How to Add Some Excitement to Your Travel Day

Categories Adventures in Transportation, Canada, Home and Away, United States

Remember back in 2009 when I warned about the dangers of apathy in travel? It was then that I realized no matter how savvy you think you are as a traveler, casual complacency will almost certainly return to bite you in the ass.

I was in Malaysia. I loved it there; it was easy to get around and I felt very comfortable. There was delicious food to be had, a seemingly endless cornucopia of tastes from the country’s dominant ethnicities. Kuala Lumpur was where I choose to indulge my taste buds as strategically as possible. Chinatown was full of crispy pork, Little India served up plates of lace-thin tosai and there was a Hainanese chicken place that knew me by name because I couldn’t stay away.

It was, of course, that comfort that led me to stop really paying attention to where I was going. Instead, I drifted aimlessly from place to place and plate to plate, confident in the knowledge that I could figure it out. What could go wrong?

It was only on my way to the Perhentian Islands that I realized how my cockiness would prove a disservice. I almost missed my bus because I cast a fleeting look at the bus station name, decided I knew where everything was and proceeded to take a train an hour out of town in the wrong direction entirely. I was with my friend Allen, a more-than-seasoned traveler himself. Neither of us noticed we were headed the wrong way from our hostel, but as we stood at the right bus stop an hour later, breathless and wheezy in our sweaty run from the other side of the city, we vowed to stay vigilant in our respective travels from A to B.

Apparently I needed a reminder.

A Brooklyn Sunset from 4th Avenue in Park Slope

A Brooklyn Sunset from 4th Avenue in Park Slope

Tuesday afternoon, I almost missed my flight from New York to Montreal. After a busy month, almost all of it involving me, my computer and an increasingly scrawled-upon draft of my food book, I was set to fly home from New York. My friends Cheryl and Brian were kind enough to offer me a ride to JFK and we took Atlantic Avenue all the way from Brooklyn, the back roads traffic-free and ensuring that I made it to the airport with time to spare. I waved the car off, glanced at the departures board to find my check-in counter and realized that something was amiss.

I was at the wrong airport. My flight was from LaGuardia, not JFK. Had I taken my original flight a week prior, it would have been from JFK. But I never even glanced at my ticket once I extended my stay in NY; I just assumed it was the same airport because the time of the flight was identical.

Staring at the departures board for another second, I finally roused myself and took out my phone. It was 650pm, my flight was at 850pm at a different airport, and it was rush hour.

I did what any self-respecting, disturbingly rushed person would do: I broke the rules.

Union Square from 18th Street, NYC

Union Square from 18th Street, NYC

I ran out to the drop-off area of the departures terminal and skidded to a stop in front of a smiling cabbie with two blond gentlemen paying their fare.

Please” I gasped “can you take me to LaGuardia? I … I went to the wrong airport.”

I can’t ma’am” he said slowly, shaking his head “it’s against the rules.”

The two blond men watched this exchange warily, money in hand.

I know it’s against the rules but if I go downstairs to wait for a cab I will most definitely miss my flight.”

Impasse. The older blond slowly handed over a tip without taking his eyes off my suitcase. His friend turned on his heel to enter the terminal but the older blond stayed put, awaiting a resolution to my frantic conversation. Blond number 2 pivoted and came back to stand beside his friend.

Are you sure you’re not an undercover cop?” the cabbie asked with a half-smile.

I laughed. “No, just an idiot who can’t read her ticket right.”

He caved. “Fine. Get in, but remember – I can get in big trouble!

The blond guy clapped in approval and offered up a high-five, I gave a loud “yay!” and swung my bag up and into the trunk, pausing in motion to accept a high-five from the other blond.

In the chaos, I forgot this wasn’t Asia and I hopped straight into the front seat. The cab driver, already mystified  by our interaction, smacked his hand to his forehead, shook his head and got in the car.

We were off.

Another summer sunset from 5th avenue in Brooklyn

Another summer sunset from 5th avenue in Brooklyn

My cabbie, it turned out, was from Ghana. My brother used to live in Kumasi with Engineers without Borders, which proved to be an excellent point of connection and reduced the side-eye I was receiving by approximately ten percent. Most of the ride involved me laughing at myself and furiously texting my friend Cheryl to let her know that somehow, despite going to the wrong airport, I was on my way to LaGuardia. All the while, the cabbie laughed at me.

You are thinking too hard!” he exclaimed, pointing one finger into the air, “hard-thinking people always make the stupid mistakes”.

