“I don’t worry about you often, but I was a little worried when you were in Cleveland when you said that guy was yelling out at you.” If you read my post on Cleveland you know that, when I was walking around downtown, a guy in a MAGA hat yelled out his car window to me, “You, make America great honey.” I shared this in my group chat with my Dad and sister because I thought it was amusing. I didn’t really think anything of it because I knew I was safe at the time. I was walking around downtown with a zillion Browns fans on their way to the game. Not exactly the type of scenario where I’m about to be kidnapped. In hindsight, I realize I didn’t give any context. This combined with the fact that it’s biologically predetermined for parents to worry about their children apparently gave my Dad a bit of a start. To his credit, he didn’t say anything. It wasn’t until I was back at home in Connecticut that he mentioned his blip of worry.
What my Dad didn’t realize was that Cleveland was not the part of that trip he should have been worried about. It would have been the part where I accidentally got myself lost, alone, in a not-so-safe area of Detroit.
But, of course, things don’t always go as planned. Not in life and not in travel. There are too many things outside of our control. Or we just make mistakes. And, sometimes, we’re just trying to travel on a budget and end up with food poisoning while in Madrid sharing a hostel room with ten strangers and trying to take a shower where you have to pop in a coin for one minute of water.
But as much as some of it sucks to go through, I usually end up fond of these experiences. We learn a lot from traveling. Some of it is obvious or intentional by visiting museums or trying local cuisine. Some of it is from exploring and getting to know the layout of an area and ingesting the culture. But some of it is from these travel faux pas. The things that go wrong. And, bonus, they usually make for some pretty stellar stories.
As mentioned above, I got food poisoning in Madrid. Actually, to be fair, I got food poisoning in Ireland and started feeling the effects while on a delightful Ryanair flight on the way to Madrid. I was traveling with two friends who both also had food poisoning. We had all eaten the same thing for dinner the night before and, so, there you go. We survived the flight and tried to make our way to the hostel. We ended up paying a little extra for a taxi because we were just feeling so awful and wanted to get there quicker. At one point one of my friends thought she was going to throw up in the car and, while I panicked, my other friend started saying, “enferma, enferma,” to get the taxi driver to pull over. Thank goodness one of us could keep our cool and pull out some high school Spanish in a pinch. We ultimately made it to the hostel without incident. We entered our ten person room to find three Italian men partially dressed. One was in nothing but some tighty-whiteys and socks with his feet propped up on the bunk bed. They were quite nice and offered us their bottled water once realizing we were sick. The one good thing about food poisoning is that it doesn’t last long. It did mean that we were tired and dehydrated the next day, but ultimately we could rally and see the sights and museums that we wanted to.
The biggest takeaway I took from this is what I’m capable of. I was only 20 at the time and this was my first time abroad. I am a very shy and reserved person riddled with social anxiety and, at that age, a whole lot of self doubt. But I don’t actually remember being worried at all during the whole ordeal. A little apprehensive at some moments, maybe, but never actually worried or scared. I intuitively felt comfortable around the Italian guys (and I really trust my intuition) and I knew I could rely on the two people I was traveling with. We were on our own and had to figure it out and we did. It gave me a whole lot of confidence moving forward; a confidence that, had I not gained, I probably would have never made it to my next big trip (Egypt) because I would have been too scared to go.
And it can’t be said that I didn’t also learn a thing or two about Italian culture.
Ireland and Madrid were the same trip. I flew solo to Dublin and met my friend, Amy, who was doing a semester abroad. We flew from Dublin to Madrid for a couple of days and then back again. We flew Ryanair. For those of you who don’t know, Ryanair is the budget airline of budget airlines. It is the airline that considered taking bathrooms off their planes to add a few more seats. It’s the airline that makes you wonder if they’ve built their planes from old parts discarded from other, more reputable, airlines. And it’s the airline that charges you for everything. While it’s becoming more common now for airlines to do Basic Economy, which doesn’t include even a carry on, Ryanair has been doing that for ages. We were allowed one small bag that could fit under the seat in front of us and that was it. This included purses. Which meant we had to fit our purses inside our backpacks before boarding to avoid being charged. It was a tight squeeze on the way there: zippers practically bursting and the backpack so ballooned that it didn’t really even sit right on my back. After a few souvenirs in Madrid, fitting everything into the too small backpack I borrowed was actually impossible. In lieu of paying the 20 Euro to have a carry-on we did the most logical thing: we wore all of our clothes. We were just a wee bit hot and uncomfortable. (Translation: it was miserable).
