I know I make it sound as if travelling is unicorns and rainbows all the time, but it isn’t. Inevitably, if you travel a lot, you will have some bad experiences. These experiences can come in many different forms, whether it be getting lost, pure exhaustion, desensitization, being pickpocketed, missing a plane/train/bus/boat, and so on. The important thing to remember is that bad travel experiences happen to everybody, and that they aren’t something to dwell on. Learn from them and move on.
I’ve had a few bad travel experiences, though I always downplay them on my blog so as to not needlessly concern everybody. Today I had one bad experience that I won’t downplay, however, just so you understand how much bad travelling experiences can suck.
I flew from Oslo into Brussels, Belgium today. Generally when I fly places on Ryan Air, I end up sleeping in the airport because the flights get in so late. However, this time my flight landed at 19:00, so I figured I would have enough time to make it to a hostel to get a good night’s sleep.
My flight landed on time (miraculously), and I found the bus to take me into the city without difficulty. All this ease of travelling ended once I got off the bus, however.
Before I arrive in a new city, I always draw a map showing how to get from my arrival point to the hostel. Usually these work pretty well, provided I can find north, but today was an exception. My arrival point was Brussels-Midi station, which is in the south part of the city. Based on my map, I knew that I needed to walk away from the train station with it on my left. So, I did exactly that. Unfortunately for me, the bus dropped me off on the other side of the station, so I was walking in the opposite direction of where I was supposed to go.
Intuitively, I knew I was walking in the wrong direction. I have a great sense of direction so I could tell I was going south instead of north. The thing is that with me, intuition will never win. The logical side of me always overpowers what my intuition tells me to do. Even though I felt I was walking in the wrong direction, the logical part of me said, “The train station is on your left. You have to be going in the right direction.”
Well, I wasn’t though. I immediately felt like I was in a shady area, but I still walked on. I kept hoping I would come across a street that was on my map, but it didn’t happen. Warning bells were going off in my head, but I still walked on, saying to myself, “You left the train station with it on your left. You can’t possibly be going in the wrong direction.”
After walking for maybe twenty minutes, I reached a roundabout. I walked around the roundabout to look at the street names, none of which were on my map. At this point I decided to turn around, knowing I was lost. Because I’m an idiot, I went down a street parallel to the one I had previously walked on.
Streets in Brussels aren’t logical. They aren’t all nice and straight and parallel to each other. Nope, most of them curve and branch off and just make things difficult for people unfamiliar with the city. This means that the parallel street I walked down on didn’t follow the same path back to where I came from. When it became clear to me that I wasn’t heading to where I had come from while still in a sketch area and losing daylight, I started to panic. I struggled to hold back tears, every passerby seemed like a serial killer, and I worried that I would be shanked right then and there. At this point I also started hating Brussels. There was trash on the sidewalks and it smelled bad in places, plus I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was in an unsafe area. Undoubtedly some of these feelings were generated due to the situation I was in.
It didn’t help that the guy I asked for direction didn’t know where the train station was. I was really freaking out by this point, imagining I had somehow walked miles and miles out of town and was now well and truly screwed. I kept walking and walking until finally, I reached the train station I had started at.
I found the right street this time and headed in the correct direction, though already screwing up once, I kept second-guessing myself and panicking.
When I reached the street that would take me to the hostel’s reception, I calmed down considerably. I made it there without further incident, but then I had to find my way to the hostel.
See, because the hostel is under construction, the reception and the hostel are in two different places. What a pain. It didn’t help that because the hostel was under construction, it was not clearly marked as being a hostel. I ended up walking past it and wandering around randomly, worried that I was going to have to spend the night in the street simply because I couldn’t find it. Eventually I figured it out, so I wasn’t doomed to be a hobo for the night.
So, that was not a good experience. Finding hostels is always stressful for me, but even more so when it’s almost dark (which is why I always take the earliest train I can get on). I became so panicked at one point that I seriously wanted to just go back to safe, familiar Oslo, but I stuck it out and it was all okay in the end.
Bad start in Brussels today, but I’m sure tomorrow will be better. And as always, this experience was a learning experience. Don’t panic, ask for directions if you’re unsure, make sure you’re definitely headed in the right direction, get out of shifty areas immediately, and most importantly, don’t panic.