As denizens of the internet and connoisseurs of social media, I think we can all agree that the lives we see people living online can differ greatly from the reality on the ground.
Someone asked me when we got home to recount the best moments of the trip and the worst, and while it was easy to rattle off my favorites (though perhaps difficult to narrow them down), it honestly was hard to come up with negative examples. I know it sounds corny to say there were no bad times, because there were certainly moments of frustration, but I was so genuinely happy to be on the adventure that every setback had to be graded on a steep curve.
Still, when people ask about what it’s like to travel, yes they want to hear about the wonderful places you visited and the food you ate, but they also want to hear about the challenges you faced.
So, while in many ways I enjoyed most of the episodes below, they were definitely the memories that stand out the most in terms of adverse situations we found ourselves in.
Honorable mention – the missing luggage: What travel story is complete without some luggage malfunction? When we got to Lisbon at the beginning of June, we arrived without my suitcase for some reason. It had been recommended to me to always bring at least a day’s change of clothes in my backpack for situations like this, and I am glad I did. The suitcase arrived at our AirBNB the next day, so it wasn’t too much of an ordeal, but it’s always a kick in the pants when that happens.
Okay, here we go.
1. Jamie locking himself in the bathroom. At our AirBNB in Lisbon, the doors had old-school locks with skeleton keys, the kind I’d expect to see a medieval dungeon master carrying around perhaps. A few times the boys would be messing around with them and we’d scold them to stop playing with them, but we were never that serious about it.
One night midway through our stay Jamie was in the bathroom and decided to mess with the door, locking himself inside in the process. We tried for 20 minutes to try to walk him through how to unlock it, but the lock required a level of jiggling his 6-year old coordination was not ready for. We tried not to panic, but we were definitely starting to run out of feasible options.
As it happens, some of the windows in the apartment had screens on them, and some didn’t. The bathroom was one of the ones that didn’t, so eventually we decided the best course of action was to have Jamie stand on the side of the bathtub and throw a key three stories down to me. We had no idea if it would work on the other side of the door, but we had to give it a try. Of course if it didn’t work, I guess I’d have tried to throw the key back to him?
Thankfully it did work and we were able to get him out of there without too much harm done, but it was definitely a hairy half-hour or so.
2. Emmett running down the people movers at the Munich airport. Let’s be honest here, people movers are super fun no matter what age you are. I’m almost 40, and every time I get on one, I’m still like “HOLY CRAP LOOK HOW FAST I’M GOING EVEN THOUGH I’M ONLY WALKING!”
Our children naturally feel the same, which is usually very helpful at airports — except at the Munich airport, which has roughly 75 miles of people movers installed between terminals.
We set out from baggage claim to the train station, and Emmett and Jamie started walking ahead, which normally wouldn’t be a cause for concern, but there were so goddamn many of them, and Emmett was so excited, that soon he was several movers ahead of us, to the point where we literally couldn’t see him. He was like a ship that had disappeared over the horizon.
We reached the spot where the train station was, but Emmett wasn’t there (no surprise, he doesn’t read German or any other language at this point), so we dropped all our luggage and I went off to find him. I literally ran (okay, I briskly walked) over another quarter mile of people movers before I finally tracked him down. He was having the time of his life, having discovered a world where the people movers never stop moving people.
3. Getting lost in the rain in Ljubljana. We were very fortunate with the weather for most of our time, but one day it was raining pretty hard in Ljubljana, so we decided to make the best of it and head to the other side of town to an indoor trampoline park.
We took the bus everywhere in Lisbon, but Ljubljana is small enough that we walked most places. This would be our maiden voyage on the local bus lines, and we really didn’t have any idea how it worked.
When we got on the bus to head towards the park, the driver was very nice and let us on without paying. I thought he was just being friendly, but it turns out you can’t pay for a bus ride on the bus itself (side note: that’s dumb and I don’t like it), so he was just cutting us some slack.
We thought we were on the right route, but all of a sudden the bus driver got to a stop and told everyone to get off. Turns out we’d reached the end of the line, and best we could tell we were not standing in front of a trampoline park.
So, we set off by foot, in the rain, without umbrellas of course, because we are idiots.
We walked about three miles without finding the place, which is how we ended up watching The Incredibles 2 in Slovenian instead.
After the movie, we made our way to what we thought was the right bus stop, except this time when we tried to board the driver explained to us that we needed bus cards to ride. We did not have them, nor did we know where to get them, so we wandered around for an hour or so trying to see if various coffee shops and grocery stores sold them, all to no avail.
At one point we saw a taxi and tried to flag them down, but apparently you can’t get a cab in Ljubljana off the street, you have to call ahead and book one. Uber doesn’t exist there yet, if you were also wondering about that option. All of this stuff would have been so nice for us to have known beforehand!
Eventually Hilary found a place that sold bus cards and bought one, and we finally got a bus home, soaked to the bone and pretty roundly defeated. But hey, at least we got popcorn!
4. Jamie takes it to another level. Emmett had by far the more frequent tantrums on our trip, but what Jamie lacked in quantity he more than made up for in quality. One day in Ljubljana we were making our way into the city center and Jamie started fussing about who knows what, and when he wouldn’t stop, we decided that Hilary and Emmett would continue on their way and I would stay back to try to ride out the storm.
He was in rare form that day, interspersing crying and screaming with running away from me when I tried to talk to him to see what was bothering him. At one point I came up towards him, and he started screaming “Stranger! Stranger!”
This…was a new tactic, and to be honest, I had to respect the audacity of the move.
