Thursday, July 31, 2014

Travellers' Warning From a Pro

When you really think about it, travelling, especially long distances to places like Japan, it's an extremely risky business, and you really have to be insanely well-organized; not just 99% of the time, but 110% of the time.

Just imagine my quandary when I was in Amsterdam once and I somehow missed my once-daily flight to Montreal. Well, no problem, thought I; I'll just go stay at the airport Hilton.

Imagine my horror upon discovering that I couldn't find my credit card. Anywhere. And I didn't know exactly where I had lost it. Maybe I'd been at some airport bar, paid for my drink and left it on the bar. Who knows.

No problem, I said again: I have all the data on my computer. I'll just give them the number and the expiry and I'll be on my way.

No dice. No amount of cajoling, begging, pleading or ANYTHING would change their minds.

I was doomed.

I spent the whole day and the entire night marooned in Schiphol's terminal; I'd no sooner find an ideal place to hang out when I'd go to the bathroom and find someone there when I got back.

It was a fucking nightmare.

The next morning, when I finally was able to try to check in for my flight, I was told there was a change fee of $200. Again, I went through the same thing; I only had about $110 in cash on me.

I think what finally made the guy give me mercy was my pointing out that if I couldn't board my flight to Montreal, I would be stuck in eternal limbo, with no credit card and no way to pay him.

Please imagine this scenario for a long, hard second. All for want of a small plastic card that, on any given trip comes in and out of your pocket (I always keep it in my back trouser pocket) dozens of times. And you are continually being distracted. Oh, they just changed my gate. Hmm, shall I go buy a magazine? What time is boarding?

10,000 chances to overlook that little rectangle of plastic. And the consequences of that little slip: devastating. Life-threatening, even.

Now, let's ramp it up: how many times do you have to take your passport out of your carefully placed wallet? Get to the airport, take it out to check in. Keep it out to maybe go through Immigration. Put it in a plastic tray for security. Keep it handy for boarding the plane.

Then, passport tightly gripped in one hand, you board the plane -- this is the most vulnerable time. Putting it back in its proper place in your wallet is too much hassle, so you put it in the inside pocket of your coat and promptly forget about it.

You take off your coat after takeoff to relax and fold it over your lap. Did I say the lining of your coat was fake silk? Almost like graphene, the slipperiest substance ever discovered, when it comes to your passport.

Pasport neatly falls out of pocket while you twist in your agonizingly contorted economy seat; voila, you put your coat on before landing, leave the plane and your passport is never to be seen again. What, they're somehow going to chase you down after you've switched terminals and are now a mile away from the scene? By the time you discover it's gone, it's bye-bye, Baby.

These are two small items that are so vital to your entire trip that the loss of either is going to send you into a complete, roller coaster nightmare Yet they're also the two most frequent items you have to take out and put back, take out and put back.

After an exhausting marathon 30-hour trip, you lose concentration. I lost concentration once, came home from Japan, then, one week after I had arrived home, finally went  looking for my iBook -- a $2,000 laptop with mountains of personal information on it.

Gone. I had not used it, to my recollection, since being in Vancouver. I had visited maybe three different restaurants or bars during that time. I had napped with my laptop bag by my side near my gate. Hell, maybe I had taken the damn thing out and stowed it in my seat pocket in front of me. Did someone casually slide t out of my bag? Did I leave it on some restaurant table? Plugged in to a wall socket half a block away from my seat to recharge it? I will never know.

This morning I wanted to go to the convenience store to get coffee. I looked for my sunglasses -- $300 prescription sunglasses They were not in their case in my bag, where I ALWAYS put them. Then I looked around for my watch. No watch.

THANK GOD I had, in yesterday's exhaustion, just flopped down on the bed after our outing and had taken of my watch and sunglasses and put them on the nightstand behind the lamp next to my bed.

Just typing all this out makes my blood run cold; just ONE SINGLE MOMENT of inattention and my life could be turned upside down.

I have now developed a finely-honed system, where everything has its place, and before I leave any location, I check that everything is IN ITS PLACE. I cannot let down my guard or be sloppy at ANY TIME.

I broke that routine by NOT putting my sunglasses back in their case in my flight bag yesterday; today, I could now be crying into my beer.

Listen up, people, because it could happen to you: when travelling, develop an iron-clad system of where everything is. Always make sure everything is ALWAYS in its place, even if it's a hassle (putting glasses into coat top pocket instead of glasses case in carryon bag) and most important of all, guard that credit card WITH YOUR GODDAMNED LIFE. Wake yourself up at 2 a.m. to go check and make sure it's where it's supposed to be if you have any worries.

Now, I hope by writing this I have not cast an evil spell on myself . . . I had better stop while I'm well ahead.

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