I traveled internationally for the first time going into my sophomore year of high school. I went with a group from my church, where I knew everyone, to Peru, where we spent about a week and a half. Smooth travels.
Then I traveled to Romania the summer of my junior year of college. This time I knew no one on the trip, as I signed up to go for an internship. Smooth travels.
Two months later, I did my first solo trip to the Philippines. I vaguely knew the missionaries I was going to visit, I only knew them when I was a kid.
I had a lot of emotions as I prepared for my first trip by myself. I was nervous but also excited. Before I left I told myself that everything was going to go smoothly because of all the planning I had done.
Little did I know, nothing would go smoothly.
I left the states with three suitcases, a carry-on, and a camera bag. Needless to say, it was quite the effort lugging all that around in each airport.
I flew from Springfield, MO to Chicago, Chicago to Hong Kong, and Hong Kong to Manila, Philippines, for a total of almost 24 hours, plus the time change.
When I landed in Manila there was a typhoon. Said typhoon turned into a monsoon, so not as bad, but stuck around the entire two weeks I was there. If you know anything about either type of storm, you’ll know that the amount of rain produced is insane.
It rained and rained and rained. Typically in the states when we experience long periods of rain we also experience flooding. But nothing could have prepared me for the type of flooding I experienced in the Philippines.
In third world countries, such as the Philippines, the majority of the homes people live in are very impoverished; typically dirt floors, poorly built structures, with no running water or electricity. Having no running water or electricity, people sometimes use the restroom outside in the street. Well, when it rains as bad as it did, with the flooding you can only imagine what walking through the streets was like.
A lot of our community outreach and children’s events were cancelled because of the weather including being limited to taking my camera outside for photos, which was hard, but the biggest challenge was the flight back home.
This was the summer of 2018, and if you were following international news at the time, you might be familiar with the Hong Kong riots. I found myself in the Hong Kong International Airport at the exact same time.
I flew out of Manila, Philippines, a three hour flight, and landed in Hong Kong. I was very lost and couldn’t find anyone that spoke English.
Aftering wandering around the airport for about an hour and a half, I finally found where to go through security. By the time I was at the right gate, I had about 30 minutes until boarding.
Thirty minutes turned into an hour. An hour turned into two hours, which turned into three hours. I asked multiple people what the hold up was, and couldn’t get any answers.
So I walked around the airport looking for semi-normal food, since it was 6 a.m., but ended up eating a bowl of chicken and rice. While I was eating, I looked up at the TV and saw news coverage of what looked like a group of people rioting.
I couldn’t understand what they were saying or read the text, but I immediately recognized the place, because I had been in that area earlier that morning while I was lost.
Turns out I arrived at the airport the same day they decided to start a riot to protest the government.
I sat in the airport for another couple of hours, waiting for our plane to board. I had no cell service and no wifi, so I had no way to notify my family of what was happening. I sat there praying they were watching the news.
Finally, after seven hours, they decided it was safe to let us on the plane.
As soon as we sat down, they decided it was no longer safe to take off. Ugh.
My flight proceeded to sit on the tarmac for another couple of hours, with the plane turned off and no air conditioning.
Finally, the airport allowed our flight to leave. I would later find out we were one of the last flights to leave before the airport was shut down for about a week and a half.
You may think the story ends there, well my friends, buckle up.
Our flight flew directly over Japan, where they were currently having a typhoon. I already hate planes because I’m terrified of crashing, but my fear heightened incredibly when the turbulence we experienced sent us bouncing all over the place.
The flight attendants began walking up and down the aisles going over safety procedures again, showing everyone how to put on their oxygen masks and life jackets.
If a flight attendant ever does that mid-flight you know something is wrong.
Thankfully, we got through the storm and the rest of the flight went pretty smooth; despite the fact it was originally only supposed to be 18 hours, but the three hours we spent in the plane beforehand, and the storm totaled it out to be about 23 hours.
When I landed in Chicago things just kept getting worse. I called my family to let them know what happened and that I was going to race to catch my original plane back to Springfield, because it was the only flight out of Chicago to Springfield for three days.
I lost my 8 hour layover, where I had planned to give myself plenty of time to go through customs and security again. I had a total of 45 minutes to go through customs, pick up my bags, recheck my bags, change terminals (which required leaving on a city bus), go through security and get to my gate.
You’re probably sitting there thinking, she never is gonna make that, and you’d be wrong.
I was so annoyed that I was determined to get home. I paid an airport employee $75 to skip the customs line and go through what he called the ‘fast pass’ lane. To this day, I’m not even sure that was a real thing, I think I might have just bribed him to let me go.
So I walked straight to the front of the line, downloaded an app that showed them my passport, told them I didn’t declare anything, and they let me go through, it was a weird experience.
I picked up my three suitcases and ran to re-check them. The line was ridiculously long so I asked a worker if there was any way to get around the line. He said ‘here give your stuff to me.’
I look back, and I probably shouldn’t have just given away my luggage to a random man, but somehow he knew where to take it and I had my luggage waiting for me back home.
I got on the city bus, switched terminals, begged people to let me skip in front of them at security, and sprinted to the gate shown on my ticket.
If you’re not familiar with how Chicago ORD works, it’s huge. You have gates and terminals and concourses, it’s confusing. It had been so long since I had checked my gate number, and when I arrived, they informed me it had been moved to another concourse and another gate.
I took off sprinting … again, and I am not an athletic person. So here I am, running through the airport with a camera bag and a suitcase, haven’t slept in almost 48 hours, haven’t eaten anything in 24 hours, and I got lots of looks.
I showed up to the correct gate just as the lady was closing the door. Thankfully, she let me on.
I finally arrived in Springfield, and my parents took me home.
And to top off the trip, I came back with a viral infection and a parasite.
To this day, I have not gotten back on a plane. That will change next week when I go on my honeymoon. Hopefully the next time goes much smoother.