I made it as clear as possible, without engaging in some Homer vs. Bart action, that this was incredibly dangerous, and he was lucky that no one was around to investigate if that was true or not. I like to think I handled it maturely and compassionately, but there was a moment or two where I was ready to rage against the machine.
5. The long way home. Buckle up, here we go.
When I set out to book our travel for the summer, I was determined to keep costs down as much as possible. Partially this is because I am cheap, but also it was because the less money we spent on planes, trains, and automobiles, the more we’d have left to spend on experiences.
Was this a sound strategy? In theory, yes, but in practice, it wasn’t incredibly useful. For one thing, because we bought the cheapest tickets, they didn’t come with free checked luggage. For another, the cheapest routing required us to purchase separate reservations for the final legs, which meant we had to pay for luggage twice to go home once.
The not-so-cheap cheap flights aside, the biggest issue surrounding our journey home was the absurd timing of it all. Leaving from Stockholm* on a 2:30 pm flight, we were due to arrive in Fort Lauderdale at 7:30 pm local time (1:30 am on our body clocks), at which point we’d have to collect our stuff from baggage claim and restart the process from scratch.
One thing Hilary and I agreed on when we started planning for the summer was to have an adventure while still being respectful of each other’s boundaries. This led, in part, to our final itinerary. The cheapest flights home from Ljubljana were through Istanbul, which made Hilary uncomfortable given the unrest there. We talked to several people about their experiences flying through there, which calmed her fears, but by the time that happened the prices had gone up considerably, which is how we ended up flying home via Stockholm. So, if we’re assigning blame here, we have to split it 50/50 between her skittishness and my stinginess.
Our flight to Atlanta was to leave at 10:30, arriving in Atlanta at midnight – 6:00 am on our body clocks. At best, we would arrive at our house at 1 am.
Once there, we still had to factor in whether we could even GET into our house. For you see, when we left for our trip on the final day in May, we neglected to take a house key with us. Or maybe we took one, I can’t recall, but either way, we didn’t have one on us when we left to return to the States.
This in and of itself was not a cause for concern, because we had installed a keyless-entry garage door, which normally would render the need for a key moot.
We rented our house for six weeks while we were gone this summer, with our tenants vacating the premises the day before we returned. The day we left, I got an wrap-up email from them giving a few final details about the house – what they accidentally left, the status of anything that broke, and one other small detail, the fact they had locked the door from the kitchen to the garage on their way out. Safety first and all.
Their hearts were in the right place of course, but this now meant our keyless garage entry was useless.
Thankfully, we had planned for such an event. A year ago, Jamie was playing around with the locks in the kitchen (we have really dropped the ball on teaching this kid the dangers of careless lock-handling) before leaving for school one day, and it was only after we left I noticed the keyring I had for the car did not possess a key to the house. One call to a locksmith and a couple hundred dollars later, we realized we needed some backup solutions in the event something like this happened again.
That weekend we went to the local hardware store and had a bunch of keys made, which we then doled out to our closest friends and relatives in Atlanta, just to cover our bases.
Once I realized our situation in Stockholm, I began emailing all of those people to activate the plan, which should have worked flawlessly, IF ANY OF THEM HAD ANY MEMORY WHATSOEVER OF US GIVING THEM A KEY TO OUR FUCKING HOUSE, which naturally, none of them did*.
*Capitalized spelling aside, I’m not really angry with any of them over this. Truth be told, they are all much more responsible people than we are, and if the roles were reversed, there is about a 0.0000000000001% chance we’d have any recollection of a key exchange either.
This would be an issue, and soon, we’d be on a 10-hour flight overseas with no ability to communicate with the outside world to try to solve this dilemma. Vaguely we remembered we might have also given a key just before we left to our neighbors, but we’d yet to hear from them and for all we knew they might be out of town.
About 20 minutes before we got on our plane, our cousin Susan Sandler* discovered, on a fourth pass through her keys, she DID in fact have a key from us (though she still couldn’t remember us giving it to her, but she had it nonetheless), and so we were saved from whatever fate awaited a family of four arriving at their house at 1 am with two children who had not slept in 24 hours and no way to get inside.
*All praise Susan Sandler, a god amongst mortals.
Still, the rest of the obstacles remained in place. Our flight from Stockholm to Fort Lauderdale left two hours late, which already had the boys cranky, and then neither of them slept more than 45 minutes on the 10-hour trip.
We plied them with some authentic American fast food once we got back through security (which actually wasn’t so bad, thank heavens – security that is, not the Fort Lauderdale airpory Steak N’ Shake), and generally speaking managed to keep them from causing too much trouble until our plane to Atlanta was ready to go.
From there, things predictably deteriorated. They each passed out just long enough on the flight to be more irritable without being any more rested, and by the time we got to Atlanta baggage claim they were in full-on meltdown mode.
While I waited for the bags, Hilary desperately tried to soothe them on a nearby bench, but there was literally nothing we could do at that point. They were howling and crying, and while I had incredible sympathy for them, I have to admit, I also found it pretty funny. What else can you do in that situation but laugh?
We got our bags and raced to get a taxi, and the poor bastard who drove us got to listen to the boys scream at the top of their lungs for about 15 minutes before they passed out until we got home, where thanks to our hero Susan S. we immediately went inside and put everyone to bed.
Ironically, the day was a tremendous challenge, yet given the circumstances we faced I feel like it couldn’t have gone much better than it actually did. We learned some valuable lessons for future trips. Always take a key. If you give others a key, make sure it’s a much more memorable experience. And definitely, definitely, never assume the cheapest option is the best one.
After all, money isn’t everything, but avoiding blood-curdling screams in the early-morning hours is.