Getting Lost: the Good and the Bad
Today, in a state of extreme anxiety, I found myself hopelessly lost in an airport of a country whose language I barely understand. The day was supposed to go so smoothly–I had arranged to meet a friend at the Barcelona airport, and we would then head of to the place we’d be staying at. Simple enough. But it’s funny how so many little things can add up to one very big mix-up.
I had relied on a deceptively simple terminal map of the airport, agreeing to meet my friend at the main information desk. After my flight landed (half an hour late–the first layer of stress, as I was going to be the second to arrive and had made clear to my friend when to expect me), I rushed off to find the info desk, only to discover that there were many info desks. And my friend was not at any of them. I worried that he had gone to look for me when my arrival time had come and gone, which would make it even harder for us to find each other. Trying–unsuccessfully–to connect to the spotty airport wifi with my outdated iPod touch (I don’t own a smart phone, which was no problem until I learned that I am an easily stressed and directionally-challenged traveler!), I realized how unprepared I was. I didn’t know my friend’s flight number, or even the origin of his flight–he’s studying in Paris, but I didn’t know if he would have flown from there, or if he had traveled somewhere else just before meeting up with me–so I couldn’t get help from the info desk. I couldn’t call him, because my cheap UK phone doesn’t work outside of the country. And I couldn’t even figure out where I was in the airport, let alone where he was! Further still, because I didn’t have wifi and had relied on the fact that my friend would know the address of the place we are staying at in Barcelona and how to get there, I felt entirely stranded and alone.
Perhaps another person would not feel so overwhelmed. But I am a planner by nature, and if you look through the photos on my iPod touch, over 90% of them are screenshots of detailed maps and instructions on how to get from one specific place to another. I never go somewhere without figuring out a) every single place/thing that I want to see and b) how to get to each of those places from any of the others. But this time, due to the difficulties of making future travel plans while traveling, I just didn’t have the time to go through my usual rituals. As I sat in the airport, on the edge of panic, I thought that such a slip-up had been a huge mistake.
But inevitably, everything worked out. Eventually I heard a “hello!” and turned to see my friend (what a relief!) coming towards me. His flight had been delayed after he had boarded his plane, so he had had no way of contacting me–even if I had been able to connect to the internet, even if had made more concrete plans, I wouldn’t have seen that coming.
After that, things fell quickly into place. We found and settled in at our accommodations, grabbed something to eat, and decided to wander around the city. No plan–we just got ourselves lost and marveled at the beautiful city. It ended up being a lovely afternoon. I guess the moral of the story is that getting turned around doesn’t have to mean the end of the world (even if it seems like it is!). Planning, while helpful, can’t always save the day. And sometimes not having a plan can lead to a beautiful day in a new city as well.