First-time travel fraught with drama

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - Travel@wash­post.com

Mon­days at 2 p.m., The Wash­ing­ton Post’s travel writ­ers and edi­tors dis­cuss read­ers’ travel ques­tions, com­plaints and more at live.wash­ing­ton­post.com. Last week’s Talk About Travel chat in­vited read­ers to share their first-time travel ex­pe­ri­ences. Here is a sam­pling of their re­sponses:

“Ten years ago, I re­ally wanted to visit Egypt and Pe­tra in Jor­dan. Prob­lem was, I had been in the United States for only a year and didn’t have many friends that could join me. It was a hard de­ci­sion, but I re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘If I don’t go now, I will never will.’ I bought a land pack­age to Egypt and af­ter a week there, I went to Jor­dan. The trip taught me so many things, and, af­ter those two weeks of trav­el­ing solo, I was more con­fi­dent than ever I could do it again. Since then, I’ve been to over 25 coun­tries, most of the time solo.”

“My first sum­mer af­ter grad­u­at­ing from col­lege, I got a sum­mer job work­ing for a fed­eral agency in Fair­banks, Alaska. I bor­rowed a sleep­ing bag from my sis­ter and bought a cheap frame pack and pup tent in hopes of get­ting out of town to see some wilder­ness. Af­ter a few weeks on the job (in mid-June), I was able to switch shifts to get a three-day week­end, and took the train to De­nali (then still McKin­ley) Na­tional Park. I found a camp­site at the walk-in back­packer’s camp­ground and set up my tent. It was the first time I’d ever gone camping other than in the back yard as a kid, and I was ex­cited. Un­for­tu­nately, I’d for­got­ten to take into ac­count the time of year and the lat­i­tude when se­lect­ing my orange pup tent. Although the sun set, it never got dark at night, so it was like ly­ing un­der a bright, neon light all night long. Of course, the sound of birds chirp­ing away all night didn’t help ei­ther. Need­less to say, af­ter that first trip, I went out and bought a tent with a dark green rain fly — and some earplugs.”

“My daugh­ter has been a pretty good trav­eler from Day 1. How­ever, the re­turn leg of our first in­ter­na­tional flight (she was 3.5 years old) was truly aw­ful. She was ex­hausted, the ven­ti­la­tion sys­tem must have gone on the fritz (be­cause it got hot enough where I was start­ing to feel sick too) and the clos­est win­dow shade was com­pletely bro­ken (which meant bright sun­light di­rectly in her eyes, no mat­ter what we did). She threw a pretty epic tantrum for at least 30 min­utes, like the kind of vol­ume the en­tire plane could hear. For­tu­nately, most of the pas­sen­gers around us were five or six drinks into their va­ca­tion at that point, so I re­solved not to feel guilty. I fi­nally con­vinced her to let me take her to the back of the plane, which was at least 10 de­grees cooler, and spent a long time calm­ing her down and ne­go­ti­at­ing a truce. She fi­nally fell asleep, just as they turned on the lights for the last drinks ser­vice, and spent the last 45 min­utes of the flight some­where be­tween sleep and sob­bing. Un­til then, we had fig­ured we were golden for what­ever travel we wanted. How­ever, we’re re­think­ing that as­sump­tion a bit!”

“The first time I trav­eled to Eng­land, I ended up em­ployed as an un­doc­u­mented worker for three days. My best friend is English and had re­cently moved back, and I was an im­pov­er­ished grad­u­ate stu­dent vis­it­ing for two weeks on a shoe­string bud­get. I knew Lon­don was ex­pen­sive, but my cash started to run out more quickly than I had orig­i­nally in­tended. Mean­while, my friend’s PR firm was short staffed, so she asked if I wanted to temp for a few days. She ne­go­ti­ated an in­cred­i­bly gen­er­ous hourly wage, paid un­der the ta­ble, and I worked as a re­cep­tion­ist/ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tant for three days. It was a blast! I’ve al­ways been one who would rather ex­pe­ri­ence the lo­cal life than trot around mon­u­ments and tourist at­trac­tions, and here I was com­mut­ing, work­ing and go­ing to happy hour like a na­tive. I was also able to fi­nance the rest of my trip in com­fort.

When I got to Heathrow to fly home, I was ran­domly se­lected for a more thor­ough ques­tion­ing at the im­mi­gra­tion check­point, and I was mo­men­tar­ily ter­ri­fied that they had some­how dis­cov­ered my unau­tho­rized work stint, but, of course, it was pure co­in­ci­dence.”

“The first time I trav­eled to Europe, I’d just got­ten my first pass­port and was trav­el­ing alone. I checked into my ho­tel, which re­quested I hand over my pass­port and re­turn it later. I for­got all about this. Three days later, I flew on to an­other city (I didn’t need to show my pass­port, since it was in the same coun­try) and then tried to check in to my ho­tel at my new des­ti­na­tion. When they asked to see my pass­port, I re­al­ized I didn’t have it. Oops! Panic en­sued. Luck­ily, I had a few pho­to­copies of the rel­e­vant pass­port page with me, which got me into my ho­tel room. I’ve never let my pass­port out of my sight ever since!”

“At the end of my third trip to Chile, we de­parted just be­fore mid­night on De­cem­ber 31 and were treated to a truly spec­tac­u­lar view of the Vina Del Mar fire­works from above. It was my first, and only, time see­ing fire­works from above!”

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