I explained that my ticket was originally out of JFK but I just forgot to check the changed version.

You’re funny” he said, “most people would be so angry but you sat here laughing at yourself.

Is that true? I think a lot of my friends would have reacted as I did, because at that point what can you change? Either he would get me to the airport on time or he he wouldn’t. And if he didn’t, well, then I’d have to figure it out from there. In the grand scheme of things, it was a rushed and adrenaline-filled hour, but it wasn’t the end of the world.

Leaving New York on a clear summer night.

Leaving New York on a clear summer night. (WHILE MAKING MY FLIGHT, w00t!)

We continued talking. He asked me questions and I answered them in half spurts, sentences punctuated by giggles. He wanted to know what I did; he announced that reading was his favourite hobby. I talked about food and travel, he talked about living in Bangkok and then Japan. We compared soy sauce in Asia to soy sauce here. We evaluated the food in West Africa versus East Africa.

Next thing I knew, I was in front of LaGuardia with an hour to spare before my flight. Slamming the trunk, the cabbie shook his head once again and shook my hand.

Good luck to you bright spirit!” he shouted. And then he was gone.

There was no line at the counters. I just checked right in, sped toward security and – no joke – within twenty minutes of arriving at the airport, I was sitting at my gate. Still amazed, and still giggling to myself.

Clearly, I forgot the important lesson I learned in Malaysia: indifference makes for an unruly travel day. Then again, both hectic trips reinforced another valuable maxim, applicable not just to my travel misadventures but to my travels overall: it often does work out just fine in the end.

Clear skies on the descent to Montreal

Clear skies on the descent to Montreal.

I’m safely in Montreal and about to get back my edits on my food book. Next Wednesday is my birthday and it will be the first time in a decade that I get to spend it with my best friend Nadia, who I met on day one of school in 1996. (Truth be told, I met her because she was sitting with a boy I thought was really cute, and I figured “hey, get to know the competition!” In the end she and I quickly realized we’d be besties, and though he tried to ask us out separately, our friendship already trumped any potential relationship with him. Ah, adolescence).

I’ll be in Montreal for a few weeks, then back to my dad’s to relax in the mountains (and see Zack!), and then it’s back to Europe until the book launches in October.

Exciting times ahead!

-Jodi

52 comments to How to Add Some Excitement to Your Travel Day

  1. He was right–most people would have been angry and so worked up over going to the wrong airport. I’m not saying I would be laughing it off, but I tend to handle those types of travel situations ok.

    A friend of mine recently was stuck on a MAX train on the way to the airport when it stopped and eventually got stuck just outside of downtown. They waited for a half hour before calling a cab and were freaking out the whole way to the airport despite having plenty of time. So, yes, you are the exception.

    • Interesting. Well, I’m happy it ended well! I think I definitely freaked out more in the past, but the years of travel have calmed down that part of the ‘sweating the small stuff’ process. I stil worry about things unnecessarily but getting from A to B isn’t as high up as it used to be!

  2. Awesome story! I’d like to believe I hold the same attitude while traveling.. any unexpected bump just makes the adventures more fun. Like the time the fire alarm went off at 4:30AM at a Denver Airport Hotel. I thought it was sort of cool to have this experience while I pictured everyone’s else blood boiling!

    • Thanks Jack! Hope your summer is going well. When does school start up again in the fall?

      • Thanks, Jodi! Summer has been pretty awesome. I’ve been super busy working two jobs while prepping for the SAT and applying to college! All is good though. School starts way early this year as LAUSD has changed the school year schedule chopping nearly an entire month off our summer — we start this Tuesday!

  3. That’s one way to add excitement to your travel day! I love your positive attitude, though – I probably would’ve been freaking out and possibly in tears. Giggles and conversations with your cab driver are a much better way to react! :)

  4. I’ve yet to make this travel mistake, but have been close many many times. I’m certain it’s only a matter of time before it happens though. I fly too often and am too lackadaisical for it to not happen at some point. I have, however, bought a ticket for the wrong month for a business trip…

  5. This is the greatest story ever. I would have skipped to straight crying lol.

    Oh lord.

    See you in Europe?

  6. But did you P your pants upon the realization?!?! lol. Best phrases here: “bite you in the ass” and “bright spirit”. That Ghanesian cabbie got it right and saved the day! Bienvenue à la maison!

    • It’s funny because my good friend Nirmal also calls me bright spirit, and he’s the only one otherwise to have done so. It’s a huge compliment, I agree. Merci – superbe d’etre chez nous encore!

