Friday, September 30, 2011

Travel Lessons from an Amateur Road Warrior


Ah travel, how loveable you are--at least most of the time
Have you ever made a mistake that you thought had a simple solution, yet it came back to bite you in the you-know-where at least a few times? Oh yes, we've all been there. And as I've discovered, it usually happens when you think you've got everything handled. Is it just me, or is it really starting to stink of irony in here?

After my latest adventures to Virginia and Georgia for study abroad fair visits, there is one very important lesson that I have been reminded of:

DO NOT MISS YOUR FLIGHTS 


...But if you do, make sure you have a self-depreciating sense of humor to handle the roller coaster of emotions ahead...

Yes, I'm sure you've guessed this is exactly what happened to me last week. In typical about-to-be-hit-unknowingly-with-panic fashion, I woke up last Tuesday morning to my cell phone announcing a new text message. I glanced sleepily at it, thinking it was nothing more than a Twitter update or an early alarm I'd forgotten to change.

Nope. Not even close.

It was one of my GoAbroad coworkers, letting me know that she was at her layover location, en route to Virgina and she hoped I was doing okay waiting at the airport for her. Lying in my sleep-tangled blankets, I read the message I don't know how many times, waiting for the part where this was a mistake. As far as I was concerned, my flight to Virginia wasn't supposed to leave until later that night. You know that feeling of when you wake up late for something important and the immediate rush of adrenaline you're assaulted with? Well, this was about the time that started to happen. I jumped out of bed, rushed to my computer and stood there staring at my flight itinerary, trying to figure out how the hell I'd gotten my times confused. I was desperately waiting for the part where I would realize this had all been a mistake and I hadn't just missed a very important flight. 

Virginia Tech - SO worth the effort of getting here
Nope. That didn't happen either. Rather than wake up from what was quickly becoming a morning nightmare, I had to fight off having a meltdown and instead figure out what to do now. There was no question of not getting to Virgina for the fairs. The only question was when and how fast. Add to the combination the fact that I wasn't even packed and had yet to pick up fair materials and you can imagine the scene that played out next: running around my apartment, freaking my cat out with the back and forth running, and basically trying to get everything together so I could make a later flight.

Fortunately, I was able to actually get to Virgina and the fairs at Virgina Tech and Mary Washington went fabulous. But recall how I mentioned a problem can come back around more than once? Besides having to make my colleague wait an additional six hours for me at the airport upon her arrival, there ended up being issues getting home. 

When All Else Fails, Trust in a Stranger's Kindness

It turns out that if you book a flight with a third party, like Orbitz, and miss the flight and don't cancel it, they revoke the value of your ticket. So there I was once again at the airport, trying to get home and being told my return ticket was worthless. Just what I wanted to hear at the end of a fair circuit, where I only had 24 hours to be at home before turning around to leave for Georgia. I'm surprised I didn't lose it then and there. 

It's at times like these when the most unexpected things happen and strangers can reaffirm your belief in basic hospitality. As I was was on the phone listening to a customer service caller tell me there was no way I was getting home that night, and would have to pay for another ticket, the lady at the airline desk seemed to take pity on me. She started clicking away on her computer and then suddenly my original flight tickets were sitting on the counter. I was entirely overwhelmed and still trying to process the fact that I COULD in fact get home, that it took me a minute to realize the tickets were real. If there hadn't been the length of a counter between us, I would've hugged that airline employee like she'd never been hugged before! Probably for the best that didn't happen, but I have no doubts that good karma will be coming her way.

All craziness aside, I'm actually grateful for the way that things worked out. Without these kind of challenges, I wouldn't be put in the position to have to prove my mettle. We like to think we're capable of thinking on our feet, but it's only when things don't go according to plan that he have the most enriching learning experiences. I'm not claiming to be anything more than an amateur 'road warrior' but I am learning as I go--and will someday be able to pass on my own advice. I've been lucky enough to experience the kindness and understanding of all types of people along the way, be them strangers or friends, and it's something I won't soon forget. The next time YOU are put in a similar position (or if you miss an important flight), try to keep this in mind. Because no matter how things turn out, if you can still laugh at yourself at the end of day, then you're going to be just fine. Although....it never hurts setting multiple alarm clocks to avoid any flight time confusion for the future :)

Do you have a similar travel experience? What did you learn from it?

A much happier, and wiser, road warrior in Georgia
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