Listening to people talk about their travels abroad may lead one to believe it’s all sunshine and roses. However along with amazing photos, tales of exotic adventures and mysterious cuisine, there are often stunning stories of things gone wrong—sometimes very, very wrong.
On my recent trip to Singapore and Malaysia, everything was going perfectly. The weather was ideal, my 29-year-old son and I were having the best reunion and everywhere we went—gardens, shrines, shopping malls, jazz spots, restaurants and hotels—was better than we imagined. Then came a slight oversight—I failed to realize that my 1:30 return flight to the United States departed at a.m. not p.m. Magnifying my missed flight was the fact that I was in Southeast Asia at one of their busiest travel periods, just prior to Chinese New Year. I spent much of the day in an Internet café searching on my netbook for alternative ways to get home.(One airline offered me a seat for $2,000—far more than my roundtrip flight cost.) I ended up having to fly standby from Singapore to Korea, sleep overnight in the airport, then take another standby flight from Korea to the United States. Both times I had to wait until the last minute before being issued a boarding pass. I got home 24 hours past the time I was originally scheduled to arrive.
Lesson learned: It’s easy to get caught up in all the details of the front end of your trip—where you’re staying, what you’re doing, language issues, exchange rates, etc. However, it’s a good idea to focus considerable attention on what one may perceive as the mundane details of one’s return itinerary—departure date, time, airport, travel time to airport, time between connections, etc. Also make sure you have resources in case you have to make contingency plans. It’s also a good idea to pay attention to what’s happening locally and internationally (politics, weather, holidays, current events, etc.) concerning the areas one is traveling to and between. Make sure your chargers are handy in case you’re stranded and charging cell phones, computers and tablets becomes vital.
Two DeKalb residents shared their travel experiences when things didn’t go as planned and the lessons they learned from their adventures:
African mission trip riddled with delays and disappointments
Regina Fletcher, a retired DeKalb County educator, travels for missions working with rural schools, orphanages, evangelism and teaching in ministerial institutes, or for personal enjoyment at least once a year. She recounts a series of disappointments and misadventures on a trip in Africa. However, she remains committed to mission work. In fact, she’s planning to journey to India in the near future.
“In 2008 I traveled to Ghana, West Africa on my first mission trip to that country. I was scheduled to be a guest lecturer at a Ministry Training Institute in Accra on the coast and also to teach at a ministers’ and pastors’ conference in the interior at Adumasi. Reservations had been made for us at a hotel near the church where the conference was to be held.
“We decided to leave on the afternoon of the day the conference was to start. One of the local pastors who has been a guest at our church offered to drive us to the site of the conference. We were about 40 miles outside of Accra when his van began to experience engine problems. Luckily we were near a medical clinic that his wife, who is a medical doctor, supervises. We were able to get enough of a signal on his phone to call her and to get a call to a tratra company to have a tratra pick us up at the clinic, which was closed when we arrived. A tratra is a 15-passenger van that has been modified to seat 18 to 20. We watched the sun go down and the darkness of the African night settle in. In the back of our minds was the fact that two Canadian missionaries had been attacked and robbed on this very stretch of road two days earlier.
“After what seemed like an eternity, the tratra arrived. The three of us piled into the tratra and waved goodbye to the pastor who remained with his van. We arrived at the hotel about 30 minutes before the opening service was to begin. The hotel, though attractive from the outside, was far from our standards of a hotel/motel. We had to get water from a rain barrel to freshen up and to flush the toilet. We used bottled water to brush our teeth. We made the best of it that night and went to the opening service.
Fortunately, we spoke with the pastor of the church and it turns out that his brother, who lives in England, owned a European-style hotel a little further down the road. The next morning we gathered our belongings and checked into that brother’s hotel. The difference was night and day—wonderful rooms, excellent food and helpful staff and most of all HOT running water! The conference was very successful and I have had the pleasure to return again and again.”
Lesson learned: “To keep from being totally miserable or going into a complete funk over things you have no control over, sometimes you have to go with the flow and adapt to the extent possible. Be creative and make your misadventure bearable. You must remember that you are not in the United States and cultures differ even in their interpretation on our standards of even basic living. This can help to make it a merit badge of travel memory when you recount it.
It’s important to research as much as possible where you are going, outside of your point of arrival/departure to learn what to expect about everyday life when dealing with hygiene, housing, bathrooms, transportation, etc. Depending upon where you are going, beyond the usual travel toiletries, ALWAYS carry your own bottled water, sheets/blanket and towels, flashlights, batteries, cleaning products, even toilet paper.”
– Regina Fletcher
Friendly gesture in Buenos Aires leads to chasing a thief
Decatur insurance agent Arthur Ratliff is a world traveler who usually goes on one or two international trips a year with photography one of his main objectives. He shares what occurred on a trip six years ago in Argentina.
“It was my first day in Buenos Aires and I was walking around taking photos. Little did I know that someone was watching me. I went into a buffet restaurant with my heavy awkward backpack. The owner offered to let me safely put it behind the counter so that I could comfortably eat my meal. I appreciated the gesture but did not feel comfortable with this. I decided to take a table by the door so that I could see everyone coming in and out. A few minutes passed when I looked up and saw a young man jump over the counter taking my backpack with him. I chased him out the door, through crowds and between cars. He rightly had fear in his eyes as I was preparing to show him what an NFL tackle was. He dropped the backpack saying in Spanish ‘there is your bag, now leave me alone.’
“I picked up my pack and walked back toward the restaurant. The crowd parted, everyone cheered, slapped me on the back and gave me thumbs up. I was too angry to really appreciate my five minutes of fame.”
Lessons learned: “Don’t ever part with your personal items. Try to have two or more people with you when you are out taking photographs in a foreign country; be aware of those too eager to assist, they might be part of a scam.”
– Arthur Ratliff