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The International Writers Magazine: Travel

The Terrible Wonderful Beautiful Trip
• Abbay McCandless
The best trip of my life consisted of a lost credit card, a lack of lodging arrangements and a crumpled twenty-euro note. Twenty euros that is, in a country that uses the pound as its currency.

If you ask anyone else about their best trip, it usually includes free upgrades to first class, lavish five-star hotels, long relaxing days spent on the beach or fun-filled adventures in foreign countries. Their experience is the opposite of the succession of unfortunate events that made up my best trip. What I had that the other travelers did not however, was an opportunity to grow, and memories that have carved their way into my mind like lovers initials on a picnic table.

I was traveling from Paris to Edinburgh to visit one of my best friends, Sam. Sam had been studying in Oxford, so the original plan had been to take the underground tube to London and then from London, hop on a quick thirty-minute ride to Oxford. A lovely plan, until Sam talked with his parents, who were still comfortable in the States, and together they decided that Edinburgh was a “once in a lifetime” chance and that I “had to meet him there.” Sam flat out told me that if I were to visit Oxford on my one free weekend, I would be alone because he would be already be in Edinburgh. I had no choice but to rearrange my plans and embark on a trip to Scotland.

Flash forward to that fateful Friday in early July. I packed a duffle and took the metro to the Gare du Nord stop, where my train to London would be leaving. I approached the ticket desk about how to get my tickets. I had purchased the non-flex ticket ahead of time in an effort to be prepared and organized.“Vous-désirez, mademoiselle?” the employee asked. My voice shaking, I replied with, “Comment est-ce que je reçevois mon billet pour la gare à Londres?” This question, I’m sure, would sound to the ticket man like, “How I receive ticket to the train of London?” The ticket man changed to English immediately. “You can print from the Eurostar machine,” he jutted a finger to the door, leaving my confidence as broken as my French.

My first train was simple. I sat across from a young man with white ear buds in his ears. I spent a good portion of the trip trying to decide if he was attractive or not. I figured that if he spoke with an English accent that would probably propel him into the “good-looking” category. After one short hour, I arrived at the London International station, with fifteen minutes before my next train left. I checked my ticket. Fifteen minutes probably would have been plenty of time, that is if my next train didn’t leave from the London Euston station, an eight-minute walk from the St Pancras London International station.

Euston Station My first steps in London were more like long strides as I sprinted my way towards an exit. I pity the old man outside of the station when I approached him frantically. I could only imagine what he thought as a sweaty, young American girl with a bag slipping down from her shoulder ran up to him half screaming, half panting, “How do I get to the Euston station?!” He managed a pointed finger as a response.

Adjusting the strap of my suitcase, I dash down the sidewalks of London. I reached the Euston station in record time, but I couldn’t let myself relax because I still had to print out my second ticket from one of the machines. I jammed my credit card into the slot as the final call for my train sounded in my ears. As soon as the tickets printed, I threw myself down the steps to the platform and into the first car I could find.
Red-faced and worn out, I pushed my way down the aisle of the train, bumping the majority of passengers with my oversized duffle. I was pretty sure that even my panting had an American accent because everyone looked at me like I had just announced my nationality over the train’s speaker system. I tried to not say much as I went to find my seat.

In my seat, I relaxed for a bit before finally decided to go through the motions of making sure I had all my important belongings still in my cross body bag. Phone? Check. Key to my Paris apartment? Check. Passport? Check. Credit Card? Ch—wait. Where is that card? I tore through pockets, bags, the floor, under the seat. My heartbeat may or may not have been audible to surrounding passengers. People started staring again. I didn’t care. It was gone. I wanted to scream but couldn’t. I connected to the spotty train Wi-Fi; I managed to send a message to cancel the card. I sat back.

I remember the look in Sam’s blue eyes when I told him that he was going to have to take care of me financially. A little shock, a little hesitation, and a lot of mockery played within those clear irises. The rest of the weekend consisted of Sam sneaking me into the hostel that he was staying at and a puppy-like dependence on him for meals.

Despite this somewhat financial desperation, Edinburgh had activities and views to make me forget about a lost credit card. When the time came for us to head back to England, I was able to have created a memorable experience with the help of Sam. It seemed like the drama was over. I spent that night in Oxford without a care in the world.

It seemed like after living in Oxford for three weeks, Sam should know where the train station was. He agreed to walk me there the next morning at 6:00 am. As the travel Gods would have it, however, Sam somehow managed to walk us the complete opposite way from where we needed to be. I missed my first train. Sam bought me a new ticket, sending me on the next train to London Paddington station, where I would have to transfer over to St Pancras. On arrival, I eagerly followed the signs toward London International, until a series of ticket dispensers for the London Underground transport system stood before me. I realized there was no other way. Which meant that I had to buy a ticket. When I still only had euros.

I walked back to the main station in a mad dash for the currency exchange booth, then back again to the ticket dispensers. I tried to enter my pound in the machine. It read Credit Card only. I begged the girl behind me to buy my ticket for me and forced the pounds in her face. She agreed, giving me my ticket along with a look of sympathy. Once boarding the London underground, it moved with a glacial pace. Before I even got a chance to step foot in the International station, I knew I had missed my second train. Remember that non-flex ticket? Well that plays a factor in what I’m supposed to tell you. I waited in the line for the Eurostar information, the seriousness of my situation sinking in on me. When I reached the Eurostar employee, I told her that I had no money, now just three pounds, and no, I can’t have someone buy me another ticket because my mom is in America and it is four in the morning her time. I have no way to contact anyone. She told me that because of my non-flex ticket, there was nothing that she could really do, but, there was something that she was not really allowed to do that may be an option. The woman, now seeming to grow wings and a halo as she continued to speak, told me that she could print me a ticket for a seat in the dining car. Usually people paid for such seats, but she had given them to people for free on rare occasions. I was one of those lucky people. She repeated, “I’m really not supposed to do this, but for you I will.” That moment will mark the best trip of my life.

I could have hugged her, I could have kissed her, but instead I think I just reached over and touched her shoulder to make sure she was real. That this situation was real. I thanked and thanked her, took my ticket and boarded the train, engulfed in a mystified and thankful state.

I then remembered an eighteen-year-old me on the subway in New York. I had boarded the wrong train and completely lost my mind. I mean hyper-ventilating, crying on the phone to my mom frantically asked what I could possibly do. I shook my head and bit my lip a little out of embarrassment just thinking about it. Then I smiled at just how much I had changed. Still guilty of making mindless mistakes when it came to train travel, but now far more level-headed and mature than I ever could have hoped. With a little help from a good-natured employee, I had solved my own problem. To this day, I reflect on that trip and it still makes me grateful. Isn’t that how your best trip should make you feel?
© Abbay McCandless Jan 2015
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