I love traveling.
But, let’s be honest. Traveling is not nearly as glamorous as Instagram photos make it appear to be. Sometimes, you just sit back and wonder how you’re going to make it through the day, because everything seems to be going wrong.
Emily and I consulted prior to this trip in regards to our expectations. [And by “consulted,” I mean we sat around in my apartment eating chocolate and laughing at Buzzfeed articles].
We both agreed that things go wrong. You miss a connection, your expectations are unrealistic, and you end up spending all day trying to find something that ends up being nothing. You kind of need to go into it with that realization.
Making plans is a good idea, but just don’t be surprised if they goof.
So, in light of this, Emily and I have created our list of top #travelrealities from the last 2 weeks. Enjoy.
1.ICELANDIC CURRENCY CONFUSION
Do you know what the krona is? I have learned. The Icelandic Krona, or ISK, is the currency used on the island. Interestingly enough, some variation of the krona (which means “crown”) is also used in Sweden, the Czech Republic, Norway, the Faroe Islands, Denmark and Greenland. Despite that, this was my first encounter with it and it stumped me at first. Conversion rates are quite extreme, as I purchased souvenirs for 3.500 krona (that’s 35 HUNDRED) and when checking my card statement later, it was about $28 USD. So.
Even knowing this, it’s still disconcerting when you ring up at a register and the saleperson tells you that you owe 35 hundred anything.
This is long lead-in to the story in which I meant to buy about $15 worth of gas at a gas station in Southern Iceland, but my card wasn’t working in the self-serve outside. So, I went in and kindly requested assistance. The attendant informed me that I would have to purchase a gift card to use at the pump. Undeterred, I said, “sure!” When he asked how much, I asked for 1.500 ISK. He said, “You mean thousand?” I said, “um, yes.”
That’s how I ended up with 15.000 ISK worth of gas station gift cards in the wallet. For those wondering, yes, that’s a lot. It comes to about $120 USD. Needless to say, I didn’t need that much gas for my journey. So, Emily and I ended up using most of it to buy candy and yogurt.
2.CS LEWIS LITERARY TOUR
Do you love C.S. Lewis? I mean, who doesn’t. He grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which they broadcast in their tourism literature. One such featured item: The C.S. Lewis Literary Tour, which Emily and I found in a pamphlet and decided to try. It had several places displayed on a small map and gave the impression of a journey through the city, complete with landmarks and interesting educational moments. The first: A statue of the wardrobe.
Armed with an all-day bus pass (only 3,40 pounds!), we set off with our map. After getting off at the first stop, we asked the locals if they knew of this statue. The first two did not. Then we asked a pair of gentleman who informed us that the statue was located in front of the library. We thanked them and continued on, but after not seeing the library, we asked another set of people. These folks looked at us very oddly when we asked, “could you tell us how to get to the library?” but gave directions nonetheless.
Once there, their facial expressions made sense. It turned out that the entire library was under deep construction, being entirely renovated and inaccessible. The statue was visible through a fence, the only part not in pieces.
The pictures above should give you a good sense for it.
Laughing but soldiering on, we found two more locations, each one progressively more disappointing than the last. There was a church with an upstairs room that had artwork drawn by local children and 20 year-old copies of a few Narnia books, and the library downtown which had a small shelf on the 3rd floor with a few trinkets on it.
See Emily posed below.
So, keep your expectations reasonable when traveling.
3.METRO V. BACKPACK
I am a big fan of Europe’s public transit systems. When navigating our way from the airports to our lodging in both London and Paris, we used trains and metro exclusively. By the end of the trip, we were proficient both in map-reading and in successfully maneuvering the connections.
One thing that constantly seemed to work against us: The ticket receptors. In European metro systems, you purchase a ticket and then feed it into a system in which it pops back up once scanned, and then small doors open to let you in to where the trains are located. These are prone to glitches, including losing your ticket (which means you have to buy another) or the gates simply not opening.
Or, in the case of my Paris escapade, getting stuck.
