As part of my job, I regularly travel and over the last couple of years or so, I’ve been traveling pretty often. I’ve had the privilege to travel pretty widely across the US and abroad and I fully know how fortunate I am to have this opportunity. While sometimes exhausting, it’s a perk for me to get to go to some pretty cool places, meet a variety of people, and see and do some amazing things. I’ve also broadened my personal travel, largely due to the overall comfort level I’ve developed with travel in general, thanks to my job.
Like lots of other people, I post pics to social media here and there of my travels and I’m sure it can look quite glamorous at times. Being totally honest, sometimes it is. 🙂
I’ve been to some exceptional restaurants where I have enjoyed some spectacular meals. I’ve embraced the notion of trying all sorts of new foods and most of it has been delicious. I’ve picked up phrases and bits in all sorts of other languages (jack of all trades, master of none), learned things about various cultures, and best of all, I have had many incredible experiences and seen many iconic/historic/inspiring things.
Like the Colosseum and other antiquities in Rome, the Parthenon and the Acropolis in Athens, the Eiffel Tower and so much more in Paris, the beaches where we stormed the shore on D-Day in WWII, the Empire State Building, the wonders of Yellowstone National Park, the beaches of Hawaii, Big Ben and Windsor Palace in England, the Liberty Bell, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam.
As incredible as those experiences and sights have been, the process of getting to and from these places is anything but glamorous. Whoever said “getting there is half the fun” never had to fly smushed up in an economy seat for 9+ hours. For me, being there (or being back home) is 100% of the fun. Getting there and back is just a necessary evil until we invent a better form of travel.
What I (and so many others) don’t post to social media are the times when we arrive so jet-lagged that we seem chronically stupid and look like a deranged person with red eyes and bad hair, the misery of sitting next to certain passengers on airplanes (especially those who invade my space) for hours at a time, the discomfort that is air travel these days, the inconvenience of pay toilets when you really really have to go (why Europe? WHY?), and the occasional sketchy accommodations or those that look nothing like the pics online. For me, there’s also the oftentimes brutal meeting schedule (and after-hours events) we set up at most conferences so we can meet with as many people as possible in a short time. This usually means the days start before 7am and end well after midnight.
I offer up my most recent trip (and the pics in this post) as a prime example of “unglamorous travel experiences”.
I had two back-to-back work trips. The first trip was about a week long in a small town in southwest Germany. To get there, I drove an hour to the airport, then took my first flight (2 hours), waited around during my layover for an hour or so, took my second fight (9-ish hours) overnight (and I am chronically unable to sleep on planes), took a much-needed shower at an airport lounge in Frankfurt and then waited at the airport for my team mate for a couple of hours, then took the train to Offenburg (with an unintended stop in Mannheim since we took the wrong train), then took a 30-minute taxi ride to our final destination when we couldn’t figure out how to pay for bus fare. Total travel time: about 17 hours. Not glamorous.
The second part of the trip was much easier. We went back to Frankfurt (avoiding the whole “wrong train” situation this time) and then flew to Dubrovnik, Croatia in eastern Europe. Total travel time: 6 hours actual transit time on planes, trains, and automobiles plus several hours sitting at the Frankfurt airport since we had no where else to go. Also not glamorous.
We stayed in Dubrovnik for another week and had a wonderful time. Our free upgrades to suites at the resort did add a touch of glamour – as my son said, my suite was nicer than his apartment (true). Then it was finally time for me to go home. And this, friends, is where things truly became unglamorous.
No matter how I tried to book my flights, I was not able to avoid an overnight layover on my return trip home. So I had planned to leave a day early since I had some personal family plans and figured that having an extra day at home before leaving again would be nice. And it would have, but it didn’t happen.
After being away from my family for 2 weeks, I was totally ready to come home. I said goodbye to my team mates on a Thursday and headed to the teeny tiny Dubrovnik airport. On the way there, my Uber driver expressed concern about my flight with the high winds. And that’s when I learned that flights are apparently frequently canceled there because the winds often come from the north and create a cross wind where planes can’t land. Taking off is apparently no problem, but if the planes can’t land, there are no planes there for departures.
If my flight was canceled, that would mean I would have to rebook my hotel in Frankfurt and rebook all of the rest of my flights home. And of course, arrive home a day later.
Now feeling a little anxious, I asked the airline staff at the airport about the flight and they said as long as the plane scheduled to land at 15:45 could land, my flight would go. If not, <insert shrug here>. So I waited. And waited. And waited. Looking at the stormy weather outside, I was afraid to eat anything since I have a tendency to get motion sick. Given that this was a tiny airport with almost nothing open in the way of shops or restaurants, I guess that worked out but it was a long, boring wait with an undercurrent of anxiety the whole time.
