From point A to point B
The woes of being a "World Traveller"
Last spring, I decided to spend the second half of my summer studying abroad through the University’s Oxford Summer Program. I had never been abroad for any extended period of time, and in the months leading up to the trip, I found myself struggling to believe it would actually happen.
Part of this anxiety came from the fact that this was a completely new experience — I would be dropped into a culture I was only familiar with through the U.K. version of “The Office” — but I am also habitually nervous about travel. It’s not that I’m afraid of planes — I have long held the philosophy that if I meet my untimely demise by plane crash, shark attack, lightning strike or grizzly bear mauling, someone up there just doesn’t like me. Rather, I have a constant, nagging suspicion my flights will leave without me or I will make it to Heathrow only to find Europe is currently closed for repairs.
Nevertheless, when I found myself sitting in British Airways’ “World Traveller” class — a surprisingly effective way to make those at the bottom rung of the airplane caste system feel special — I began to feel I might actually make it to Europe. Or at least a final resting place in the middle of the Atlantic.
Luckily, I made it — and both the U.K. and greater Europe were filled with opportunities for personal growth. One of my biggest takeaways was a newfound proficiency in travel — though the skill was not acquired without the occasional speed bump.
In Dublin, during my first weekend, I walked into the airport for my flight back to Oxford only to find I had dropped my iPhone in a cab which had already fled into the dawn’s early light. Some might take this as an indication that a carpe noctem approach to Irish nightlife and 5:15 a.m. cab rides don’t mix, but for me, this was a shining example of the utility of “Find My iPhone.” Thanks to a good-natured cab driver and my hotel manager, I had my phone back in only a few days.
For others, Dublin represented a chance to experience first-hand the life of a 17th century seafarer, and a large group of students decided to take a series of trains and then a ferry from Liverpool to Ireland. While this was indeed more cost effective than flying, it also was a 12-hour, one-way journey. So, while passengers on the ferry — affectionately named the Mayflower by those of us who flew — saved around 30 pounds on travel, they also spent a total of 24 hours on the road and high seas in a three-day period.
Further adventures would include my group missing our train to the airport and having to take an hour-long taxi from Reading to Gatwick. There was also the night of the fateful London ride in a non-taxi. Struggling to find a taxi late one night, a stranger in an unmarked car offered my friends and me a ride to our hotel for 25 pounds. While, in my defense, I was reluctant to go along with this plan, we nonetheless found ourselves racing down the streets of London as the driver yelled obscenities at pedestrians and other drivers unlucky enough to be sharing the road. Fortunately, this was probably the best of a range of scenarios which could have happened, and we only ended up paying about twice the normal price of a cab.
My final challenge came the morning of our departure from Oxford as an unexpected boom in the amount of passengers to Heathrow filled every bus coming to the stop near our college, almost causing everyone in the program miss their flights. We were saved, fortunately, by a last minute dash — dragging 70 pounds of luggage — to the bus station and, in my case, a fortunate delay of my flight.
I had initially feared I would never make it to Oxford, but in the end, I nearly couldn’t leave.
Christian’s column runs biweekly Fridays. He can be reached at email@example.com.