Often, we see an idealised version of travelling over social media with picturesque views and a perfect lifestyle. While travelling certainly is all of this and more, like everything else in life, it sometimes goes wrong. Though it isn’t always fun at the time, in hindsight it can make for the best stories.
Transport is renowned for being unreliable at the best of times. I had been fairly lucky in my travels in terms of transport until Italy this summer. If you have ever been to Italy then you are probably aware that the Italian train line system Tren Italia is, well, a train-wreck. You can almost guarantee that your train is going to be running late. This isn’t too much of an issue until you miss the last connecting train of the night to your destination. A friend and I ended up sleeping on the floor of a train station in Italy after missing our train to Verona following over an hour delay of the previous train. Spending the night in a train station is not ideal, especially when you have already paid for a night’s accommodation, but the important part is to remain level headed. Find somewhere safe, well-lit to rest and keep your belongings close to you. I guarantee one day you’ll be laughing about the situation.
Watch out for fines imposed on transport in other countries. In Berlin you’re expected to time and date stamp your ticket once you’ve bought it, a fact that is stated in incredibly small print that you may not realise until the ticket guy is trying to fine you 60 euros (that you inevitably don’t have because you’re a poor traveller, and who carries that much cash on them anyway?)
Plane delays can be a great inconvenience. There’s not much you can really do about it. Most importantly keep a cool head when dealing with staff, it can make the difference between getting on a replacement flight or not, and the treatment you receive while waiting. While I was on a school trip one of the teachers we were travelling with got so heated up talking to staff at the airport after our flight was delayed for 10 hours that the previously offered free lunch and free access to the first-class waiting room was withdrawn. Remember the staff you are dealing with in an airport have no control and are simply relaying the message. Of course, always remember travel insurance. It doesn’t seem important but it’s better to be safe than sorry, and it’s really not expensive if you shop around.
If travelling this summer taught me anything, it’s that google maps is highly unreliable. Until then I had never really had difficultly with it, granted there was only one situation where google maps failed us. It was not fun at the time, although certainly a funny one now. Google maps took us up almost 200 steps to find a turning to our hostel (this was after a full 9 hour day of walking), however the turning no longer existed and the gate at the top was locked. We then had to go all the way back down only to discover that it was actually an apartment complex we were in, and the previously opened gate was now closed. With zero Italian language knowledge, we just pressed a button for the apartment complex and shouted help until someone opened the gate for us. Safe to say we weren’t best pleased after that experience. Don’t take full faith in google maps and also look at routes yourself to save a disaster.
I strongly believe that when you are travelling you should at least make an attempt to learn a few basic words of a language: ‘hello’ ‘please’ ‘thank you’ etc., although this is easier said than done. However, when travelling around several countries who speak a different language to you, language barriers can become an issue in less-touristy areas.
This summer I stayed a 15-20 minute drive outside of Carcassonne in France. We were running late to our hostel for check-in and when we rang, the woman only spoke French, no English, and we spoke no French. We ultimately had to get one of my friends who speaks French to ring up and let her know we were going to be late. The next morning we found ourselves stranded at this hostel in a tiny village in essentially the middle of nowhere as it was a vacation day and no taxis or buses were running. We had to attempt to converse in incredibly poor French and eventually a friend of the hostel owner who spoke a bit of English was able to drive us into Carcassonne. But for at least half an hour we thought we were going to have to do a two-hour walk with our suitcases in the 35C heat.
There isn’t really a huge amount you can do about a language barrier than learn the basics, and maybe get some friends who speak other languages. This ended up being a great experience for us as we got to go for a ride in a 1948 VW Beetle, but not all hostels are as friendly as this or can offer the same help.