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When Travel Disappoints

It was the summer of 2000 and I had quit my job as an elementary instrumental music teacher.  I was ready for a fresh adventure!

I listed my 1920s South Omaha bungalow for sale and moved to Guadalajara, Mexico to study Spanish for the summer.  I was living with a host family and studying at Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara.  My goal of becoming bilingual and living in another country had finally come true!

My house sold amidst a flurry of signatures and paperwork finalized via fax.  With the house proceeds, I netted enough to pay for my summer in Mexico and some additional expenses that would come later.  It was smooth sailing so far.

Yet sometimes travel disappoints.

Although Mexico is a beautiful country with rich cultural traditions, I quickly grew tired of the cat-calls and of being hit on.  Strangers would proposition me on the street.  When I pointed to my engagement ring, they would shrug their shoulders and say, “He’s not here.”  This was a cultural difference that I not only disliked but found offensive!

Then there was the bank employee who ripped me off.  I went for a cash withdrawal to pay the rent and came back short-handed.  My host mom called the university and they complained to the campus branch of the bank; but nothing happened.  I had to withdraw more to pay her.

After 10 weeks in Mexico, it was time to return home.  At the airport, a man quickly grabbed my luggage and wheeled it in before I could say anything.  He then waited for his tip.  I had already spent all of my cash and had only a few coins left in my purse.  I apologized as I handed him the equivalent of $1.  He had rolled the luggage for only 1-2 minutes, but he immediately exploded in rage and stormed off.

Back in Omaha, I opened my suitcase to unpack the gifts and memorabilia.  My suitcase had clearly been opened and the hand-painted pottery pitcher I had purchased was smashed into a million pieces.  I was stunned.  Could that guy have gone behind the counter and damaged my stuff?

Surely not…maybe it was air pressure, someone else pulling a prank, or poor luggage handling.  But no, I had wrapped and insulated everything like it was King Tut’s tomb and was being preserved for the millennia.  Only deliberate mistreatment could have done this! Regardless of how my keepsake was damaged, the energy behind that man’s anger grieved and upset me.

Sometimes travel disappoints.

I worked as a substitute teacher in the fall semester and married my Colombian fiancé on December 1, 2000.  We were too poor for a real honeymoon but had scored a cheap fare to Chicago on Southwest Airlines.  (You can sign up for their Rapid Rewards card here.) We flew there for a long weekend so we could at least have a brief trip somewhere together.  Have you ever been to the Windy City in December?  I hate cold weather and it was so cold!  One of our honeymoon memories is trying to find a place to buy a winter hat and mittens so I could bundle up.

Sometimes travel disappoints.

Several years later, we were a family of four, with two daughters.  We decided a Royal Caribbean cruise would make for a memorable family vacation, so we saved and planned it all out.  I handled the motion of the ship just fine and did not get sick.  However, Gonzalo and the girls were quite ill.

Daughter #1 also has celiac disease.  While the kitchen was able to provide excellent gluten-free options, we suspect there may have been some cross-contamination and she was “glutened”.  Perhaps it was motion sickness or a tummy bug she picked up, but it ended in a case of Bathroom Armageddon.  She had a severe bout of diarrhea and vomiting one night.  The bathroom scene was beyond description and we had to call housekeeping for an intervention.

The housekeeper arrived and quickly called for additional supplies.  “It’s a bad one…it’s a bad one!” he exclaimed with a thick accent.  I’m not sure where he was from, but he was a saint and did an amazing job.  It took him 30 minutes to clean up the damage using industrial-strength, hospital grade cleaners.  We thanked him profusely and tipped him $50.

Sometimes travel disappoints.

Have you ever had a bad meal or poor service while traveling?  We had paella at a beachside restaurant in Valencia, Spain for my 50th birthday.  It was good, but honestly?  Overpriced.  And the waiter was indifferent, even rude when we asked questions.  We were trying to understand the menu and he refused to help with allergy accommodations.  He placed our food and beverages on the table in haste, then walked away as though he had something more important to do. Then he just stood around chatting with his co-workers.

Sometimes travel disappoints.

We traveled to Paris on March 7th through 12th and I bought a one-day family pass for Open Tours, a hop-on, hop-off bus.  Here comes the rant…

I paid 89 euros then we waited over 30 minutes for a bus.  After we finally boarded, the bus went the opposite direction from what was posted at the stop.  We wanted to hop off at the next stop to change to a more desirable route, but we were going the wrong way!

