No, no, I liked to play it safe, planning out my every move to avoid danger and mistakes. One thing you learn when traveling extensively, however, is that unforeseen problems are bound to arise and problem solving is a necessary skill.
When heading to Italy for a long weekend, I took the train to go to the airport several hours in advance. I wanted to give myself plenty of time to comfortably arrive at my flight. Relaxing on the train from Etampes into Paris, I delved into my novel and basked in the warm sunlight beaming in through the windows.
In Paris, I had to change lines to get on the train that would take me to the airport. Right away, I noticed something was amiss – after an announcement by the conductor that the train would no longer service the airport, I disembarked to find a rambunctious crowd of people, all lugging their suitcases around the platform. Those people were heading to the airport too, but there seemed to be a shortage of trains heading that direction.
The next train pulled up and the screen in the station announced it was going to the airport. Grabbing my backpack and shuffling my way through the crowd onto the train, I searched for a coveted seat – none to be found, the train was too full.
We chugged along for the first few stops on the way to the airport, but soon we came to a dead stop in between two stations. I crossed my fingers that this would be a short delay, but to no avail. I was very familiar with train delays, which are relatively common in Paris and occur whenever a train has a problem or something falls on the tracks. Forty minutes later, we were still stopped on the tracks, the passengers becoming restless in the muggy, cramped, sweaty car.
At the next stop, which was in a small suburb halfway between the airport and Paris, the unimaginable happened. The conductor announced the line was no longer in service due to an accident a bit farther up the line – we were dumped off and left on the platform. Soon after, two more trains, equally full, pulled up and kicked out their passengers, who were all heading to the airport.
At this point, I had twenty five minutes until my flight to Italy departed.
Quick on my feet and putting to use my expert travel instincts I’d acquired through my days, I jumped into action. Several hundred passengers who needed to go to their airport were stranded with me on that platform, meaning there wouldn’t be enough taxis for us all. I frantically questioned the measly three train employees standing outside – who were entirely overwhelmed by the situation – about the availability of a bus. The next bus wouldn’t be for twenty minutes.
I made a quick decision. Weaving my way through the crowd, I sprinted up to nearest road and stuck out my thumb. I was actually hitchhiking in France.
Within a few minutes I was picked up and whisked away by a wonderfully kind gentleman who, ironically, worked for the train company and had just finished his shift. He chauffeured me and an older French couple to the airport, speeding along the highway and getting us there within ten minutes.
Running to the security lines, I was overwhelmed with a sense of victory and accomplishment. Swinging my backpack through security, I walked just a little taller on my way to the gate. Sometimes traveling will make you realize what you’re really made of.