If there is one thing that I’ve learned from traveling and living abroad, it’s that you can’t count on anything working out as planned.
Last weekend I was flying home to O’Hare after being away from home for almost a year. My flight schedule was to take off from Prague at 9 in the morning, arrive in Warsaw around 11:20 am and catch my second flight to Chicago around 1pm.
“I’m sorry, but we are having technical difficulties. Your flight to Warsaw is delayed 20 minutes.”
I put on my headphones and begin using my hour of free internet at the Prague airport to watch videos of cats jumping and falling off furniture. Hilarious.
“I’m sorry, but we are still experiencing technical difficulties. The flight is delayed another 20 minutes.”
Pretty soon my hour of free internet had run out and I still wasn’t on a plane. By the time the airport had decided to cancel the flight and get us all onto other planes heading to Warsaw, I and many others had already missed our connecting flights.
“What do you mean we can’t get a flight to JFK until this evening?!”
“I’m going to be four hours late to my family reunion!”
Look, I feel for you guys. Missing your flight sucks. It’s time consuming and stressful and inconvenient, but do you notice how I’m reacting to this news? I’m using this time to work on my resume and finish watching “Orange is the New Black” while you’re using it to freak out. A year of living, working, and traveling abroad has taught me that losing it never does any good. I’ve learned that you can’t count on anything to go smoothly when you’re traveling, and I’ve learned that bumpy travel isn’t a bad thing.
Of course, I haven’t always known this. Take a look at me on December 12th, 2014.
My boyfriend and I are at the train station in Prague asking about tickets to Dresden to see the famous German Christmas markets. The lady behind the counter gives us our tickets, but warns us that we’ll have to run to catch the next train. It’s leaving in two minutes from one of the last platforms.
We take off at a sprint, turn left when we arrive at platform 6, run up the stairs, and hop on the train just as the whistle blows.
With a sigh of relief we find a semi-empty apartment and catch our breath.
A half hour later the ticket collector shows up. A nice, red-haired, middle-aged Czech lady starts stamping tickets from the other passengers in the compartment. When she takes ours, instead of stamping it, she frowns.
Turns out we’d been in such a hurry we’d turned left at the platform in Prague when we should have turned right, and we’d caught the train going the opposite direction. The sympathetic ticket collector informs us that there are no stops for an hour and a half. We’re stuck on this train.
Anxious and irritated, my boyfriend and I watch the Czech countryside grow progressively darker as we travel further and further south and evening slowly overtakes us.
When is the next stop? You should have read the signs on the platform. We’re never getting to Dresden this weekend. It’s going to be dark when we get back to Prague.
When is the next stop?
Almost two hours later, we finally arrive at a tiny Czech village. The train schedule in the deserted station says that it will be another half an hour for a train back to Prague. Nothing is open. We go for a short walk around the miniscule town to discover that all of the inhabitants have already gone to bed, and aside from a melted trash can at the end of the street, there isn’t much to see.
Starving and crabby we purchase some questionable-tasting sunflower seeds out of a vending machine. When the next train finally arrives we’re both glaring at the tracks and just want to get back on the road.
It’s an hour and a half before we get back to Prague where we are told by the tired and just-as-crabby-as-we-are ticket lady that there are no more direct trains to Dresden, but if we buy a ticket with three transfers we’ll arrive around 2 in the morning. We’re exhausted and angry with ourselves and each other, but we’ve already booked a hotel. So despite a few muttered epithets, we decide to go for it.
Then something happens. When we get on the next train, we realize we’re finally heading to our destination. My mood starts to lift and my boyfriend cracks a joke. We begin chuckling at our own idiocy and when the first transfer comes with only two minutes before the next train leaves, we sprint out of our train to the next platform laughing. An hour later, we transfer again, this time sprinting more for the sheer joy of running than necessity. We’re feeling downright giddy. And when we arrive in Dresden at the sparkling Christmassy train station at 2 in the morning, still twenty minutes away from the hotel, the whole thing has become an adventure.
Dresden was a perfect Christmas vacation. It was beautiful, magical, full of history, and if you ever get the chance to see Germany at Christmas, you should go. But because of our big mistake in getting there, the trip became even more special to me. On that train journey I learned that mistakes can be funny. Arriving late isn’t just an inconvenience. Travel mishaps are an experience that can bring people closer together, and a late train can become a story to remember and share for a lifetime.
…you might have to wait five hours to fly to JFK. You may be late to your family reunion. And yes, it’s annoying, inconvenient, upsetting, and really, really sucks. But it’s also funny. It’s a story to tell. So instead of collecting irritation at the ticket counter, collect stories, and enjoy life as a traveler a bit more.