  7. Out of some of our silliest mistakes come the best of memories.

    love the photos of BK – reminds me why i do still choose to call it my homebase!

  8. Fantastic pics from the plan, and thanks for the giggles! Oh, and happy birthday, too! (I’ll be celebrating mine on the same day. :D)

  9. Great story, I love New York cabbies! Have fun in Montreal. We’ll be back in Quebec at the end of the month. Starting to look forward to it.

  10. Best line of the story: “most people would be so angry but you sat here laughing at yourself.”

    I love that line so much because it’s more than just about you having a fit of the giggles. It’s the response of someone who’s living a life they’re in love with…just makes me smile thinking about it.

    Glad you got back to Montreal safely!

  11. Great post! I’ve not gone to the wrong airport, but I have gotten on the wrong plane before. Probably my most embarrassing travel moment ever.

  12. I tend to see the funny side and stay calm too, or just make the best of it …. but I have to say that only you could have made such an amusing post out of this! Thanks for the smile.

  13. Oh my gosh I know this was probably the LAST thing you needed to happen…but holy, what gorgeous photos! Glad that you made it home safely and on time to Montreal xo

    • Thanks lady! Photos were from the weeks in NY, not the night I was leaving, but glad you enjoyed. It was great to see you before I took off. Good luck with the Great Apartment Hunt!

  14. Of course you ended up making a friend and having a meaningful conversation in the middle of the chaos, so cool! I think my worst travel mix-up was showing up a full 24 hours late to catch a series of four, separately purchased flights between Denver and Bishkek. (I tried to save some cash, but it turns out it’s impossible for even the most understanding and patient check-in employee to rebook a flight on Kyrgyzstan Airlines from Denver. She tried sending us to Kenya instead. Now I only buy my flights if they’re grouped together.)

    • Yikes! Yes, booking in groups is good, even if it’s a bit more expensive. You just never have a chance of recourse otherwise (not that you’re guaranteed it anyhow, right?) Hope all’s well on your end!

  15. Stories like this always make me laugh at my own travel mistakes. I once showed up at the airport a month early, having accidentally bought a return ticket for the wrong date. I never bothered to look at the ticket, so I didn’t know until I tried to check in. On the plus side, I got a couple extra days of vacation until I could get a plane out.

    • A month early! I actually did the same (showed up on the wrong date) in Hong Kong and ended up with rebooked tickets a week later. Extra week in HK – could have been worse! Glad it worked out for you in the end too, and I’m sure the airline ticket counter got a kick out of it too.

  16. Sometime you just have to laugh – and I’m glad to hear you could and it worked out.

    We found ourselves last week almost missing a flight from CDG through no fault of our own – hubby and I knew we’d be running through the airport dragging 2 kids and we’d make it or miss it by seconds. No amount of shouting and screaming and getting angry would have made any difference. We made it, 1 minute before they shut check in, but if we’d missed it we’d already figured there are worse things in life than an extra night in Paris!!!

  17. What a nail biting scene! Awesome story Jodi. Glad it ended on a happy note. And I love the NYC pics – they make me miss the city even more. Must go back one of these days.

  18. Thank goodness you could laugh about this. You made that cabbie’s week if not his whole year with your “bright spirit”. I think it’s that spirit that helped you make your plane.

  19. Yep….you handled it so well. I like to think of myself as a an experienced traveller, but lo and behold, when I took my sister to Venice via Milan, we initally landed at Milan Malpensa, which I knew pretty well, but on the way back, I did not realise we were flying out of Milan Linate! So after taking the coach back to Malpensa, happy that we had extra time to chill, we could not locate our flight…so ended up scrambling to Linate in a taxi (with about EUR 10 on us)….long story..but no we were not laughing to ourselves. Wish I had your spirit!

    • Yes, a classic mistake too! I’m glad you made it to Linate. My spirit isn’t anything special, really – just always worth seeing the funny side if you can since you can’t change where you are. The things you can change, well that’s a whole other story ;)

  20. Silly little bright spirit! I’ve never done the wrong airport thing but I have done the wrong bus or train station thing too many times to count! One day I will learn my lesson. Until than I too just choose to laugh and take it as part of the travel adventure.

  21. I suffered a similar experience as your airport mixup in Kuala Lumpur. I had an Air Asia flight to Phnom Penh, told the taxi driver I had to go to the airport, and he took me straight to the domestic airport. I needed the international! I felt it was my fault, though, because I had actually forgotten there are two airports in Kuala Lumpur, and I should have specified. When we arrived at the wrong airport and I told him what airline I was taking, he slowed down the taxi and said “What?!” We were both horrified. So he sped off to the correct airport, where, I arrived in plenty of time to wait in the overly crowded, loud terminal for about two hours before my flight. Still, lesson learned. I will never again forget to specify which airport when I know a city has two!