Honestly, I’m not sure there is much of a takeaway to this one other than my obvious priority of buying souvenirs over basic comfort. But, the Don Quixote art I picked up at a street fair is still hanging on my wall and the beautiful scarf I bought is much loved and still going strong.
A man offered to buy me in exchange for animals. To clarify, he didn’t ask me but, rather, a male I was traveling with. He apparently also made an inappropriate gesture while I was looking away that I still don’t know what it was because my friend would never tell me. Similarly, my sister got an offer as well. Not to brag or anything, but they only offered a goat and chickens for her while I was offered a camel and chickens.
There is obviously a huge cultural difference on the opinion of women in Egypt. And it’s one thing to read about it and another to experience it. However, there is much more to it than that. Part of the behavior came from the fact that we were American. Locals had the impression that we were promiscuous for no other reason than that is the impression of American and European cultures that they have.
My Most Recent: Detroit
Detroit is making a comeback. My cousin likes to remind everyone of this all of the time. There are some cool spots in Detroit. But there are also places in Detroit that you do not want to go to. It’s been on the list of top ten most dangerous US cities for decades. It does not have the nickname ‘murder capital’ for nothing. Which makes ending up in the wrong part of Detroit by myself in my shiny, red, brand new MINI with out-of-state license plates not ideal.
While I have done a healthy amount of solo road trips, my trip from Connecticut to Michigan is my longest to date. The fastest way is through New York and Canada. Because of Covid rules going through Canada, I chose to drive through Pennsylvania and Ohio instead with stops to explore Cleveland and Cuyahoga Valley National Park. On the way there, I had no issues. I put Cleveland into my phone’s GPS and, the next day, put my grandparents’ address in. Easy peasy. On the way back, however, I wasn’t making a pit stop. So, even though I selected the route through PA, my phone kept wanting to change it to go through Canada. I left early enough in the morning that it was still dark, plus raining, and, per Michigan usual, congested with traffic. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly paying much attention to my phone past my next direction. Which means I did not notice when it asked if I wanted to switch to the faster route. Turns out, if you hit nothing, it changes itself automatically. I did think the directions seemed weird, but it took 45 minutes to realize why. And, frustratingly, no matter how many times I changed it back, it kept switching me over. I successfully got myself south of the first Canadian crossover just to have my phone try and take me over a bridge into Canada further south. As in, I actually saw the bridge and the big sign that said “Bridge to Canada 1/4 mile.” Given that I did not have my passport and was not Covid tested this was clearly a mistake I could not make. I just got myself off of the highway and pulled into the nearest gas station.
By this point, I needed a stop anyway. I blew into the store and asked the gas station attendant if they had a bathroom and he said, “yeah, you can use it.” I walked to the back and didn’t see anything and he yelled back, “go in the door that says employees only.” Whoops. I decided to buy something because he was obviously being nice. I went to pay and there was one of those rotating devices so he could ring me out. These days, when so many places are using plexiglass, I didn’t pay attention on my way in. But this was not plexiglass but bullet-proof glass. I had successfully gotten myself lost in a part of Detroit that I did not want to be lost in. Double whoops.
Obviously, everything was fine. I’m not the type of person that assumes the worst or that something will go wrong. And there are definitely worse parts of Detroit I could have gotten lost in. But I did have that head slap moment. Want to know how I got myself out? Get ready… I looked at a map. Yup. Turned off the smartphone and went old school. I looked at a map and found the way to 75 south that went straight to Toledo. And I did not turn my phone directions back on until I was in Ohio with no chance of my phone trying to take me the wrong way again.
Know how to read a map. A poor generation Z-er would probably still be driving around Detroit right now.
I, obviously, have many more awry travel stories including backpacking the Laugavegur Trek in Iceland with my Dad when we ended up being evacuated off the trail (a story that deserves a post of its own). And, as I continue to grow and travel and learn I truly cherish most of these experiences. It might be cliche to say you grow from discomfort but it’s absolutely true.
I’d love to hear other people’s crazy travel stories! Leave your favorites in the comments below!