Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Worst Experiences Make the Best Stories

For the past month or so, I've shared my passion for introducing students to the world of international travel. I've discussed my primary role as Group Leader (keeping tabs on students, ensuring all are safe, and managing expectations), how to make the most of your travel time, and how to best utilize limited suitcase space.

This week I want to talk about inevitable unpleasantries.

In the exciting weeks leading up to departure, imaginations run wild with possibilities. Typically these manifest themselves in terms of best case scenarios: warm, sunny weather; consistent on-time transportation; pleasant dispositions with nary a argument. After all, this is a trip of a lifetime, and we want all to be perfect.

However, if you have done any travel at all, you know there will be problems. I find it is best to anticipate issues prior to departure - plan on it - so as not to be completely blindsided.

I do not mean to sound pessimistic; this is simply reality. But as with anything else in life, our attitude dictates the level of disappointment.

As I was trying to explain this principle to my students two years ago, one wise-beyond-his-years senior summed it up like this: the worst experiences make the best stories. And he is absolutely correct.

The secret is to remember this adage while going through the experience. While it is rarely pleasant at the time, it becomes a badge of honor once the trip is over. And each retelling adds a bit more distance, which puts it in proper perspective, and often leads to finding a bit of humor in the situation.

Let me illustrate with a couple of real-life experiences.

I had dreamed of seeing the Eiffel Tower since I was in second grade. The opportunity finally came when I was a junior in high school.

On a cold February afternoon the charter bus pulled up beside the Trocadero platform. We quickly disembarked. It was drizzling rain, but we didn't care. This was the Eiffel Tower!

My friend handed me her camera and asked if I would take her picture. She would then reciprocate. .

Jen ran ahead to pose as I made sure the camera was ready to go. Behind me I thought I heard someone ask, You like? You like? but I ignored the voice. Who would be talking to me?

As I lifted the camera to take the picture, I heard the voice again, only a bit louder and closer.

Agitated, I turned around to see who was talking so loudly. And there, dressed in only a wide-open overcoat, was an old man wearing a black beret, a sleazy smile, and asking me once again if I liked.

I stood transfixed for a brief moment before I quickly turned and ran to the bus. I never got my picture in front of the tower. And quite frankly, I never cared if I saw the Tower again.

Fortunately, however, this story has a happy ending. I have since had numerous opportunities to make my peace with the Iron Lady, and she is as beautiful as I imagined in elementary school. And honestly... the story adds to my enjoyment.

Special thanks to L. Herron for the photo of the night train
The Night Train is an efficient and inexpensive way to travel in Europe. The train leaves Paris around 7:30pm and arrives in Milan around 6:00am. The bench-style seats accommodate six in one carriage, but can easily be transformed into a sleeping car as well.

The top bunk (not pictured here) can be accessed by climbing a stationary ladder; the back board of the bench seat pulls out to a horizontal position, to provide an additional bed. And the bottom seat cushion provides the final sleep option.

Efficient use of space? Yes.

Conducive to sleep? That is debatable.

First, the space is tight - as you can see from the image above. Six adults may fit, but when you add six carryon suitcases, six backpacks, and six picnic lunches to the mix, it is more like a detailed jigsaw puzzle: shift one piece and the entire system collapses.

Those who slept on the bottom bunk (my sleeping birth) equated the experience to an MRI. If you are claustrophobic, this is not the best option.

Those in the middle bunk claimed to have a bit more space - emphasis on a "bit"

Those who scored the top bunk (most overhead space) qualified for that enviable spot because of agility skills. A petite gymnast would have to contort her body to squeeze into that space.

When we arrived in Milan bright and early, ready to face another 15,000+ step day... few were well rested. Fortunately, Italy is known for its excellent, well-caffeinated coffee. We managed to muddle through the beauty of Florence, and gave thanks for our hotel bed that evening.

Today, all I have to do is mention "night train" and the war stories immediately commence.

* * *

These are but two examples of bad situations that made pretty good stories when I returned home. I have several others.

Like the time I spent 24 out-of 48 hours sick in bed in Venice after a harrowing Gondola ride (but I would return to Venice again at a moment's notice).

Or the time we weathered a major thunderstorm on the ferry ride to Capri. Rain was blowing sideways and the boat tossed like a rag doll on the waves, but the kids claimed it was the best experience of the ten-day trip.

Or when I was excited to carry on a conversation in French with a patron at the local cafe, only to discover that he had ulterior motives. The stroll through Luxembourg Gardens was most unpleasant and not mention, a little creepy.

So when things don't go exactly as planned - when tensions start to rise - remember: this is a right of passage and you are becoming a seasoned world traveller.

* * *

This is the sixth article in my Leading a Student Group Tour to Europe series.

I will take a break from this series during the month of April, when I will participate in the A-Z Blogging challenge. Journaling A-Z is my topic this year.

I will return to travel posts in May, however, detailing my most recent student tour to London, Paris, Florence, Rome, and Sorrento this past March.

1 comment:

  1. Yep - great stories with conflict and suspense. Thanks for the series on travel!


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