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The lessons learned from a month of travel woes

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When travelling goes right it’s the best thing in the world. But it also offers up myriad opportunities for it to go wrong and give you the worst time imaginable.

Over the month of June, my travels gave me a number of massive headaches that taught me some very worthwhile lessons about myself and how to handle the situation when things go wrong.

Of course, many people have a much worse time, but fortunately I wasn’t one of those people.

This is my June tale of travel woe:

At the start of the month I headed to sunny Catalonia, and its capital Barcelona for the Primavera Sound music festival. The whole thing kick started with a stressless and relaxed flight on Norwegian Airways – who are now my new favourite reasonably-priced airline to get around Europe, but things soon turned for the worst.

I’ve never had issue with Air Bnb before, but the pitfalls of this type of arrangement became starkly apparent on arriving at our apartment. Firstly, the owner (we’ll call him David) requested we leave him to ‘clean’ the apartment after our check-in. So we popped up, left our bags and headed to the beach for a drink – so far, so good.

On our return and a proper inspection, it became apparent just how awful this ‘apartment’ was. The promised fold-out sofa bed did not fold out, the kitchen was basically a cupboard with a hob and a sink in, and the bed in the main bedroom was sinking at the end.

And that wasn’t the worst of it – add the fact the place was so dirty you could feel it on your skin, the exposed wires everywhere and what appeared to be animal droppings on the floor, and the promise of a quality stay seemed to be disappearing.

Needless to say, we quickly told the guy to shove his room and looked for another place to stay – losing our friend to another apartment with other friends along the way.

We soon found a slightly more expensive hotel room just up the road, which was very, very nice. To be fair to Air BnB they quickly sorted us out with a refund, so very little was lost in the long run except for a ruined first day in Barca. David was also fine with us cancelling the booking, which suggests he knew exactly how big a hole he was offering in the first place.

Lesson learned: You should never accept anything that is not right, and there are always other options available. In most cases people want to help you have a good stay “somewhere.”

The Barcelona trip was bookended by something a little more serious. Primavera was awesome as always – thanks for asking!

I’d previously been to the city four times before and never been pickpocketed, which apparently makes me some sort of statistical wonder, so I guess it was my time. It happened on the tram at 4am, I was drunk, I got on the wrong tram in the wrong direction, realised and jumped off to head to the tube. On arriving in the train station and reaching for my phone – no phone. The phone was gone.

I could picture the prick who took it and when he had the chance to nab it. I swore, I raged, I was shaken.

But soon calmed down. One phone call to my network provider and they had cancelled the phone and blacklisted it. The next day a few hours in the police station and they had a detailed description of the culprit and CCTV footage from the tram that night.

I was never going to see the phone again, probably....but there was a chance they thieving swine would get caught.

On arriving home, a call to my home insurance people and in a few weeks – brand new phone. Because I had stuff backed up online I restored a lot of settings to my new phone and life continues.

Through the iPhone’s Find Your Phone function, I had even set the phone to erase everything should the bastards ever get it unlocked and online. I also got to leave them a message on completion of the erase that I’ll not repeat here but let’s just say it was full of expletives and wished them a slow and horrible death.

Lesson learned: Always have adequate insurance when travelling abroad, don’t panic and make the calls you need to as soon as possible – again people generally want to help. Stuff is just stuff – stuff can be replaced.

My next trip involved heading to the frankly crazy southern US city of New Orleans, a place like no other and also where a place that below the surface of regeneration there still lies a bubbling undercurrent of poverty and social strife.

One day walking by the Jackson brewery on the banks of the Mississippi, a friendly gentleman stopped me to welcome me to New Orleans – it seemed fine! He then offered me a trick – he could predict where I ‘got’ my shoes – the place, the city, the state and when!! I didn’t agree to the challenge but that was not stopping him. If he did, I needed to pay for a shoe shine (not that my new Converse needed it) and if he didn’t I would get the shine for free.

OK, mate.

“You got them on your feet, in New Orleans, in Louisiana, right now!” Clever bugger! And he had grabbed my feet for the ‘shine’. I had already clocked the burly guy who had suddenly materialised from round the corner.

“That will be $50 dollars.” No way he was getting that! I felt like refusing out right, but the other guy had been joined by an even bigger guy and they individually looked like they could crush my face with one hand, so both of them didn’t bear thinking about.

“Piss off. You can have $5 and that’s it!”

“Thank you sir. Have a nice day.”

Lesson learned: It’s only money, giving up money is better than giving up your limbs! Money and possessions are less important than personal safety.

The end of that trip came with more woes, as I got stranded in the US for a full 24 hours extra. On boarding the plane from New Orleans to Atlanta something was not right. A quick announcement explained that some numpty had broken the cargo door and the plane was not fit to fly, but they were trying to fix it.

But the damage was bad, and everyone had to leave the plane. At this point the tight connection time at Atlanta to get a next flight home became more of a worry, as it was announced the plane was going nowhere.

One long queue and a new ticket later, I was on a later flight to Atlanta with no chance of getting the last international flight out of the country. Fortunately, the nice people at Delta Airways stepped up with a hotel for the night (which took forever to get to) and some overnight essentials.

The next issue was that there were not flights out of the US until the following evening, so the next day involved a soul destroying day in Atlanta’s sparse and dull international terminal – 8 ½ hours in all.

I eventually arrived home around 32 hours later than intended having lost a whole day languishing in an airport void.

Lesson learned: Sometimes things go wrong and there is nothing you can do about it. Don’t get angry, stay calm and go with the flow and you’ll come out fine. Shout and rage at the staff and you might find yourself with difficulty getting a new flight – surprisingly people’s empathy wears thin when they are being shouted at.

None of that was that bad! I know you're thinking that. And your right – people have it worse. But this is what happened and what I learned, and it's the best (or worst) I have to offer.




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