Sometimes we and by we I mean travel bloggers and other travel professionals make it look all very easy. We seemingly breeze from one place to another, hand luggage only ( we stole Mary Poppins’ bag which holds so much more on the inside than the outside shows!), always looking groomed and happy to be on the road. When mishap happens we thank our lucky travel gods because they just make the best stories. Like when you end up on a boat with a corpse next to you, get stranded on a deserted island and have birds attack you.
We know that our readers want a little reality check once in a while and when it has already happened to me, it surely won’t happen to you.
What we rarely tell is all the unexciting stuff that can go wrong, the stuff that doesn’t make for a good story but is just annoying, making you wish you would have stayed back home with your cat.
When I left the Maldives I was a little heartbroken so maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy that on my way to Sri Lanka everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Even though I had been looking forward to returning to Sri Lanka for a really long time when the day came I did not want to go.
On the grand scheme of things, it was nothing major, the airline (China Eastern anyone?) didn’t even lose my luggage. But my flight got delayed by an hour which we didn’t know until it should have been in the air already. Why is nobody telling me shit??
Male airport is not one where it is fun to hang out for longer than absolutely necessary. The stuffed whale sharks and Nemos are the highlights of this airport. Once we boarded and had made it to Colombo I rushed to immigration only to be sent back by an unsmiling immigration officer – I had forgotten to fill out an arrival card. And needless to say, I didn’t have a pen on me. At this point I was so tired and cranky I was ready to cry a bit.
Next was the taxi task, never my favorite as you know but my hotel had advised me it would be so much cheaper than for them to organize my transfer.
It was easy enough until I got into my taxi and the ride which should have taken 30 minutes ended up taking an hour and a half. The taxi driver had no idea on where to go and kept following his GPS which was trying to lead him to a guesthouse with the same name in a different city!
Unfortunately, he was nothing like my awesome cabbie in KL and by the time he had called my guest house 6 times I was wondering if this had been the wrong place to save.
After an hour we got pulled over by the police. It was then that I considered getting out and walking. Instead, I started to cry for real this time. Once we were on the road again I may have yelled a little too. Not my finest moment. I am sure it mustn’t have been fun for him either but I was frustrated and tired and the worst thing was that we couldn’t communicate properly.
Eventually, I just typed in the address instead of the name of the guesthouse into his GPS and things started to flow (I may or may not have poked him to make him follow the GPS’ directions but… as I said, it wasn’t my finest moment).
When we arrived I was short on small bills and he was short on change so he had to take what I had. For a moment I felt vindicated but afterward, I felt bad. Taxi drivers don’t make much money anywhere and clearly, he didn’t take me for a joyride in the middle of the night intentionally.
All in all, not a great experience or a great story. What it did inspire me to do – last night at 3 am in my bed – was to write a small list of how you can try to avoid these things or at least minimize mishaps like this. So you can keep story time for the real crazy shit that may happen…
Check your travel dates and times. The stories I hear from seasoned travelers about booking a wrong date or showing up at the airport at 9 pm instead of 9 am are real. I myself still owe the lady at Easyjet some flowers for making me not pay for such a mistake.
Same goes for visa things. Don’t leave it till last minute. Ever! To make immigration as smooth as possible apply for a visa in advance if you can to save time. In addition, I try to book a seat as far up front in the plane as possible to get out first and in line. Have a pen on you and grab that immigration card (many countries have that system so that sometimes you even get the card on the plane already) before you get in said line.
Lost luggage? Shit, I feel your pain. Always have a spare set of undies, your glasses and whatever else you deem essential in your hand luggage. A little more if you have a tight connection and can almost be sure that your luggage won’t make it. I have asked check-in personal to just tell me if there was a good chance for this happening just so I could put in some more stuff in my carry-on.
If you have a tight connection make sure you are flying with the same airline. If that is not possible make sure that one of the carriers can be held responsible for booking you on the next flight and for giving you a hotel room/ food vouchers for your layover.
Get a local SIM card at the airport. I have come to realize that this is a lot easier than trying to get your point across in a 7 Eleven of a country where you don’t speak the language (yes, looking at you KL!). Also, most places require some sort of registration and you will need your passport with you which makes the airport the logical choice to get it. Make sure you get a package for data and some local calls because…
… you may have to call your hotel to get directions. With that said, make sure you have the hotel address – in English and in the local language – and a contact number.If you arrive late at night like I did, forking out some extra money for a hotel transfer might just be worth it.
Uber is your friend. I love apps like Uber as I like the fact that I don’t need cash and it is easier for the drivers to find their way, especially if you can’t speak and read the local language. Many countries have their own version of Uber and some like Indonesia have a motorbike version. It also tends to be cheaper and there are no scams that I know of with an app.
Pack only as much as you can carry – especially if you are a solo traveler. My recent 3rd class train experience in Sri Lanka would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the kindness of strangers. Alas, that is not something you can always count on – make sure you can lift your own suitcase.
The kindness of strangers is a real thing and I come to rely on it often. With that said, I use my best judgment and gut feeling as to who I let carry my suitcase if need be. When in doubt I try to stick with other women or family with kids. And if a stranger asks you, you always have a hotel room already booked and yes, you are very married. I kind of hate that a bit but it always made dealing with men a lot easier and more comfortable as a single woman.
If you can’t beat them, join them! So with that my last and probably the best piece of advice I can give you and should take to heart myself much more often: be patient and kind with yourself and with others. When you do, the world will truly become your oyster and every experience will make for a good story one way or another.