By Dave Fox
“This is not for today,” the receptionist says, handing back my non-refundable hotel voucher. I normally quadruple-check my online travel bookings before committing to a credit card payment, but I was a stressed out disaster when I made this particular reservation – trying to schedule multiple flights around Asia and Europe, and book accommodations for too many trips on too many dates, all in the same morning. I have inadvertently booked a room in Bangkok for nine nights from now.
The hotel has rooms available, but they won’t honor my voucher except on the dates I have scheduled – when I will be far off in Laos. So I’m stuck. I must pay again. It’s an inexpensive place on Khao San Road, Bangkok’s backpacker ghetto. I fork over cash.
Later I meet my friend Patrick, an American who works in Laos but happens to be in Bangkok this week.
“I need to hit an ATM,” I say. I need to replenish the cash I’ve spent on my room.
My ATM card is gone.
I know where it is. It’s in the ATM at the Bangkok airport. I know it’s there because when I withdrew cash earlier, I hesitated before walking away. The transaction didn’t seem quite finished. But I didn’t hesitate long enough. I had the cash I needed. I shrugged and jumped in a taxi.
Returning to the airport to try to get my card back will be a time-consuming ordeal, and the odds such a mission would be successful seem small. So I call my bank in Singapore to cancel the card. They can send a new one – but only to my apartment in Singapore. This is day one of my 20-day trip.
I have a back-up card from my other bank in the US – and a back-up for my back-up – so I can get by. (Though if you want to wire me some emergency cash anyway, please feel free.)
It’s an unsettling start to my journey – the first hard-core solo travel I’ve done in a long time. My wife is hiking with her brothers in California this month.
I’ve gotten soft, I suppose. I’m used to having Kattina whack me on the head to be sure I don’t forget stuff. I’ve got to pull it together. Got to get back in the game. I’m a professional travel writer with a reputation to uphold. What would my readers think if they found out I was making such idiotic mistakes?
So I’m making a pledge to myself (and Kattina, with whom I share a bank account that suffers when I do dumb stuff like this) to start paying more attention.
But I am also remembering something I figured out a long time ago. Travel in foreign countries is a form of voluntary over-stimulation. Distractions happen often. Sometimes, those distractions can be delightful. Other times, they can throw us off balance and cause us to make mistakes. When they do, the way to recover is to accept that they happen, that they’re part of the travel game.
I could beat myself up for my dumb-assedness, but that would serve no purpose. If these are the worst things that happen on this trip, it’ll be a successful trip.
“When you travel, things go wrong” was the theme of my first humor book, Getting Lost, and a motto I embrace. Accepting that reality rather than getting cranky about it gives us happier journeys. Sometimes, things go wrong because we make them go wrong. When we do, the way to recover is to fix them to the best of our abilities, keep moving, and never take for granted the bigger picture of the adventure we’re on.