Lessons Learned

Travel days are always exhausting, and occasionally things don’t always go as planned, but Brett still makes sure everything gets packed and we’re where we need to be on time.

During all our travels we’ve never lost a suitcase, or left one of our phones in a taxi, or made another major goof. Looking back, I’m not entirely sure how we kept those things from happening other than we had a good system for tracking things, and Brett proved to be a superb logistics manager, making sure everything was in place and keeping us moving.

Things still went wrong though. Often the problems we encountered were things outside of our control, and the biggest and best lessons learned throughout our travels were that no matter how well we planned or how well we tracked our stuff, things could and did go wrong, and an ability to pick our battles, adapt quickly, and stay calm determined whether there would be a successful outcome or not.

We counted late departures part of doing business when we traveled and something that was entirely out of our control, no matter how frustrating the situation. We knew the best way to deal with a late flight was go with the flow and hope for the best. A six-hour delay departing Philadelphia when we began our travels almost caused us to miss our flight to Buenos Aires, but we stayed calm as possible and eventually got to our flight on time (on only an hour’s sleep). All’s well that ends well – we ended up in the only row in the aircraft with empty seats which allowed us to stretch out and sleep! Our flight from Montevideo to Madrid was delayed by over an hour, which meant we would miss our connection to Paris – nothing we could do about that – but somehow we turned out to be “special passengers” and an Air France representative personally met us upon arrival with new boarding passes for our connecting flight to Paris and we arrived on time. Not all situations ended happily though – when we departed India, the airline determined our luggage was overweight (it wasn’t) and no amount of arguing would get them to budge. We finally paid the overage to get on our way. To add to our misery, we had to empty our carry-ons for security and then repack, and our departure. gate was the furthest one away – we thought we’d never get there.

The view from our balcony in Montevideo.

We also learned along the way not to judge a book, or rather an Airbnb, by its cover. Our apartment in Montevideo appeared to be in a rather seedy-looking neighborhood, and we were hesitant about it, but the interior was lovely and comfortable, and we had a balcony view into the city. The location turned out to be perfect for touring the city. Our Strasbourg apartment was tiny, less than 300 square feet, yet was also in a great location for exploring the city. The sofa bed we slept on there we count as one of our most comfortable beds and the apartment as one of our favorites. However, the apartment we rented in Bath looked great in the pictures, but turned out to be rather shabby with an uncomfortable bed. We won most of the time, but occasionally lost.

At the last minute we scored first class seats on our flight from London to San Francisco, and made it home on time.

Departing the UK in 2019 was our most trying experience, with just about everything that could go wrong going wrong, starting with our first train of the day being cancelled and the next one arriving nearly 45 minutes late. Rather than staying calm, we allowed ourselves to get flustered and ended up taking the wrong train into Reading Station from Oxford, arriving on the furthest track from the one we needed. We literally ran through Reading Station, up and down escalators and elevators, with Brett hauling our two big suitcases behind him, and we climbed onto the last car of the train to Gatwick airport with less than 30 seconds to spare. That train was still a long shot, our last chance to possibly catch our flight, but when we arrived at the airport the check-in lines were so long that we knew we’d never make it and resigned ourselves to rebooking for the next day. Lady Luck was apparently looking down on us though because there was suddenly an announcement that four remaining first class seats were available on our flight. Unusual for us, we made a quick decision and snapped up two seats, getting to the gate just as first class was boarding! Those first class seats ended up saving us hundreds of dollars over what it would have cost us to check our bags, pay for a hotel room for the night, and rebook our tickets. Lessons learned? Stay calm no matter what, be flexible, and recognize there are times to let go when it comes to your budget.

While we enjoy free walking tours, the paid tours we took allowed us to experience and learn things we wouldn’t have otherwise.

Other lessons we learned along the way? While we’re big fans of free walking tours offered in most cities, we learned that paying for a speciality tour now and again can give you a big bang for your bucks. We took an amazing small-group tour of the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Forum in Rome that got us into places the free tours didn’t go. We took two different wine tours in Bordeaux offered through the city, and learned more than we ever could have on our own as well as got to taste come fabulous wines. We took three Airbnb Experience tours in Edinburgh and a tour of a local gin distillery, and again, went places and learned things we never would have otherwise.

Our farmhouse stay in Switzerland provided experiences we wouldn’t have had staying in our own Airbnb or in a hotel.

We also learned that staying as a guest in someone’s home offered cultural experiences and learning as part of the package. At the beginning of our travels we had been determined to always stay in our own place, but after spending two nights with a family in their 300+ year-old Swiss farmhouse, we changed our minds. We were treated to a traditional dinner (raclette) with the family on our second evening, enjoyed a massive farm breakfast in the mornings, baked bread with the host, and left with a big bag of apples picked from their trees. We departed New Zealand with a deeper understanding of that country because of the hospitality and knowledge offered by our hosts along the way.

The biggest lesson we learned? We discovered strengths and skills we didn’t know we had. We played to the strengths we did know, but adapted as new ones revealed themselves and evolved. My forte was and is planning, and Brett let(s) me handle almost all of that as well as entertainment, meals, and a daily or weekly schedule. Brett’s strength is logistics – he makes sure we get to where we need to be on time (well, except when trains get cancelled), makes sure everything gets packed, and is able to orient himself very quickly in a new location. Brett also keeps track of our finances – he tracked our spending every day so we knew whether we need to slow down or whether there was enough in the budget for something special.

