Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Traveling Dangers

Back to Boston - Back on the plane - Aerlingus from Dublin to Boston by litlesam
Back to Boston - Back on the plane - Aerlingus from Dublin to Boston a photo by litlesam on Flickr.

Everyone who knows me, knows that travel is my passion.  I often get asked by friends if I get nervous when I travel, or if I find it scary to go to far away places.   I think that anytime someone boards an air plane there is always that little bit of doubt or fear.   It's not overwhelming for me, but still the thought of a little fear is always there if only for a second.   I have often joked that if the plane should crash let it be on the return trip.  That way I would not miss out on that one last journey.

I flew to Hawaii two weeks ago.  While airborne I got to thinking about the times I have had close calls or have been in trouble when traveling.  I always take out travel insurance in case I have any emergencies while away from home.  But I have never really had any emergencies while I have been away.  The only times I have had any problems have all been at the very beginning of a trip.  Those first few moments have been the worst experiences for me.  Never the flight, never the airplane, but always those first few moments when I arrive somewhere.

The first major problem I had while traveling was on a trip to Amsterdam.  Amsterdam has a reputation for being a wild city.  You can go to a brown cafe and smoke marijuana.  You can go to the red light district and see the prostitutes inside the glass windows.  I was offered to buy drugs on the street.  But for the most part Amsterdam is a wonderful city full of culture and beautiful canals to explore.  Like all of my travel problems the trouble in Amsterdam happened the first few moments after I had arrived.  I had read all the warnings about the danger on the train from Schiphol Airport to the Centraal Station in Amsterdam.  I was told to watch my luggage carefully and to be on alert for pick pockets.  And sure enough, less than five minutes after leaving the airport, I had a piece of luggage stolen right from in front of me on the train.  A group of kids jumped on the train at the very first stop from the airport.  They grabbed the bag and ran off the train again.  There was no money in the bag, no credit cards, and no clothing.  But it did have my passport and return airline tickets.  So here I was in The Netherlands for less than five minutes and my passport was gone.   The passport was not difficult to replace.  I went to the police station to get a police report, and then on to the American consulates office where replacing passports was a daily routine.  There was a shop across the street where I had my photos taken.  The consulates office assured me I would have a new passport in three days.  And like clock work I did have a new passport in three days.   Amsterdam posed no other problems or fears for me.  The rest of the vacation was uneventful.  It was those first five minutes that gave me grief.

I went to visit my daughter in Atlanta two years ago.  I was flying United Airlines, which in it's wisdom, always routes me through Chicago when I fly from Baltimore to Atlanta.  It only makes sense I guess.  Atlanta is only a 2 hour flight from Baltimore, so of course they will send me two hours in the wrong direction to Chicago first, and then on to Atlanta.  With layovers it usually takes me four to five hours to get to Atlanta.  This allows me plenty of time to find traveling problems before I arrive at my final destination.  I have never had a problem in Atlanta.  But those first few minutes at O'hare Airport in Chicago have caused me major problems.   Because my flights are always very early on United I am usually a little sleepy when I arrive in Chicago for my layover to Atlanta.  On this one flight I sat at the gate waiting for my flight and fell asleep.  I had placed my cell phone on the arm of the chair where I was sitting.  When I heard the boarding announcement and woke up I reached for my phone and it was gone.  I looked under the chair, all around on the floor and it was no where in sight.  Someone had taken my cell phone was I was sleeping.  This led to more problems when I arrived in Atlanta.  I had not way to call my daughter to let her know that I had arrived, where I was located, and where to pick me up.  I also had not money for a pay phone.  And even if I had the money for the pay phone I still had no idea what was my daughter's phone number.  It was coded in my lost cell phone not in my memory.  I solved this by going to a "pay to use" computer screen in the airport.  I sent out emails to everyone I knew who might know Danielle's phone number.  Within moments my oldest daughter Katie replied with the phone number.  Now to find a way to call her.  I went to an ATM and took out twenty dollars as I had no cash on me.  I went to a newsstand and bought a candy bar and tried to pay with the twenty dollar bill.  It was early in the morning and the lady did not have a lot of change in her cash register so she asked if I had anything smaller.  I had reached my limit by this time and poured out my entire sorry story to her.  She told me to forget the candy bar.  There was a courtesy phone at the customer service booth in the airport.  She said to explain my problem to them and they would let me use the phone.  It sounded perfect.  But my daughter's phone is part of a family package we have for our cell phones and it is listed with a Maryland exchange.  In order to use the courtesy phone in Atlanta to call her it would be long distance.  When the lady in the customer service told me this I must have looked terrible.  She felt so bad for me that she loaned me her personal cell phone to make the call.  Once again the rest of my visit was uneventful.  It was those first few moments that once again gave me all the grief.

As  I mentioned in the beginning, I traveled to Hawaii two weeks ago.  Once again I had some strange connections for the trip.  I had to fly to Atlanta in order to get to Hawaii.  All of the flights were perfect.  There were no crying babies.  No one sitting next to me on the plane had body odor.  There was no turbulence on the flight.  It was all perfect.  So I should have been prepared for those first five minutes in Hawaii.  I should have known that once again those moments are where the problems are located.  We arrived and went to pick up our luggage.  I always keep a large plastic bad tied to the handle of my luggage so I can see it when I arrives in the pile of one hundred other dark look alike pieces of luggage.  When the luggage started to arrive the porters working for the private tour groups all but pushed us aside and started to grab luggage and check labels for their customers.  It was a battle to reach the luggage ramp with them in our way.  We saw my husband Mark's luggage land on the ramp and we managed to get past the travel group porters to retrieve Mark's luggage.  A few moment later we saw my dark luggage with the big white plastic bag bow tied to the handle arrive.  But it never came past us on the ramp.  It just disappeared.  Someone had grabbed my luggage.  I was in a panic.  I was angry, I was upset, and I was trying to figure out what to do next.  I told Mark to stand by the ramp in case it reappeared, while I started walking around the ramp checking out the luggage that was being grabbed by the tour group guides.  I was ready to tell someone off and start a scene ifI found it.  But I never found it.  Two trips around the luggage claim ramp and it was no where to be found.  Then suddenly it reappeared.   I saw the big white plastic bow coming towards me.  Someone did rip off my identification information, so I knew one of the tour guides had grabbed it and then realized it was not their luggage and threw it back on the ramp.  Once again the worst thing on the entire trip happened in those first few moments upon arrival.

There is a saying "It's not the destination, it's the journey that makes you strong."  My new saying is "It's not the destination, it's the arrival that gives you grief."


  1. Nice to know Larry. But I will just have to take your word for it, what with the little travel I do do. My problems usually come with the company I keep. Love the tips and will file them away for when I do get to travel :)

  2. How odd the timing of your travel troubles! One thing I learned about traveling is to stay calm. There's usually a solution. Often I got my help by crying a river of tears. People lined up to shut me up.