Here’s a pic I sent my family from a closed cafe I was camped at (I dragged over a table and chair to one of the few electrical outlets available) before they allowed us to check in. Decidedly not glamorous. At all.
Croatian Airlines seems to have a quirky process, at least at the Dubrovnik airport. They won’t even let you check in for your fight until a certain time and then it’s like a cattle call at the ticket counter. They eventually let us check in for this flight, hoping for the best I suppose, and checked our bags, then sent us on through security and passport control. Then we sat at the gate. And sat. And sat.
The plane I was supposed to get on ended up circling the airport for about 30 minutes, waiting for a break in the winds to land, but no such luck. It diverted to Split, several hours away. And bam, our fight was canceled. At this point, I was bummed to say the least, but these things happen and there’s nothing you can do about it, so you just have to make the best of it and get on with things. Which I did.
It was an interesting experience to reverse the process – we went backwards through the airport to re-claim checked bags, then had the stamp crossed out in our passports, then re-booked our flight for 7am the next day. The airline then put us up in a hotel a few minutes away from the airport. I contemplated going back to the resort I had been staying at, but it was a 30-40 minute ride there and back to airport and my flight was already super-early, so I didn’t. I figured I would also save my company a few bucks by staying for free overnight, plus the airline was also footing the bill for dinner and breakfast the next day.
The hotel was very …. basic. I admit I perhaps had become spoiled by my suite at the resort but this room was tiny and really dated. It was clean though and only for a night so no biggie. By this time, it was around 6:30pm and I had not eaten anything since breakfast so I was a little hungry. I went downstairs for the dinner the airline arranged at 7:00, dished up some food, and sat down to eat. But I couldn’t. I managed to eat a few bites of chicken and most of a dinner roll before giving up. My appetite had vanished.
And here’s where things took a serious turn for the worse.
I went back to my room and called home. My stomach was a knot of pain, while also managing to roll in such a way that I knew something was very wrong. I will spare you the details but suffice to say that the little bit of food in my stomach didn’t stay there long. I blame it on the one raw oyster I had at dinner the night before, even though no one else in my party got sick and they all ate them. All it takes is one bad one, I guess.
Here’s where a decision I made before leaving the US came back to bite me. I had originally booked a round trip ticket to Frankfurt and back and then the Croatia trip was added. To change my itinerary would have required an overnight stay in London, plus an airport transfer from Gatwick to Heathrow. Having done that already once before, I knew it was a PITA and decided that it would be better to just overnight in Frankfurt and not fool with the airport transfer.
So I booked a separate round trip from Frankfurt to Dubrovnik on Croatian Airlines with an overnight stay in Frankfurt and then I would fly the next day back to the US. I figured with 13 hours between my scheduled arrival in Frankfurt and my departure, my Croatian flight could be significantly delayed and I would still make it. I clearly didn’t anticipate that it would be canceled. First (and last) time I’ve ever booked separate itineraries for one trip.
So when the Croatian Airlines flight got canceled, I was on the hook for the fee to change my American Airlines flights and any fare difference. I have status with American and have had excellent service in the past when I have needed to rebook (like when one of my trips got canceled due to Hurricane Irma last year) but this time, not so much.
My husband re-booked my hotel room for my overnight in Frankfurt for me and I then called American Airlines to re-book the rest of my flights. The agent was curt and unfriendly. I explained that I had been traveling for weeks, my flight to Frankfurt had been canceled, I was ill, I had family matters to attend to, and I just wanted to get back home. I had found the exact same flights I originally booked, but for one day later and asked about changing my ticket to those flights. She put me on hold and then came back with a total cost of $2,300 to change my flight – and for a seat in Economy! I was stunned to say the least. I think I said something to her like “$2300! Are you insane? That’s almost twice what I paid for the entire round trip.” She just said in a monotone, “the fares are what they are” as in “take it or leave it”. She clearly could not have cared less.
I asked her multiple times if there was something else we could do to have a reasonable cost. She said that it was that expensive because I was trying to book with such short notice. When I asked again, she said that I could delay my departure for another 2 or 3 days to see if the fares on those days were less. I suppose she missed the part about how I needed to get home as soon as possible.
So here I was, stuck in a tiny little eastern European hotel, thousands of miles away from home, mentally exhausted from the day and physically exhausted from my trips, and physically sick to boot. And I’m messaging my manager to see if I would even be allowed to expense a $2300 fare change fee or if I was stuck for days and days until the cost went down. That’s when it would have been really nice for the agent to at least have acted like she cared.
