Let’s face it – sometimes traveling is too easy. We give companies hundreds of dollars for the privilege of sitting in wheeled and winged technological marvels for hours of lower-back-breaking monotony. We tolerate this convenient sacrifice for the purpose of visiting new lands, reconnecting with relatives, taking selfies at world landmarks.
Does travel ever feel too easy? Do you wish you could test your psychological fortitude? Do you want to save a buck or two? Do you want to martyr yourself for friends and family? Look no further. My two-day trek from Mokpo to San Francisco trained me in the art of stressful travel. Though I’m sure you’ve all endured much worse. Let’s commiserate in the comments
Tip #1 – Overpack
A week before my trip, I rejoiced at the arrival of a new slow-cooker. My life would never be the same, frolicking in a fiber and fart-filled wonderland of beans, lentils, mushrooms, and other vegetable delights.
“What? The package came from New Jersey? That’s strange.”
“110 volts? What does Korea use? 220 volts? A perfect multiple! What could go wrong?”
“I charge my phone on 220 volts all the time and nothing’s exploded yet.”
“Does anyone smell burning plastic?”
Sometimes my profound ignorance impresses me. Apparently, 220 volts will melt the handles off of a 110-volt slow-cooker. The more you know.
What was I to do? I would return to America in one week. I could invest in a voltage transformer, gambling on overtaxed coils and burning down my apartment. But life was exciting enough. Instead, I whipped out my largest suitcase and loaded it with an 8-quart slow-cooker, clothes, gifts, and snow boots – weighed down with excess like its ponderous homeland.
It was heavy. It was bulky. It was awkward to carry. And it was stuck to my hip until I caved and invested in the baggage storage desk at Seoul Station.
I thought I could save a buck by using a storage locker, but my bag was too large. Fortunately, a group of young women also needed a storage locker so my 4,000 won didn’t go to waste. I hope I gave them the right code to re-open the lock.
Tip #2 – Arrive at the Airport 8 Hours Early
My first flight left Incheon for Hong Kong at 6:50 a.m. I’ve dealt with early-morning flights before. While it is a pain in the ass to wake up at 4:00 and shuffle into a car while an admirably kind friend or relative drives me to the airport, I’ve never done it solo. Or without a car.
Incheon Airport is a 4-hour drive from Mokpo.
“Hey, you remember when I bought you that cup of coffee? You have a car, right? Maybe you can return the favor…”
That wasn’t going to happen. So I had two choices. I could stay in a hotel and pay a cab or shuttle service to drive me at 4:00 a.m. (+$100) or I could save a buck and take the subway to the airport that night (before public transit shut down.) Mama didn’t raise no softie.
“This’ll be great. I’ll check in early, make my way through security, and find one of those airport ‘nap rooms.’ I can read. I can rest. I can relax.”
So at 10:30 p.m., I confidently approached the eerily empty check-in line. The attendants’ faces radiated suspicious confusion. We produced the following transcript, shifting between English, fluent Korean (them) and broken Korean (me).
“Are- are you flying Hong Kong Airlines?”
I dutifully complied (a wise decision in airports).
“Do you have a flight reservation number?”
I handed it over after briefly fumbling through my phone.
“I’m sorry. This is a morning flight. We are only checking-in night flights.”
“What time do I come back?”
The struggle continued. I learned some important lessons that night.
- Airports have wonderful services when you pass security and nearly nothing in the pre-check-in departure terminal.
- Thank goodness for free baggage carts. Zombie-shuffling around the terminal in search of a sleeping surface became much easier.
- The Incheon international departure terminal is huge!
- Airport departure terminals might be the loudest alcohol-free places at 2:00 in the morning.
- Waiting benches are not good for sleep.
- Western mindsets die slow. I clutched my backpack and rested my leg on my suitcase half-expecting for someone to rifle through my belongings the instant anyone heard any semblance of a snore. Does anyone know someone who was robbed inside a major airport?
After brief winks and protracted discomfort, 4:00 arrived. I checked in, sipped some coffee, and steeled myself for the actual traveling part of my journey.
Tip #3 – Lose Your Luggage
After 18 hours of sleepless, unenviable flights and layovers, I anxiously awaited my suitcase at the baggage terminal.
“Paging Hong Kong Airlines passenger Ian Thomas Schneider? Ian Thomas Schneider? Please come to the customer service counter.”
The sinking look on the employee’s face said it all – as if bracing for a tongue-lashing. What kind of person does she think I am?
“I’m sorry, sir. Your bag is not here.”
I guess my slow-cooker tasted the heat of 220 volts, liked it, and sabotaged its own deportation.
I smiled through bad news, filled out some forms, and received a thinly-veiled promise of two-day delivery. This aspect of travel saved me no money, accomplished no task, and served no end. Losing your luggage is just rough. I feel for the hundreds of people who experience this every day.
However, after nearly two restless days, I embraced my father an mother at the San Francisco International Airport arrival terminal. I loaded my backpack into the trunk of their midsize SUV as a police cruiser honked and flashed its lights – the American airport symbol for “hurry the hell up.”
It was good to be home.