They posted the hours of operation on their mobile website, but the last run was not clearly indicated or explained.  We learned that we were on the last run after boarding the bus, which meant it was too late in the day to easily make a route change.  The bus driver spoke neither English nor Spanish so he was of no help.  When I plugged in the earbuds for the guided recording, it was broken.

I immediately emailed them to request a refund.  The next day, I received a refusal via email.  I replied to ask if we could at least ride a different bus that day, and hopefully, the recording would work. No response.  What lack of customer service!

Sometimes travel disappoints.

In February, we spent a few days in Costa Blanca, Spain.  The coast is dotted with lovely small cities and towns but in February?  Apart from restaurants and grocery stores, everything was either closed or hours were reduced.  What did we learn?  If you travel during the low season, bring a book to read!  Depending upon your interests, the places you want to visit may be closed.

Sometimes travel disappoints.

Gonzalo recently watched a television program that detailed how criminals rob tourists in Madrid and Barcelona, two cities that are famous for pickpockets.  He found it an entertaining way to pass an evening while trapped indoors for the coronavirus quarantine.

This was of particular interest to him because we were in Barcelona in February.  While walking in La Rambla, Gonzalo had noticed a guy casing me.  My bag was zipped shut and I wore it cross-body while holding it in front.  The pickpocket gave up after a few minutes and moved on. I didn’t even notice him.  Gonzalo enjoyed the show and filled me in later!

So let’s get real for a moment.  Travel sucks sometimes.  Crowded airports, security lines, and flight delays can hinder us in getting where we’re going.  When we arrive, we can get ripped off by tour companies, eat bad or overpriced food served by indifferent staff, get sick, deal with bad weather, get robbed, or have our luggage vandalized.  The places we want to visit may be closed and we may have to dismiss unwelcome sexual advances.  Add in the expense of the trip and maybe we should take a staycation or de-junk the basement instead!

But no, I don’t really believe that and neither do you.  Travel is far too enriching in a million other ways that tip the scale in its favor.

Sometimes we need to call the bluff and get real, though.

Travel bloggers snap their cheery selfies in front of the perfect view or monument.  We rarely see their cramped hotel room, dirty laundry, make-shift office, tangled up electronic devices or bad hair day.

Yet that’s life, too, isn’t it?  When I expect my trip to be perfect, I step into the delusion that life is perfect.  But it isn’t.

Life – and travel – are a mix of all sorts of things that can happen.  Sometimes we are surprised and delighted by what we encounter.  Other times, we are angry, tired, impatient, or hungry.

We are human and travel has a way of drawing out our humanity even more.

Through travel, we learn about other people, cultures, and places.  We expand our horizons in the mountains, deserts, ruins, cathedrals, food stalls, homes, and local shops that we visit.

We learn more about the human condition and the problems we are all seeking to solve.  We see creativity and greatness, poverty and desperation.

Travel that is pure in this sense does not create a life of ease.  It causes us to question who we are, what we believe, and how we live.  Travel synthesizes, expands, and personalizes everything we have studied in school and experienced in life.  It offers us a deep, immersive form of personal growth that while fun, can also be difficult, even painful.

In seeing and experiencing more of life through travel, we ultimately learn more about ourselves.  In this way, travel is for those who are curious and courageous, open and optimistic.

Life is a gift and inasmuch as travel makes us more alive, then travel is also a gift.

So let’s keep traveling!

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2 Comments

  1. Cheryl on April 28, 2020 at 6:38 pm

    Hi Kelly, I love this post! Having also travelled a lot, I’ve also had a lot of ‘bad experiences’. The worst was probably being robbed of about 400 euros from our suitcases in our hotel room in Phuket. We were naive, didn’t lock our suitcases, but also we had actually forgotten we had cash in them – euros, Australian dollars, and Russian roubles, all in different parts of the suitcases – because we were using travellers cheques at the time. So it was well after we’d left Phuket when we realised that the cash was gone. Fortunately that’s all that was taken, and I tell myself that the chamber maid probably needed it more than we did. Live and learn! I hope we all get the opportunity to travel again really soon so that we can have more of these ‘adventures’! 🙂

    • admin on May 2, 2020 at 8:15 pm

      Hi Cheryl, Travel is an adventure and all kinds of crazy things can happen! Wow, to be robbed and lose 400 euros is a bummer, though. In spite of these mishaps, it’s still worth it to get out and see the world. Thanks for commenting and stay in touch! Kelly

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