Thank goodness I thought to ask her to check Premium Economy. I’ve personally booked tickets in PE for a tiny bit more money (and sometimes, less money) than Economy. I figured it would be worth it if it was a little more to pay out of my own pocket for a much nicer seat. This time, she came back with a quote for $600. I’m like “COULD YOU NOT HAVE THOUGHT TO CHECK THAT YOURSELF??” Really that’s her job. She knows the industry and the company and how fare classes work. When she saw $2300 for Economy she should have thought to herself “Hmmm, that’s ridiculous. Let me check other options for this passenger.” Needless to say, I had her immediately book it. So note to other travelers: it pays to check for better seats in other cabins.
I won’t lie – at this point, I was pretty close to tears over the whole thing. I had taken everything in stride up to the point where I got sick. There is nothing like being alone and feeling stranded while also being severely ill to reduce even the hardiest soul to self-pity.
Concerned that I would somehow manage to sleep through my phone alarm (set for 3:45am), I called my husband once more and asked him if he could stay up (10:45pm his time) and call me to make sure I was awake. There was no way I was going to oversleep and miss my flight and go through this crap all over again. Once that was settled, I curled up in a ball in the bed, put the trashcan next to me in case I got sick during the night, and managed to drift off for a few hours of unrestful sleep.
The next day, my stomach was still in a painful knot and I had several hours of travel ahead so I thought it wise to not consume any food and only a few sips of water. Mercifully, I arrived back in Frankfurt without incident (aside from the manspreader on my flight from Dubrovnik to Zagreb) and I even managed to eat a little something that evening.
I picked up more meds from a pharmacy in Frankfurt just in case since I would be on a plane almost the entire next day and then it was back to sleep for me and another early wake-up for my next flight.
That flight managed to go well – finally a bright spot on this trip! They called me to the ticket counter and I immediately thought “oh no, what’s wrong?”. The agent apologized and said that they oversold Premium Economy and I thought to myself “Lady, if you even try to bump me from this flight, you might need to call security because I will LOSE MY MIND!” But then she said “So we bumped you up to Business Class” and I heaved a sigh of relief. And then I thought back to that phone agent and how instead of being in Business Class, if I had not asked her specifically about Premium Economy, I would have been stuck in Economy on this flight for 4x more money.
It was thanks to the lay-flat seat on that flight and total exhaustion that I was able to sleep for a couple of hours on that flight. This little nap later came in handy…
I arrived at Charlotte and tried to get on an earlier flight home but it was full. So I waited a couple more hours for my flight and again was lucky since I got a free upgrade to first class (don’t be too impressed…on a 2 hour domestic flight, this basically just means you get a bigger seat with more legroom).
The only thing good about this flight was the fact that I was sitting near the front of the plane. This came in handy when the captain announced that we had a “minor mechanical issue” but should be on our way in “10 or 15 minutes” and that turned into 3 hours.
Without going into too much detail, the way American handled this incident was also poor. The temperature in first class was uncomfortable but the economy cabin was inhumane. They used a temperate probe-looking thing at the front of the plane and according to that, it got up to almost 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32C) but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was even hotter in economy. Parents were bringing their sweaty and red-faced babies and toddlers, stripped down to their diapers, to the front of the plane to try to cool them off in the jetway. Flight attendants were passing out water, but since this was meant to be a short flight, there was not enough on board. They asked a gate agent for more but I don’t think it ever came.
They kept telling us we would take off “shortly” and occasionally gave us conflicting information and updates. Meanwhile I had to laugh when I kept getting calls and notifications from the airline about the delay and at least one of those calls came at 6:38 to tell me my “updated” departure time was 6:30. Nice trick if you can manage that one, AA! I confess I did start to wonder if I would ever get back home again.
Here’s me, after being awake and traveling for ~20 hours, stuck on a dark plane going on 3 hours using backup power with no AC/ventilation:
As I told my husband, I started to think a steamer ship back home would have been faster and easier. Aside from something truly catastrophic, everything that could have gone wrong on this trip did.
And yes, I have contacted American Airlines to complain about the phone agent and the way the delay was handled.
I finally arrived back in Tampa on Saturday (remember, I was tried to leave Croatia on Thursday) around 9:30pm and then had an hour long drive to get home. At this point, I had been up for about 22 hours and I was spent. This is where that 2 hour nap on my long-haul came in handy. Without that, I’m not sure I would have been in any condition to drive at that point.
I can’t recall another time when I was that happy and relieved to pull up in my driveway. All I could think was that this whole experience was finally over, thank the Lord. And I swear my bed never felt so cozy and comforting.
So there you have it. The Very Unglamorous Travel Adventures of Wendy. Keep that in mind next time I post pics that show the more fun side of travel. 😆