Solid research and planning before departure made a world of difference in whether a change or problem felt doable or like the end of the world, and our knowledge worked for us almost all of the time. As we went along though we learned to open ourselves up a bit more and manage our reactions to what could potentially become a negative experience. We came very close to paying the penalties that come along from not staying calm and not being flexible with our budget when the time called for it. All these things have affected how we travel now – how we plan. how we spend, and how we react to and handle what gets thrown in our path.

14 thoughts on “Lessons Learned

  1. My bestie and I have one rule when traveling together: only one of us can panic at a time. We’re both pretty unflappable, but we’ve had moments.

    When we were in France this past spring, we’d arranged to drop our rental car at the train station in Aix-en-Provence and take the high speed train back to Paris. We drove down to the train station the day before 1) to make sure it was the correct station and 2) to find the rental car drop off. Easy peasy, no worries.

    Cut to 7 am the next morning, and we can’t figure out how to get the car into the lot. It’s too early for staff to be there, and we can’t get the gate guard to raise up. We pull up to the rental area and start searching for directions, anything. My bestie starts panicking, but luckily, I spot a couple walking in from the aforementioned lot, and run towards them yelling “Parles anglais?!”. Yes, they did, they were American lol. The gentleman walked over to the gate and showed me a small button without any markings that you couldn’t see very well from your car. I thanked him and ran back to our car.

    My bestie was REALLY panicky when I slid back into my seat. The look of relief on her face was so sweet. We pulled back around, and the gate was still up after the gentleman had showed me the button. We parked, found our train gate, and even had a quick breakfast. Alls well that ends well!

    Traveling as a team who work well together is the best!

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    1. That is a great rule – only one is allowed to panic! I can look back now and see that our problem was that BOTH Brett and I panicked that morning when we discovered our train had been cancelled. Compound that with the next train arriving 45 minutes late and we were going crazy – we were destined to make mistakes that would cost us

      I told Brett what happened to you in France, and he got nervous just hearing it! But I could see that he filed away the information about the button and what to do if we encountered a similar situation. I remember in Caen the rental agency was closed when we dropped off our car – we shoved the keys through the mail slot, crossed our fingers, and hoped for the best (which is what happened).

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    1. Cindy, it takes me days if not weeks to figure out my way around (I am still somewhat lost here) while it takes Brett and day or so. He has a very good sense of direction. Funny thing though – he gets upset if I know where something is and he doesn’t. It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes I actually know where I’m going!

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    1. Brett and I are a good team – we’ve always played to each other’s strengths, and that really came out when we traveled. Things didn’t always go perfectly, but we always ended up getting to where we needed to be.

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  2. You guys have this down to a science. And the more things you navigate, the easier the next crisis is to move though.

    We got better at working together as we traveled more. But one of my favorite stories took place in Paris when we had walked a LOT, it was getting late in the afternoon, and we were both tired. DH was sure the route back to the hotel was one way and I was sure my way was faster. We didn’t agree, so we each walked back independently. I can’t remember who got back faster, but each route worked fine. It’s funny now but it wasn’t then. 🤣 We were both younger and more stubborn then.

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    1. I don’t think we ever ended up walking back to anywhere independently, but we got close a couple of times. The funny thing now is we are somewhat “territorial” over our individual skill sets. Brett doesn’t like it when I suggest a quicker or different way to get somewhere, and I can get huffy if he starts to complain about lodgings I have chosen. Most of the time though we stay in our lanes and things move along nicely. We’re all about the teamwork these days.

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  3. These are all really good tips and reminders that things can, and will, go wrong. I’m already nervous about our trip to Australia in December. Our flight has changed twice now and my son and I booked at a different time than my husband so I’m afraid we are going to end up on different flights. I know flying will be completely different than pre-pandemic and we just gotta roll with it and not let it fluster us. I like the ‘only one person can panic at a time’ rule. I’ll definitely be using that!

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    1. I completely understand how you are feeling about your upcoming travel – out last two experiences were nothing like they were before the pandemic when everything seemed to move along smoothly. Those days are gone, for now anyway, but hopefully will return. You’ve got the right attitude though – just roll with it and pick your battles.

      I too love that “only one person at a time gets to panic” rule. That was our big mistake leaving England – we both panicked and things just seemed to keep getting worse as the day went on, where if we’d kept our heads things might have gone a bit more smoothly (like getting on the right train in Oxford).

      How long will you be in Australia? Where are you visiting?

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      1. We’ll be leaving in mid-December and will be gone for a month. I am so excited to see our family again, It will be weird to be ‘down under’ for Christmas. Being hot on Christas day doesn’t compute in my brain. My SIL said they usually go swimming in the ocean on Christmas day which sounds fantastic. I am looking forward to making new memories with family.

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      2. When we lived in Key West, we used to turn down the A/C and close the drapes and imagine it was cold outside for Christmas. Hot, sunny, and palm trees were hard to fathom back then.

        Have a wonderful time with your family – I know you’ll make a ton of memories.

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  4. I wouldn’t give you two cents for your experiences. So not worth it. Such a waste of time and money. And where are you now? Older. Wiser. And poorer with nothing to show for yourselves. Two old babysitters. With no assets. Living off your children.

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