Traveling will teach you many things. It shows you new places and foods. Immerses you into a culture other than your own. Introduces you to new friends. All while inevitably placing you in countless airport chairs. Waiting for boarding call. Waiting for your flight to take off. Waiting for the drink cart to finally make it to your seat. Waiting for it to pass so you can make a mad dash for the bathroom. Waiting for your connecting flight. Lots and lots of… patience building.
I have been quite lucky with my traveling luck so far. Especially when you consider that I am flying out of Albania and I am not the world’s most experienced backpacker. But it’s only a matter of time until everyone experiences one of those days that one can only refer to as “Travel Hell.” When I said I have been lucky so far, I meant I had been. My luck ran out on my journey back from America. Is this a claim to fame in the traveling world? Have I been moved up a few pegs now that I have experienced one of these never-ending days? I am going to answer that as YES! It will make me feel better the next time I hoist my bag onto my shoulders and head though the airport doors. But don’t worry, every time I get a little too cocky, Albania tends to knock me back into my place. (For the record, me being cocky? That would NEVER happen.)
With a slightly depressed air, I said my goodbyes at the airport. My trip had officially ended and I was headed back to Albania. I bought some snacks and snuck in one last hot chocolate from Caribou. After which, I settled into gate E6 and got ready for my plane to board. As I sat there, storms were rolling through Chicago, which happened to be my next destination. This forced my plane to be delayed for an extra hour. Which soon turned into two hours. Then three. Then four. As I sat there in Minneapolis, my plane for Vienna was boarding in my connecting city. Without me.
We finally boarded, almost five hours later, and made it to Chicago. To say I wasn’t the only one that missed their flight was a massive understatement. As I stood in line at the customer service counter in Chicago, I had déjà vu. My 1 hour wait soon turned into two. One thing I learned quickly about traveling alone, ALWAYS go to the bathroom before joining a long line. My flight was rerouted through Washington the following day and I was sent on to baggage claim. Normally you aren’t allowed to retrieve your bag in the midst of missing your flight. However, I had a blood clot a few years ago, which now requires me to take a shot of blood thinner when I fly. Of course, my extra shots were in my checked luggage. As I stood in line at the baggage claim office, I started to reach my breaking point. Half an hour later, the airport employee told me I could wait 3-4 hours and POSSIBLY attain my bag. Umm, no thanks. Who doesn’t love an impromptu trip to the pharmacy. They have an entire row of candy there.
After wasting over four hours in Washington, making it through an overnight flight to Vienna, I monkeyed around for another four hours in Austria. Not one of my planes actually left on time. Thankfully, we’re only talking 10-30 minute delays. Nevertheless, I was very happy to finally see Tirana.
True to style, things slowed down once I made it past the Passport control. The luggage carousel needed a little TLC to get up and running. As we sat and waited for our bags, I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Somehow, I found myself still standing there an hour later, watching the same three bags rotating around. None of which were mine.
Two hours after touching down in Tirana, I was able to speak to the lost and found office. Apparently my bag hadn’t been scanned into Austria. Which meant it was probably sitting in Chicago. Or Washington. Nowhere near Albania. He recommended that I go back to Permet, and my bag would eventually be sent to me. I feel a little guilty to admit that I did not trust Albanians enough to get my bag to me. I think it would have made it, but that could have taken a month. I wasn’t quite ready to give up, so I informed him that I would be back tomorrow to ask again. Still no word or sign of my bag the following afternoon did a great job of squashing those last few threads of hope. My bag was officially lost.
That evening I received a call from an unknown number. Which turned into a two minute “conversation” of an Albanian man talking extremely fast and loudly on the other line and me understanding none of it. When I finally asked if he could please speak in English he hung up on me. Thinking it was nothing more than a prank call, I didn’t acknowledge it. Until I got another call an hour later, from an airport employee who did speak English. They had found my bag!! (Pause for a happy dance!!)
Albania has taught me to celebrate any and all successes, no matter the size. In this case, finally making it back to Permet made me feel like I was king of the mountain.
As I sat waiting for hours on end in the airport, it gave me a lot of time to think. Now, I would like to tell you that all I thought about is how much I am going to miss my family. But another topic kept resurfacing in my mind. And I am not going to pretend I am ashamed of it, or this slideshow. Anyone who knows me, could tell you it is one of my favorite topics. And lets be honest, who doesn’t love to eat?!