Keep calm & carry on.
I’ve never given much thought to the part luck plays in my travel experiences until I spent my final vacation of 2017 getting stitched up in an airport clinic shortly after landing in Germany.
We hadn’t even made it out of Frankfurt airport when everything went wrong. With our bags in tow, my husband and I stepped onto an escalator that made an unexpected and sudden lurch forward. It was only for a split second or two, but in the half a moment I had to catch my breath and balance, I realized my bag was toppling. The force of gravity presented me with a choice: Let the bag go, into those behind me, or risk my balance to grab it.
If I’ve ever wondered what I would do in a situation like that, I now know. When I grabbed the bag I prevented disaster for those behind me, but my fall came hard, and right onto the teeth of the escalator steps. That’s how I ended up feeling like one unlucky traveller. I tried to pretend I was okay, but a very kind man, Russell, who was on duty and happened to have seen me topple, knew I wasn’t okay. If ever there was an angel that day, it was Russell.
Lucky for me, Russell was there and realized I needed immediate medical attention. He escorted me to an airport clinic that I would never in a million years have found on my own, especially in my condition. An experienced surgeon unexpectedly happened to be on duty that day, and he would be able to stitch me up with the nine stitches I needed in my knee. I wouldn’t need to go to hospital.
“Your first day here?” the surgeon asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“Well, you’re not going to be doing any walking for the next three days,” he said. “You must keep your leg straight. How long are you planning to stay in Frankfurt?”
We were lucky to be in Frankfurt at all. My husband and I had originally planned to fly directly to Helsinki, then up to the Finnish Lapland for some snowy, cold weather. We also hoped to see the northern lights. In the midst of our planning, we were unexpectedly offered two first class tickets to Frankfurt, so without further thought, we extended our trip and changed our plans to include Germany. New Year’s Eve fireworks in Frankfurt sounded like fun. We hadn’t been there in years.
Without complications, the surgeon said, I would be able to make our flight to Finland. Oh, and he also told me Finland has excellent health care if anything went wrong while I was there. Lucky me.
I had five painful days of luxury. It isn’t often that we get a bargain on such a great hotel, but I had found a deal–and we splurged a bit–to stay at the Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof Hotel. This was especially lucky because it’s one of those hotels where the staff go to great lengths to see that customers are taken care of. And I was. This included early check in, bringing up ice packs, and checking in to make sure I was okay. Boris, the concierge, went above and beyond the call of duty to help out. My husband joked about the lengths I’d go to for room service, but it was a necessity we were thankful for. The hotel even had a private New Year’s Eve fireworks display right there on the premises, which was especially nice because I could not walk to the area where we had originally planned to view the citywide fireworks.
I also learned that many people have been injured on this escalator. One man, I was told, lost nearly all of his front teeth. A lady had several broken bones. A man sustained a concussion. And the list went on. Nearly everyone who knew the airport well had a story about the escalator. I quickly began to feel quite fortunate to have only required a few stitches to the knee.
All of this recuperative luxuriating gave me a lot of time to think about some of my past travel experiences. I began to wonder to what extent experiences are caused by good luck, bad luck, or if they are all just simple random events.
For quite a long while it seemed that disaster either preceded or followed me wherever in the world I travelled. Once, a good friend of mine asked to be notified whenever I planned a trip so she could make sure her family was on the opposite side of the globe. I laughed but she wasn’t joking.
“You and your husband were at a tourist area in Egypt a couple of days before it was attacked by terrorists. What about the fires that shut down the train trip you planned? It’s only ever shut down a few times in nearly 100 years. And that plane you were on that broke and then nearly missed the runway trying to land in the fog?” She was right. And there was more. But I think the clincher was when we happened to be on our way to a family vacation in Thailand on the day of the tsunami. Surely bad luck, right?
I had to remind my friend that we missed the shooting; the train ride may have been postponed but it happened before we arrived and was rescheduled during a time of nicer weather; the plane ultimately landed safely; albeit in another city; and that family trip to Thailand was one of the best trips we’ve ever had.
As for Thailand, it had taken a double hit; first the damage to the infrastructure from the tsunami, and then the subsequent loss of tourists. Before landing, we checked in with our travel contacts in Thailand who asked us to please, please, please consider continuing our journey in their country. So we did. We were only able to do that because we had been unable to book our trip in our preferred order.
Our original plan, to head down to the coastal area first, and then up into the mountains with Bangkok in between, had not worked out. Every place we tried to book was full, so we had to reverse the order of our travel within the country. Although not happy about it at the time, it all turned out to be quite lucky, though, because Chiangmai, which was in the mountains, and Bangkok were all areas untouched by the giant tsunami. That’s where we were going first. We thought the odds were pretty high that things would be cleaned up by the time we reached our coastal resort, and they were. We were very lucky our original plans didn’t work out.
My husband and I are careful planners, never reckless, and we always buy travel insurance for major trips (Travel tip: buy travel insurance). Things just happen that we have no control over. I’ve had the good fortune to bump into old friends from the east coast while hiking in a remote area of Alaska, and to make new friends while stranded in a small town in Sweden.
There are many instances, more than I can count, when what I originally thought was bad luck turned out to be the very thing that tipped not-so-good odds in my favor, and also times when good luck surely didn’t turn out to be so good. Every traveller I know has similar stories.
In spite of my circumstances on this last trip, I felt pretty lucky when we finally made it up to Inari, Finland and were greeted by the beautiful snowy Christmas trees. The northern lights even came out on our first evening, but I was still quite upset that I would have to miss out on all the wonderful cross country skiing and hiking we had planned. But guess what happened next? A snow storm moved in making those activities not so appealing for a few days. Suddenly I felt lucky to have an excuse to sit by the fire and read.
Northern lights view from our cabin