    • Ha, I’m glad you figured it out when you did. KL’s Air Asia airport is where most taxis expect you to go, so I can see why he likely brought you there. It’s quite a ways outside the city though. It’s true, this is a reminder we all need to check our tickets, especially when I don’t print them out anymore (just have them usually available via e-ticket) – all the more reason to double check when it’s not a piece of paper in front of your face.

  22. On August 11, 2012 at 8:56 pm Randy Johnson said:

    Great Story! I have a little mantra I developed somewhere along life’s way “Don’t Panic”. This story a good example of why. It would have been unfortunate and inconvient to miss your flight but it wasn’t like you’d be stranded for weeks. As an aside…as I read the stories of you nomads arriving in remote locations on trains, buses and ox carts I have sometimes wondered if you or anyone you know have ever been unable to find lodging and spent a night outside in a foreign country and unknown culture?

    • Nah, there’s almost always somewhere to stay, with the exception being countries where only certain kinds of places are licensed to house foreigners (ie. Myanmar when I was there in early 2010.) I’ve spent the night at an airport or train station being stranded waiting for onward travel that was delayed or moved, but not when I’m actually planning to stay somewhere. Usually there’s something, even if it’s not the place you’d want to be (i.e. ant and rat infested hostel in Iloilo, in the Philippines ;)

  23. Ahh Jodi, I loved reading this! I felt like I was right there with you! I’ve never gone to the wrong airport before, but have almost missed a bus when I was in Istanbul (I went to the wrong terminal) and had to leap in front of a taxi to speed to the right place!

    Glad you made your flight, though – although I think I’d be a little more wound up if I’d gone to the wrong airport rather than the wrong bus terminal!

    • I’m sure you’d surprise yourself with a more zen take on things were you in the same position. Once there’s absolutely nothing you can do to change things, beating yourself up for it just makes it worse. So, I just laughed at myself instead. :)

  24. Whew you certainly managed that one well! I get so stressed when I am running late to get to the airport (and yet somehow I always end up sat at the gate with plenty of time to spare). I’m trying to take a leaf out of your book though and stop being such a worry wart!

  25. Oh man, there aren’t many things more anxiety-inducing than being late for a flight. It’s always better to laugh than get angry, though!

  26. Whoa! I’m afraid you wouldn’t make it if you’re in Jakarta (Indonesia), unless you take an ojek (motorbike-cab)! :D

    Good luck with the food book and happy birthday!

  27. Living in the DC metro area, where there are 3 airports that I fly in and out of, this is my fear— as I get into the car, I double check my boarding pass so I don’t end up in NoVa, when I need to be in B’more. My parents had a trip where they flew out of IAD and scheduled to fly into DCA and didn’t discover this until they checked in on the way home. Luckily, a cousin lived near DCA and was able to pick them up at that airport and take them to the one where their car was. Then their car didn’t start when they were trying to leave the IAD parking garage, once they finally got home, in the middle of the night, the fire alarm in their condo building went off about 20 min after they settled into bed…. #traveldayfail.

    Glad you made it to LGA in time!

  28. Where will you be in Europe? I’m starting my travels mid-September in Spain.

    Congratulations on the food book and Happy Birthday!

  29. Great story! Glad to hear you made your flight on time. I’ve gotten dropped off at the wrong terminal before, but never the wrong airport. :)

  30. That certainly is a way to add some excitement to a travel day! :-) Continue to love your writing Jodi, always so easy and inspiring to read. Not sure how I would have handled this situation but I will be taking a leaf out of your book if it does happen to me – after all, as you say, what can you do about it?

    • Oh believe me, there are times, too, when it’s a situation totally outside of my control and I still get frustrated and upset. I try to remember my own mantra but in the end sometimes emotions take over. The net result is the same, though, so I keep trying :)

  31. you sure are lucky and most probably charming or else the cab driver would’ve said no :-)

  32. Had a similar experience, rushing from LaGuardia to Newark. And another getting from Penn Station to Newark when the train stalled on the tracks just as it was leaving the station. One thing I try to do now is take the attitude that there’s always another flight. Relaxing does seem to help focus my attention and keep a clear head.

  33. Great you still made it, I would be very nervous. On the other hand it would have been a good excuse to stay longer in New York :-)

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