further.
As is every flight, my flight was delayed. We were scheduled to arrive in the UK at 10pm, but we didn’t fly in until 11ish. I took the bus, per my plans, and was tickled by the fact we were driving on the wrong side of the road. Everything was going smoothly.
Once I arrived at my bus stop, I walked over to the Tube station I had marked down on a map. I was met with a large metal gate closing off the entrance and a giant sign indicating the Tube stopped running at midnight. I’d just missed it.
Panicking, I began to ask people around me how to get to my hostel. Most responded that they were tourists themselves and had no idea. Several were drunk. One told me the bus driver wouldn’t accept me onto their route because I hadn’t exchanged money to pounds yet, and therefore couldn’t purchase an Oyster card. Around 1:30am I was still out of luck and, with my giant backpack full of too many clothes, I decided instead that I’d just walk to my hostel. I pulled out my map and began walking aimlessly.
At around 3:00am, I began to actually wonder about my safety (took me that long). I was a stupid, alone, sweaty, obviously American, female, and did I mentioned stupid? tourist. More drunk people had wandered into the night and were trying to have conversations with me, asking questions about my backpack – which was hiding my expensive SLR.
I finally decided to try and hail a cab, which turned into an even bigger fiasco, as I began having to compete with drunken bar-goers who needed to get to their flats. I would literally get a cab to pull over, and they’d swarm the car demanding they be let in instead. Eventually, I was fortunate to look pathetic enough that a driver told the intoxicated people to scram, and allowed me into his car. That’s when I found out I was still a 40 minute drive away from my hostel, or what would have been a 5 hour walk. Oops.
“A late check in, huh?” The hostel employee joked as I walked in at 4:03am.
“Please just tell me where my room is.”
Traveling is wonderful, but it is also stressful, annoying, confusing, and generally just a huge learning experience. But that, for me, is what I love most.
I am grateful to travel for constantly making me uncomfortable and forcing me to figure situations out, like those I listed above. I am happy for the experiences that I can reflect back upon and laugh at or learn from.
Travel scares me, humbles me, and empowers me.
And I would eat all of the crappy tasting rye bread in the world to continue doing it.
Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave them in the comments section!