Why I Should Have Quit Traveling: Part 1 of 3

Part 1 of “Why I Should Have Quit Traveling” documents my travel memoirs of unfortunate incidents due to lack of travel experience between the age of 18 and 19.

The first time I ever travelled alone was when I was 18. I was travelling back to Canada from Bangkok, after having celebrated the winter holidays with my family (2006 – 2007). I remember when I landed in Ottawa, my luggage of 46 KG was nowhere to be found on the conveyer belt. My heart sank, I was afraid, and I’m pretty sure I started to cry helplessly before I decided to walk over to the luggage information counter. Luckily I had my bag tags with me, so they were able to track down that my luggage was left behind in Vancouver. I was so confused. I thought I had checked through my luggage directly to Ottawa at the check-in counter and was told my luggage would arrive straight there. Little did I know, I had to go through customs with my luggage at the first point of entry into another country and re-check them back it. I was only 18, and this was my first learning curve of travel, and unfortunately, not nearly the last.

Lessons learned at 18: Don’t trust the check-in representatives to give you accurate information. Pay attention to what is going on around you instead. Also, bag tags are life savers.

OttawaOttawa, Canada – Photo Credit: Claridge Homes

In 2007, I decided to take the bus from Canada into the United States. I knew I might need a visa, so I checked with Greyhound, the Bus Company I was purchasing tickets from, prior to buying the tickets. The representative told me I could get through to the US without a visa since I held a study permit for Canada, and that was sufficient. I was skeptical and repeated my question, mentioning to her that I had a Thai passport. She reassured me. So then I bought my $200 bus tickets to the States. After 16 hours on the bus, we finally arrived at the US border control. I was denied entry into the country, because I didn’t have the US visa. They took my finger prints, and mug shots, and questioned me as though I was a criminal trying to enter the country. I had to use my return ticket back to Ottawa, without Greyhound providing me any refund for their misleading information.

From then on, every time I travel to the US, even on transit, I am always pulled aside and into an office for questioning at immigration. I honestly barely even remember much of what happened, let alone the exact border I was trying to cross! It’s been a decade. Let it go, America! It was an honest mistake!  😯

Lessons learned at 18: Don’t trust what anyone tells you about visas, unless you’ve heard it from the embassy itself. Do your research thoroughly.

A 2nd incident involving my lost luggage occurred again in 2007, (talk about learning from mistakes…) but this time due to a transit customs clearance required by the United States only. I arrived back to Bangkok without my luggage yet again, as it was still sitting in the States. Honestly, why does the US need to have customs clearance for luggage if you’re only in transit? This was another learning curve about luggage. I was only hoping that I would no longer have any luggage issues in the near future.

Lessons learned at 19: The US of A is kind of “special”.

On the day of my departure to Bangkok yet again for the winter break (2007 – 2008), a snow storm decided to rain hell (or should I say “snow hell”) on Ottawa. I checked the departures online: all flights were cancelled outbound from Ottawa. I decided to go to the airport anyways. I had only 11 vacation days with my family in Thailand, and needed to take 4 flights to get there.

1. Ottawa → Toronto
2. Toronto → Chicago
3. Chicago → Tokyo
4. Tokyo → Bangkok

If I missed my first flight, it wasn’t going to be good for the rest of my journey, especially during high season with all the flights fully booked. Luckily my flight was later in the evening, and the weather and roads cleared out enough, and after de-icing the plane, I was off to Toronto, with a few hours of delay. I was able to make to it Chicago, only to find out that my Chicago flight was 6 hours delayed due to come technical issues. By this point, I was already missing my flight from Japan to Bangkok anyways. After taking off, within 3 hours in the air, the smoke detectors went off, the pilot announced that we would need to return back to Chicago due to some engine issues, and told us to remain calm while he dumped the fuel into the ocean to make the airplane lighter and safer for landing back in Chicago. I was scheduled to arrive in Bangkok on the evening of Christmas Eve. I realized then, that I would be spending the night in Chicago; on Christmas Eve (given that we landed safely back to Chicago).

ChicagoChicago, USA – Photo Credit: ACBL

Airport hotels were arranged for us and food vouchers were provided. I had gotten talking to an American family when we landed back, and they invited me to join them for Christmas Dinner at the airport restaurant. I was only 19 at the time, so not of legal age to be drinking (in the US anyways), but the family bought me drinks anyways. I celebrated Christmas Eve with a family that adopted me for the night. They made my tiresome journey a little less painful, and a lot more entertaining, as we drank beers and talked until late hours of the night before retiring to bed.

Finally arriving in Tokyo a day later, I was informed that I would have to wait another 2 nights to get a flight back to Bangkok as tickets were all sold out. At this point, I completely lost it. I was patient throughout this ridiculous 40 hour journey, and I had to endure another 2 days? I was losing valuable time that I should have been spending with my family. I asked to speak to the General Manager, and explained my situation to him through tears, sadness, a bit of anger, frustration and desperation. I can’t believe he understood what I had to say through all those emotions and raised voices! He remained calm (thank god, because one of us needed to be, and that clearly wasn’t me) and told me that the most he could do for me was put me on stand-by in the event there was a no-show for the next flight out. That was good enough news for me. I waited at the boarding gates, and I was starting to lose hope as they made their final boarding announcements and were about to shut the gate for departure. Then suddenly, a flight representative came up to me and told me that there was an available seat on Business Class, and that they would put me on this flight. I was ecstatic. A good end, to a terrible 50 hour journey back home.

Lessons learned at 19: Don’t quit without a fight.

Part 2 and Part 3 will be coming soon! 🙂 These next memoirs will document my travel misadventures in Europe and beyond.

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