Emily and I parted ways in a metro station, going to opposite sides of the track. I was flying home, she was continuing on. I waved goodbye to her and then boarded my train. When making my transfer to the RER B for the airport, I fed my ticket into the machine and the gates obediently opened. For those who have not been, there is about a 2 foot space for you to get through before the gates close.
I was partly through when they closed, filling into the space between my shoulder blades and my backpack.
Now, 2 weeks in, this backpack was already feeling much heavier than it’s actual 30 pounds. It felt as though Emily was secretly sneaking anvils into it while I slept.
And I was stuck. Completely. Not even any wiggle space. And alone.
I floundered for a bit, wondering how the typically packed underground space was suddenly so empty. Not seeing any options, I waited.
Eventually, a group of kind French individuals came along and said, “Aller!” Trust me, I would if I could. It didn’t take long for them to realize I physically could not “Go!” and that I also didn’t speak French very well.
One man eventually pried the gates open with his hands while another woman shoved at my backpack.
I was sweating profusely and saying, “Merci beaucoup” over and over again. Yikes. I continued on with a greater amount of caution (and speed!).
4.BACKPACKER HOMELESSNESS ASSUMPTION
Emily and I used Airbnb for a portion of our journey, and had overall great success. However, there was one moment that will likely not leave our minds. Ever.
Our place in Paris was hosted by a very kind woman who spoke English, but it was her second language, so the written communication via the Airbnb app left something to be desired. She gave directions to her place, which ended up being a bit confusing and left us in an odd situation.
The room we rented was part of her home in a gorgeous, very expensive housing area with a fenced courtyard accessible by gate. All of the homes faced inward to this courtyard. We got in the gate, but then we could not find which place was hers. So, we posted up to wait. And, we looked a sight with our sweaty selves and our dirty backpacks.
Over the next hour, we were stunned at the response we got when asking for help. We asked if we could use phone, internet, or if anybody knew our host or could get ahold of her. Everybody from adult to teen declined to lend a hand. So, we waited.
I decided to lurk by the buildings and try to pick up free wi-fi while Emily guarded our things. While doing this, a woman approached Emily and told her that we could not stay there. She assumed that we were homeless Americans (which was somewhat true in the moment) and that we planned to sleep in the courtyard of this very high-income housing area (which was not true, but it did certainly look like it was).
Emily attempted to explain the concept of Airbnb with limited success.
Finally, we agreed to pack up our things and leave. But just then, our host came out to greet us. She was so kind and apologized so profusely, we almost forgot the embarrassment and vulnerability that we had felt. Almost.
Here are a few miscellaneous items that came to our attention.
Treat your feet kindly. They go through a LOT when you’re walking 6-8 hours a day, especially on concrete. Sometimes they simply go on strike by growing large blisters and causing you to hobble, which is embarrassing.
Extra fees exist. My budget did not quite stretch as nicely as I’d hoped, as some airlines incorporate hidden fees, or you end up paying 12 Euro for a sandwich. Or 15.000 ISK at a gas station.
Missed/incorrect/crazy weird transit is inevitable. On my last flight, I flew home on a connection from Keflavik to Seattle. Turns out, there were two Seattle flights leaving 30 minutes apart, only 4 gates apart. Of course, I waited for the wrong one. And when I handed over my boarding pass, I heard the words, “Oh, you missed your flight.” Too tired to react, I simply stood there blinking. She asked me to step aside and handled everything, which was amazing because I didn’t even know what to ask for. At that point, I had used all my wits. But the point stands. You will end up on the wrong train, or miss your bus, or get weird fees for a taxi, or walk 2 miles with a heavy backpack in the hot sun. That’s just how it goes, so roll with it.
Awkward tourist photos are a thing. Everywhere that Emily and I went, there were people attempting to capture themselves in front of the scenery with selfie sticks. If they were unsuccessful (or didn’t have a selfie stick), they would ask you to take a picture for them. And if they didn’t like how it turned out, they might ask you to take it again. Or, they would give specific instructions of how the photo should be taken. And if you wanted a picture of yourself and your traveling partner, you had to ask a stranger who might frown at you and then you end up with awkward tourist photos like these:
But when all is said and done, the #travelrealities are worth it for the experiences, the sights, the people and the stories.
I hope traveling is in your near future.