How Do I Do It? The Tales of a Non-Expert Traveler

by farrah on October 28, 2014 · 0 comments

I am no expert in anything. Except, perhaps in my family and loving my kids. That said, anytime I jump outside what is comfortable, safe and ‘normal’ for us when it comes to traveling,  those flutters of nerves tend to pop up and feed the beast of doubt. Yes, I’ve been very fortunate to travel quite a bit over the years- but by no means do I consider myself an expert. I’m just a girl, asking the world to be nice to me when I’m on the road.

RyanAirAt Bergamo airport. 

Most recently I by some miracle navigated the journey to Athens (which I WILL have specific posts on soon) and back. Many small things happened to make (and break) parts of my journey- so  today I wanted to share them and hopefully give even just one person out there the cajones to say ‘I CAN DO THIS‘ and go themselves.

Getting there

My stress points whenever I travel are the nitty-gritty logistics. What happens when I get off the plane? How do I get to my hotel/apartment/whatever? How do I get around the city where I’m staying? I’ll start right off and say when you’re with your family it’s an entirely new ball game as chances are if you’re like me you’re completely distracted with the kids and (hopefully) you have a partner to help share the worries. In fact, I will freely admit that when I am with my husband I let him take the wheel. Additionally, if I’m meeting up with someone I’ll gladly hand over the responsibilities of the how to- just ask my friends Ann, SJ and Ace!

What I found helpful this time around was taking the advice of SJ who I was meeting in Athens. She was booking a private company to get her from the airport to our apartment, and I did too. Brilliant. I wasn’t nervous, I knew I’d end up where I needed to be- and the genuine friendly, helpful and generous nature of my driver put me immediately at ease once he met me at the gate. I realize this is by no means the cheapest way to go- but it was worth my mental sanity. Telling me to just take a cab or jump on the metro falls on deaf ears. All that I hear is dangerdangerdanger and it’s just not worth the anxiety. Pre-arranged transport works for me.

Getting back

Probably the biggest stress I can have on the road is concern over the logistics on getting BACK to the airport. That London Incident I had a while back is imprinted on my mind and I never want a repeat. This time I didn’t feel I had to shell out the cost of private transport- but rather I’d give the local metro a shot. What helped was that I did a dry run first. The night before I left we used the metro so I was familiar with how to activate my ticket, find my platform and make sure I got on the right train. Sure I was hours early- but it all proved to keep me calm. I spoke with people from the Athens Airport the day before (who were extremely helpful) and they helped me figure out the times of the train and put me at ease. It all worked out. (***lesson—>ask the source if you can. They know the best ways to get around.)

Once I arrived at the airport I was safe for the time being. I made my flight and arrived in Bergamo for my connection. I was already irritated though- as RyanAir cancelled my original connection back to my local airport (which I knew about months in advance). I was going to have to fly from Bergamo and instead to my familiar Eindhoven in the Netherlands, I was going to have to go to Brussels and catch a train. That sounded like a lot of work- and too many opportunities for disaster.

What I didn’t like was that Bergamo airport was much less serene than Athens. Security was unorganized and chaotic. Lines were long. People were grumpy and no one spoke English. I did arrive early enough to eat and find my gate but by no means was it anxiety free. Still though, I was doing ok. I made it to Brussels and from there felt closer to ‘home’ and that the trip was nearing the end. (**lesson—>don’t get to comfortable if you’re still got miles to go.)

Issues will arise

I wasn’t super stressed about the trains and connections I’d have to take to get home. A while back I flew into Amsterdam and due to track work it took me FIVE HOURS, a bus, several trains and a cab to eventually get home. I made it that time- so I knew this time nothing could be quite so horribly wrong. Well, I was overconfident to be sure. I found the info desk at the airport and asked where to find the bus that takes me to the station. She made it sound so easy- but that was not the case. I realized there weren’t any busses any where she said they were supposed to be located. I asked other people wandering around and they all said either they didn’t speak English or had no idea. Finally I was approached by a family and their college aged son. There was a cab driver with them and they explained they were going where I was going and he’d take us all there for €5 each. The family was lovely- from an area near my hometown in Michigan (of course!) and it went well. (*** lesson—> trust in strangers. That family saved the day for me).

At the station I immediately asked information how to buy a ticket to get to the Netherlands. She directed me to the office next to her and without issue I bought my ticket for all of the connections and way to get back to Oisterwijk. He even told me which platform I needed and how to get there. I was elated. Yes, I was early- but that was fine by me.

That was the end of my serenity. I got on the train and headed to Brussels Midi and it all fell apart. Up until this point I was patting myself on the back for not making any mistakes. Brussels Midi had NO ONE to help. Unlike the Netherlands, there were not any people standing around in uniform answering questions. The original track I thought I was to have was incorrect- and quickly my 20 minute window slipped away. The poor box of Sabarro pizza I had grabbed to eat was a burden and I was ready to ditch it as I ran around in a panic looking for my train, information on the track- anything. (****lesson—> no shame in asking anyone and everyone for information. Don’t give up- keep trying. You WILL find someone who can help you.)

The first information booth was closed and after asking many people where my track might be- I found an open info booth, shoved my ticket at him and said ‘PLEASE, can you tell me which track I need???’ He looked quickly and said ‘Oh! that’s 18’. So off I ran just like London all  over again. It was awful. If I missed that train I had no idea how long it would be until the next one and I was already getting home late.

At last I found it, hopped on with about three minutes to spare and inhaled my pizza. I was going the right way. Hooray!

After another two connections that I was very familiar with in my home country- I was home on time. I was in a great mood and feeling very proud of myself for doing it all error-free except for that close call in Brussels. As I approached my house I entered and expected a chorus of happy voices and kisses after 15 hours of travel, but alas. That was not to be. Turns out my entire family had caught a stomach bug right after I left and my husband didn’t have the heart to tell me while I was away. He (being sick himself) did his best to help my barfing kids and clean what he could. Yep. Mom was home and the vacation was over. (*** lesson—> marry someone really awesome like him).

Other tips:

*I never let my phone die. Even if I’m alone, at least I can call/text/whatever someone. Bring your charger and keep your phone on airplane mode to save battery life when you don’t need it.

*Make sure you have water. Eat when you can even if you’re not hungry. You need the energy and in times of a time crunch it’s going to be impossible.

*I wear pants with a bunch of pockets to keep my documents close at hand and at the ready. Don’t have a bottomless purse where you have to dig for stuff. It’s not worth it. Also, be smart about your shoes! Who cares how stylish you are if you can’t run when you need to?

So what are your solo traveling lessons and stories? Please share. I can take all I can get!

So much more to come on Athens. Hint, I LOVED IT. 


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