There is an excitement to being on the road alone, seeing the world in a 360 way, with no other close friends and familiar family between you and this new place.
Solo Travelers however travel in the web of everyday people who catch us when we fall and point us on the road…if we see them. A recent trip brought in sharp focus that we are never alone.
This summer was my first solo departure since an injury and long recovery. Going over plans, I found a hitch. The presenting problem was the need to change terminals in Chicago required using the air transfer bus to make my Aer Lingus flight to Dublin. It was unlikely I had enough time to change terminals with a bus that comes around every half hour. There was an easy solution with an earlier departure from home but the way I booked the ticket made in impossible to change.
The morning of my trip I was anxious, so I spent a little time in prayer and meditation. I got the same strong message, “you are not alone; ask for help.” Now, I don’t seek direct answers in prayer often, so this was new.
Ultimately, I made the flight but I learned at every turn that we are each other’s safety net. Overworked, underappreciated airport staff, fellow travelers from other countries, flight attendants who weren’t even on duty. They all made my trip work.
After an exuberant Uber ride that could have been written off as therapy, I headed in to wait for my flight to O’Hare. “Ask for help.” An American flight attendant was also waiting for the flight. I took a seat near her, we chatted and I asked her about the transfer. It was going to be really tight. She pointed out that the first delay might be waiting for my wing-checked bag before making the run for the bus She gave me a special luggage tag that would help get the bag off first.
Our flight was delayed by a short thunder storm making it a little worse but finally we landed in Chicago. On the jetway as we all waited for our bags, all coping with delay, the staff person organizing the luggage delivery overheard my conversation with my new friend and offered to call down for my bag. One person threw it to another and then up to us. She also advised me which gate was really the quickest to get to for the transfer bus. Off I ran (kind of) up the jetway.
Running after a broken leg is neither pretty or effective, but run I did. I arrived at what I assumed was the departure gate where the bus picks up passengers for the International Terminal. Imagine a harried, stumbling, short-of-breath, luggage-rolling mess showing up to this crowd of patiently waiting people. I was very lucky. The family at the edge of the crowd, travelling from the Middle East, took me in, explained the process, and hustled me along with them. The bus was miraculously arriving at this moment.
As we rolled down ramps to ground level to board the bus, the door keeper asked for a card I had never heard of. What green pass? The calm attendant could have sent me back upstairs to wait for the next bus but instead she pulled me aside, made a call on the radio, and another travel angel ran down the ramp with a card for me.
The last saving grace was that our flight was delayed a few minutes due to a quick mechanical fix. I made the flight. I got to enjoy the bulkhead seat I’d reserved weeks before, the special meal, and a terrific seat mate. I’d arrive on time to meet the friend and navigator in Dublin. The tv screen didn’t work at my seat but for once it just didn’t matter.
What I learned is that I would never have made the connection, metaphorically or the actual flight, if I had depended entirely on myself. If I hadn’t asked, listened, and received grace from those around me, I would have been left.
As I travel now, I am more attentive to the travelers around me. How can what I know make the difference on the first day of someone else’s big adventure. Alone, I sometimes feel the loss of the shared response, the unexpected insight, and most of all the better navigator but I am more conscious of the great flow of people around me.
Using a third party broker like Travelocity or Orbitz can be great but it you have more than one airline on your ticket, changes can be very difficult. For international flights, I’m booking with the airline directly.
Earlier in my travel experience, connections had to be viable. With online bookings, the unusual variables, like terminal transfers or the odd need to leave security in some connections, aren’t always factored in.