“At least this will make for a good blog post,” my mom consoled me last weekend, when I stepped off a midnight plane after six hours of bizarre delays. The 60-minute flight from Toronto to Ottawa should have been simple–like the plot of a formulaic Hallmark movie where Miss Protagonist meets Mr. Eligible, falls in love, and marries him. Instead, thanks to a temperamental tempest over Ottawa, my 120-minute flight from Toronto back to Toronto played out like a Roman Holiday-type movie where Miss Protagonist meets Mr. Eligible, falls in love, and bids him farewell forever. You might say that the film, like my flight, was a bit of a let down.
But unlike Roman Holiday, my flight had a sequel. We re-boarded the plane, wrangled our luggage into the overhead compartments, rolled towards the runway–and then rolled back, un-wrangled our luggage, and de-boarded due to engine trouble. Sequels usually are worse than the originals.
At least irksome days make awesome stories. Certainly, solo DIY backpacking trips with no set itinerary (and no sense of direction) also lend plenty of opportunities for those “I’ll laugh about this one day” predicaments. Here’s a compilation of just 10 such predicaments from my recent journey 360° around the world in 180 days:
10: Lost Valuables (Australia)
You know that sinking sensation you get, as if your heart just turned to stone and dropped into your stomach, when you realize that something absolutely vital—say your phone or keys or heirloom porcelain gopher—are gone? I experienced that before even leaving Canada, when I discovered that I’d left my laptop in a classroom after interviewing a student hours earlier. Incredibly, I felt peace as I ran back to campus, knowing that my trip, writing and even laptop were in God’s hands. Sure enough, there was my laptop, folded on the classroom table.
Soon after, in Australia, I was exiting a bus to catch a 23-hour train ride to the country’s south. I patted my pockets, checked my bag, and realized that my wallet had disappeared. Again, I felt an odd sense of peace as I dashed down the station stairs.
I’m going to trust you with this one, God.
“I think I left my wallet on a bus!” I panted to an attendant when I’d reached the lost property office.
“This wallet?” he asked.
How in the world did it get here?!
“Lucky,” he drawled, clucking his cheek in mock scold.
Thank. You. Lord.
9: Missing Train Tickets (Japan)
“The machine ate my ticket,” I tried to explain, nudging a Google maps screenshot toward the bespectacled information desk agent, “which I bought to go from here to here, to take another train there. But my ticket is gone.”
How had this night ever become so complicated?
I’d only landed amongst Japan’s semi-forested patchwork fields a few hours earlier to clear customs, withdraw some yen, and head for the trains. That’s when things started going downhill. See, Japan was the first place where the local alphabet rendered me illiterate. This made securing a train ticket in the right direction, and then actually finding the first train, tricky enough. Then, when I asked a station officer where to catch the second train, he simply said “go straight.”
Unfortunately, the direction I choose to “go straight” in meant confronting a hungry machine which refused to regurgitate my only ticket. When I approached a ticket agent about it, he whipped out approximately the largest calculator I’d ever seen and began punching buttons, consulting a map, and humming in “thinking noises” as I endeavoured to describe my dilemma. Eventually, after a bit of prayer on my part, I received a stamped slip of paper and proceeded to another city where I—thankfully!—met my contact without further ado.
8: One-Way Streets (Holland)
Act natural, I coached myself. You’re just another local, one of thousands of young women commuters who cruise gracefully about with long braids flying behind their helmetless heads. You’ve done this a million times.
When the light blinked green, I ventured forwards, my otherwise intrepid voyage punctuated with awkward halts to check my GPS.
The blue arrow marking my location looked nowhere near my prescribed path, but the more earnestly I fought to correct my course, the further I drifted in the opposite direction! Clearly, the arrow had no idea where it was pointing.
Time for a little reverse psychology.
I started peddling 180 degrees away from where I thought I should go, which worked wonderfully until I realized that I’d been cycling the wrong way down a one-way bike lane.
(For the rest of the story, please see What it Takes to Be a Mentor: A Conversation in Holland.)
7: Broken Phone (Philippines)
Uh oh, I thought, looking at my phone. Why wouldn’t it charge? Sure, it had gotten a little damp that day when I’d gone swimming…in a waterfall…during a rainstorm. But if an electronic is going to hang out with me, then it needs to be tough. I’d hoped my phone would understand that.
“I don’t suppose you’d mind praying for my phone to work again?” I asked a group of Christian young people.
We plunked the phone in a rice container, prayed, and went to sleep. Earlier, when I’d lost my laptop and wallet, I’d experienced peace knowing that God would work everything out somehow. But this time, I experienced joy, expectation and even excitement as I waited to see what would happen.
In the morning, I ran to the kitchen, fished my phone out of the rice, and plugged it in.
No battery light appeared.
I guess fixing this phone isn’t how God’s going to provide, this time.
The battery light blinked awake! I broke into a happy dance with another girl right there in the kitchen. I no longer just had a phone—I had a miracle.
6: Falling for Athens (Greece)
I gazed at a nearby squid table in the fish market, barely registering the sight of those tangled tentacles before I realized something important:
I was falling.
Not in love, but down.
This is awkward, I concluded, fish-tanged air rushing past me amidst a chorus of oh’s from the blurred pedestrians whirling overhead. I skidded to the floor—did I mention it was wet? —and landed in graceful repose.
