Not Your Average Traveler

“Adventure, yeah. I guess that’s what you call it when everyone comes back alive.”

—Mercedes Lackey

The travel season is upon us.  Friends, family, strangers—almost everyone—appear to be going somewhere or planning to go somewhere this summer.  The long winter, the pandemic, work stress, world stress, you name it; these are excellent reasons to take a break and just go… somewhere. 

Travel can be fun and full of adventure, and that is what I have always enjoyed about it.  I always start out planning every detail in anticipation of any potential mishaps, which, as you know from my last post, The Sweaty Leg Incident, is a ridiculous thing to do—if you are me.  If something can go wrong, it inevitably WILL GO wrong.

When I reflect on my travels and all the natural disasters, poor decisions, and lucky misses, it’s astounding that I’m still even remotely interested in walking out my front door.  Let me give you a few examples…

On my first trip to Spain (Mallorca), I was greeted with the worst rain and flooding the island had seen in years.  A mudslide luckily missed my hotel room on the first floor but managed to find its way into the hotel pool, where the debris-filled muck stayed for the duration of my vacation.  On a positive note, it forced me to spend more time exploring the island, which was far healthier than cultivating skin cancer cells poolside. 

Not having lost my desire to travel, I set off for Crete, Greece, the following year and spent most of my time exploring the island.  I had been warned not to drink the water, and ever the diligent planner, I ensured that I always had bottled water with me.  Unfortunately, I didn’t stop to think that the frozen fruit popsicle I purchased from a street vendor would have tap water in it.  In the end, my gastrointestinal tract experienced something comparable to the mudslide the year before in Mallorca.  The only difference is that the mudslide in Mallorca was over in a matter of hours, and my own “personal mudslide” went on for the two remaining days of my vacation.

I was weak and exhausted when I arrived at the airport and was extremely eager to get on my flight and sleep in the blissful air-conditioning.  Instead, I found hordes of stranded people outside the airport.  The airlines had gone on strike!  All hotel rooms were fully booked, and every hard plastic chair in the airport was occupied!  My holiday ended with me sleeping on a dirty linoleum floor in a warm, overcrowded airport, waiting for a flight home.

“Airplane travel is nature’s way of making you look like your passport photo.“ — Al Gore

Never one to give up, I traveled to France with my best friend Jodi two years later.  We thought we should take advantage of the opportunity to travel since we were both working for the U.S. Army and living in Germany.  We stayed in a small town outside of Paris and decided to take the train into the city to enjoy the nightlife.  While at the train station, we made mental notes of things to remember about this particular platform and its name. Immensely enjoying ourselves, we decided to take the last possible train back to our hotel.  The train was reasonably full, but as we got further and further away from Paris, the emptier it became until it was just an older drunk Frenchman and us.

Having had our fair share of wine, we were not 100% certain that what we thought was our stop was actually our stop.  It wasn’t only the wine; those mental images we had taken the time to memorize were shrouded in darkness.  For whatever reason we could not understand, the platform was dark and indistinguishable.  We asked the drunk Frenchman the stop’s name, and his slurred speech was even more indistinguishable than the dark platform.

We decided to not risk it and stayed on the train, much to the annoyance of our French companion.  He rolled his eyes and slurred out several sentences in French that didn’t the least bit sound as if he approved of our decision.   As our train sped up and pushed further into the dark countryside, we realized our grave mistake.  At the final stop, we were asked to exit the train and met with shrugs when asked how we could get back to our hotel. 

We had no idea where we were, no map, and no phones—yes, horror of all horrors, we were young and living in a time with no electronic devices or social media.  Not even a phone booth anywhere in sight! A phone booth is a telephone located inside a small structure that takes monetary coins to operate (credit cards were not extensively used yet)—basically, we were traveling shortly after the wheel was invented. 

Like two dolled-up hobos, we decided to follow the train tracks back in the direction we had just come.  At one point, our solid footing ended as the tracks continued over a bridge that appeared to float over a dark abyss.  We left the tracks and walked for hours along a desolate country road where our happy Parisian wine-buzzed brains turned us into fatigued and irrational two-year-olds.   We considered hiding in the nearby bushes when a small car filled with partygoers passed us waving and yelling—we were confident they would return to murder us.  Instead of hiding, we opted to have emotional melt-downs—crying and wailing on the side of the road.  We eventually returned to our hotel after finding an open bar and a kind bartender who took pity on our mascara and tear-stained faces. 

“I think everyone should just go home before things get worse.  Worse!?  How could things get any worse?  Look around you, Ellen.  We’re at the threshold of Hell!” – Clark Griswold in the movie Christmas Vacation.

With the memories of my near-death experience in the French countryside long behind me, I traveled to Saginaw, Michigan, a few years ago to visit Jodi and her husband.  My flight plan was straightforward: fly into Detroit for a quick stopover before continuing to Saginaw.  Well, that was not to be.  My final flight from Detroit to Saginaw was canceled, and the airline was not sure when we would depart as they were beginning to rapidly cancel other flights due to weather.

The gentleman behind me heard what the agent said and left his place in line.  Since Saginaw was only an hour and a half away by car, I decided to try my luck with a rental car.  Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea, and all available rental cars quickly disappeared.  Standing in line with dejection written all over my face, I noticed that the man previously standing behind me at the ticket counter was now being handed paperwork for a rental car.  When he turned, we made eye contact, and I gave him my most pitiable smile.  He came up to me and said that he had overheard me before in line and would be happy to give me a ride to Saginaw as he was on his way to the Dow Chemical Plant not too far away.  We picked up the car and headed out.

I called Jodi to tell her I had been graciously offered a ride and was on my way.  Her husband joined the conversation as they were horrified that I was in a car with a total stranger.  Their fears seemed irrational until they told me that a serial killer was believed to be in the area and authorities were on the lookout.  What?!  If this guy is a serial killer, it’s a little late, given that I’m already in the car with him.  Luckily, he wasn’t “the serial killer,” or any serial killer for that matter, just a guy trying to get back to the office after a business trip.

I could go on and on; an earthquake in Puerto Rico, lost luggage, sitting next to a very gassy passenger on a long flight, you name it. 

Has this stopped me from traveling?  Not in the least, as I have much more determination than common sense.  I’m not the only one who has experienced travel glitches; okay, travel nightmares.  The important thing is to not give in and let the lousy cloud the good.

So check the future weather forecast, keep up with the local news, don’t drink the water—frozen or otherwise, remember that not everyone is a potential serial killer, be thankful that you live in the enlightened age of the cell phone, and above all else, listen to what older drunk Frenchmen tell you when asking for help! It’s not just a ruined vacation—it’s also an experience that allows you to find something in yourself—strength, gratitude, and sometimes, it’s just a hell of an adventure.

4 thoughts

  1. Rosalie, Reading your post has brought back so many good memories. It made me laugh out loud! I cannot wait for future adventures together, my dear, dear friend. We always have fun, even when in scary situations.
    Lots of Love, Jodi💞


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