On Making Travel Mistakes

On Travel Mistakes

I’ve had plenty of time to make mistakes this semester. It comes with the territory of being a 20 year old in a new country. I was expecting to mess up, but back in January I didn’t know exactly how I’d do it. Now though, after a few months abroad, it’s easy to pick out my top travel mistakes.

  1. The time I took us to Chamartin suburb rather than Chamartin train station. I had put Chamartin into Google Maps and followed the directions without double-checking. My roommate and I arrived in the suburb, at which point I promptly realized my mistake, and also realized that our train to Portugal left in 30 minutes from the elusive station. I don’t have data in Spain, so I couldn’t navigate us to the new location. At that point, we hopped in a taxi. We were actually very close by, and were on the train within 20 minutes, with ten minutes to spare. No ultimate harm done.
  2. The time I got off the bus from the airport in Barcelona expecting my GPS to guide me, and realized that the little blue dot wasn’t moving. ((For anyone who doesn’t know, iPhones show a beautiful blue dot that moves along with you according to your GPS location. The blue dot keeps moving regardless of whether or not you are connected to WiFi – most of the time)). Our flight arrived around 11pm, and the bus to the city had dark shaded windows and didn’t announce the names of stops. We got off where we thought we were supposed to be, but weren’t really sure. I hadn’t marked our hostel on a physical map, and was trusting on the iPhone blue dot to get us there. We wandered the streets of Barcelona for a while, before finally getting into a cab. Once again we were only about five minutes away. No ultimate harm done.
  3. The time I booked our Valencia hostel for the wrong weekend. We got to Valencia for Las Fallas – I successfully got us to the train station and to the hostel! Then the hostel couldn’t find our reservation. Turns out I’d booked for February instead of March. Whomp whomp. Luckily they had one room open, and we weren’t turned out into the rainy streets. The room was quite a bit more expensive, but we gritted our teeth and rebudgeted and enjoyed every minute of the weekend. No ultimate harm done.

Are you sensing a trend here? No ultimate harm done. In each of these cases, I made a mistake but the travel still worked out. I think that’s a big lesson that I’m taking away from this semester. Sure I could have planned better in each of these situations, but something will always go wrong. I’m learning, though, that as long as I am willing to take a deep breath, re-evaluate, and figure out what needs to happen, most things will work out. I’ve talked to a lot of people about their travel mishaps this semester. I’ve talked to people who have been stranded in cities, only to cross paths with a friend from home, and get the help they needed. I’ve talked to people who unknowingly dropped metro cards, then had complete strangers run after them to return the pass. People tell me success stories; they laugh about mistakes, but realize that things have a way of working themselves out.

And that confidence is one thing I feel so lucky to have gained this semester. Being abroad gives you a chance to make all sorts of new and absurd mistakes. Each time though, you dust yourself off and keep moving. Now? I’m a city map master. I’ve figured out a system that works for me, and I can get myself to a hostel in a foreign city without that blue dot’s help. But that’s only because I’ve practiced and tripped up a few times.

In my life at Amherst, it often feels like I have no room for these small mistakes. My thought process usually ends up: I make the mistake of not studying à I don’t do well enough on this exam à I fail the class à I don’t get into grad school or find successful employment à life is over. Now I know that is an exaggeration, but it’s easy to feel that way at Amherst, and I end up living in a stressful position of trying not to make any mistakes EVER. Of course, that cannot and does not work, and too often I enter into the classic student guilt cycle. My mistakes here in Spain feel more immediate though, and therefore easier to fix. I’m learning to brush off the minor things and try to soak in the experience regardless of what has happened. It’s no fun spending the weekend stressing over a mistake; that’s not why I’m here. As my days abroad wind down, I hope that I can take this acceptance of mistakes back home with me. I have no doubt that senior year will have all sorts of mishaps, and I hope, when they come, that I’ll be able to see them for the inconvenient, comical necessities they are.

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