“I’m fine,” I immediately announced in English, leaping upright. A wet swatch spiraled along my jeans, mingled with white particles which reminded me of crushed ice. I didn’t want to perform a klutzy brush-off dance right there, so I scuttled out of the market and continued walking. Twenty minutes later, I paused at an intersection to inspect how the spiraled swatch was drying.
Those white bits are still there.
Bending, I picked one off my shin.
It was a fish scale.
I’ve literally been walking around Athens for 20 minutes with my shins covered in fish scales.
That would happen.
5: Booking the Wrong Bus (France)
Looking again at my bus ticket, a familiar twinge of dread tugged at my stomach. For an unflinching moment, I stared hard at the screen, willing the numbers there to correct their mistaken positions. But nope. The numbers continued to glare back at me, defiant in their boldface type.
I really did just buy a ticket to London for the completely wrong day—or, night.
Instead of departing at 9:15AM the next morning and arriving in London for 6:00PM, I’d booked passage to leave Paris at 9:15PM that very night, to arrive in London for 6:00AM!
After all the mishaps I’d negotiated already and all the tickets I’d booked so far, my inner commentator fumed. You’d think I’d know better by now.
But hey—at least I’m consistent.
4: Stranded (Philippines)
Stranded, alone, a clueless foreigner in a foreign land, I sat on the plastic chair with no idea where to go next. Teardrops of perspiration gathered on my forehead in the relentless sun as I waited, silent, gazing at the unfamiliar tropical trees in the airport parking lot while a kindly airline agent tried to track down my local contact.
No one else remained at the small airport, where I’d arrived only to discover that I had no way of contacting the ministry I was supposed to be staying with. My emails had stopped going through, the phone numbers I had weren’t connecting, no street address was listed, and I hadn’t thought to ask for one early enough. Still, I felt oddly at peace. When I did notice my knee start to shake, I reminded myself how many times God had demonstrated His faithfulness to me already and thanked Him for this new opportunity to trust Him.
Eventually, the airport agent pointed me to a nearby hotel. Exactly when I was about to book a room, I heard a voice behind me:
Spinning around, I faced two girls I’d never met before. They rushed over and hugged me, explaining they were from the ministry, which the airport staff member had somehow managed to call. They’d tracked me down just in time to see me walk away from the airport with my massive green backpack (MGB)!
3: Lost (Turkey)
This can’t be right, I thought, ascending the worn stairs. Number 17, number 18, number 19…how can there possibly only be 19 apartments in this building?!
Holding my breath like the trespasser I feared I may have just become, I retraced my steps downstairs.
I stood in the empty lobby, leaned my MGB against the wall, and rechecked my phone—not that I needed to see the address again. The Turkish words could have meant anything, but at least the numbers made sense. Sort of.
The taxi driver had definitely seemed satisfied when he dropped me off at this building. Sure, I didn’t know which buzzer to press to get inside, but the door opened anyway. From what I gathered by reading the numbers on the address, though, there MUST be more than 19 rooms!
I didn’t want to accept the fact that I might well be wandering around a random apartment building in Turkey, but reality refused to right itself. If I’d thought to download a map earlier, or if the airport had offered free Wi-Fi, or if SIM cards hadn’t been so expensive, or if my bank card had let me withdraw cash for a bus ticket, or if the taxi driver had known more precisely where I needed to go, maybe reality would have been different. But now I had to stare down the facts:
I have no map, no Wi-Fi, no working phone, and no cash; I’m alone in a new city, in an Islamic country where I’ve never been before, where almost nobody speaks English, and a taxi just dropped me off at the wrong apartment.
(For the whole story, please see Lost in Turkey: Seeking Campus Christians in a 99.8% Islamic Nation.)
2: Bedless (Belgium)
My mom did warn me, long ago, I grinned a little wryly, about not becoming one of those kids who goes off and gets lost in Europe without a plan. But here I am.
Reaching my destination, I rang the bell. The soul who answered lent a sympathetic ear as I virtually pleaded for a place to roll out my sleeping bag, just for one night. But no. There was no vacancy.
Back on the streets, I felt a little shaken.
“Thank You for this opportunity to trust You,” I prayed my recurring theme prayer, “please help!”
(For the whole story, please see Bedless in Belgium: The Adventures in Trust Continue.)
1: On the Wrong Continent (Turkey)
“Can you tell me what airport this is?” I asked, showing my ticket to a uniformed lady.
“That’s the airport on the other side of the city.”
Reality crashed around me with the sudden terror of a tsunami wave.
I’ve spent over an hour coming to this airport on the Asian side of Istanbul. But my flight is leaving from an airport on the city’s European side! I just showed up for a flight not only at the wrong airport—but also on the wrong continent!
Talk about worst case scenario. I hadn’t even realized that showing up for something on the wrong continent was possible, until it happened! But I had no time to contemplate the novelty of the situation—not when I had a taxi to catch.
(For the whole story, please see The Taxi in Turkey: A True (Mis)Adventure Story.)
Bonus – Falling into the Ocean (Dubai)
(You can find out how it happened in Practical Ways to Disciple Students: Examples from the United Arab Emirates.)
All of these stories point to the same two conclusions. First, trust your mom. Her savvy advice can keep you from getting into these predicaments in the first place. But second, when predicaments do happen, trust your Father. Wherever you are, whatever trouble you’ve gotten into, He is with you. He still loves you. And He knows what you need before you ask. (Matthew 6:8)