June 06, 2007
Inevitably when you're traveling not only beyond the borders of your country but also your comfort zone, you're bound to make a few mistakes. Instead of thinking of these as embarrassing incidents I prefer to classify them as learning experiences. Humility is best packed as a carry on – or at least in 3 oz. doses.
One Click Away From Disaster
While the Internet has created a host of new economical opportunities for direct booking, the only person you can hold accountable for errors is yourself. We transact thousands of dollars worth of airline tickets, hotel stays, and car rentals with a simple click and often no more of a confirmation than a few numbers in an e-mail. When I booked, or thought I booked, my super cheap hotel in Cannes I did not realize I had printed out only the "preview" page and failed to double click to actually make the reservation. Since it was through a discount conglomerate and not the hotel I was out of luck. Another really fun moment was realizing that instead of booking the 9 a.m. flight on Easy Jet I had actually booked the 9 p.m., and when I tried to call the number on the company's website it was of course not in service. Ah, my kingdom for a real live travel agent.
Jet Lag Linguistics
Even if you are somewhat proficient in a foreign language, the overnight flight, time change, and odd-tasting airplane coffee take their toll on brain function. Having to take a bus across town in Paris to get to the other airport where my cheap flight at the wrong time was located, I tried out my French for directions. A porter took pity on me and literally walked me over to a place where the airport name ORLY was printed in large block letters literally on the road by the bus stop. I tried to joke in French that I was blind "aveugle" but unfortunately it came out more like a "veuve" which is widow and he looked at me with big eyes and said he was sorry for my loss. It's OK, I said in French, I just need my glasses.
Duty Free Dangers
Anytime we can escape taxes whether it is deducting strippers in Vegas as a business expense, opening a Swiss bank account, or buying duty-free perfume or liquor in an airport we can't resist. I wanted to get a gift for a friend but couldn't tell which perfume she might like so I went around the little store trying out numerous scents. Everything seemed fine in the terminal but when I reached my seat in the plane I noticed a smell like something between an English grandmother and a whorehouse and realized it was me with all my mix and match scents which neither mixed not matched. I was going to say to the Frenchman next to me I was sorry for my scent but that sounds an awful lot like "enceinte" which means I'm pregnant so decided to skip the apology.
Wash And Wear
Clothes which are easy "wash and wear" can be a great asset when traveling because you can throw them in the sink with a little Woolite and dry them on the shower rod. However, wash and wear passports are another matter. I am meticulous when I travel if not about the appropriate clicks on websites or French vocabulary but at least make sure my passport is in order. My guy however is much more casual and after leaving his passport in his pants pocket and washing and drying it the battered document still seemed fine. I had warned him way in advance that he should order a new one because there was a delay with backlogs and was horrified to find out he never replaced it but planned to travel with this super important document which looked like something the cat dragged in. I was amazed that after a brief delay and national security/laundry lecture they actually let him through.
Which brings me to my last point, which is that sometimes what you need most is a bit of luck to have your travels go smoothly. And if they don't? Well, at least it makes a good story.
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