Travel Shame

I’m going to list my own travel shames and then I’m going to cast a whole lot of shame-blame. Won’t this be fun?

Here’s me when I fly

I pick my nose. All those painful crusty boogers? They have got to go. I use a Kleenex but I gotta get them out.

If there is gas, it will be passed. Sorry. Doesn’t happen often. Helps save time in the bathroom (see below: don’t take too long in the bathroom).

I pack too much in my carry-on bag sometimes. Not every time, but often it is way too heavy. Books. I’m an author and a reader. Its all books.

I get anxious. I try not to let it show and I sincerely think it is decreasing, finally. Anxious about making my connections, or about being on time for the very first flight. This means I am an early-arriver at the airport. I hate the stress of rushing. I also get anxious about finding a space for my roller-bag. I think this is because of Kenya. Anything you check runs a high, very high risk of being stolen. I do not trust the employees to leave my stuff alone. They won’t. They don’t. Experience speaking here. I get anxious about using the bathroom so I dehydrate myself. For this, I blame small, sketchy airlines and their terrifyingly filthy bathrooms. Anxious about getting hungry (ever since cancer my hunger is always a hangry and it gets scary, fast) so I bring way too much food in my bag.

No talking. I sit down and plug in, even if there’s nothing playing in my earbuds. I know soon the plane will get really loud and it will be hard to hear, I know I’m exhausted, or will be soon, and I’ve been looking forward to this long haul flight as a chance to finish a book or two. Exception, and perhaps lesson learned, the one time I did chat with the woman next to me, we hit it off so well that we got coffee a few week later, in Minnesota, and we’re still in touch. (shout out to Cathy P!)

And here’s my tips to avoid your own travel shame. (Though part of me feels like: as long as we are civil to others, kind and externally patient, a little nose-picking and farting shame aren’t so bad. We’re traveling. We’re exhausted and stinky and can’t remember what country we’re in, we don’t need to be classy or composed. Maybe that’s just me. If you run into me on an airplane, I will not be my best self.)


Judge parents of young children. They aren’t pinching them to make them cry. They didn’t give them speed to make them hyper. They also would like to sleep in peace and eat without spilling. They are more tired than you and carry the burden of loving the crying child while also carrying the burden of judgment and guilt. They are generally doing a really good job and getting small children across the planet is a serious accomplishment. If you have the chance, tell them they are doing a good job, even if the baby cried the whole flight and the toddlers block the aisle with a temper tantrum. They deserve medals, not rude stares.

Take too long in the bathroom. I don’t know what some people do in there. Well, okay, I can imagine what they are doing and we can all smell it when they come out. But if it is at all possible, do the big ones before or after your flight. I know it isn’t always possible. I know traveler’s diarrhea is a real thing. But if you can help it, hold it. You know its been a while when the passengers start making smirky eyes at each other. Well, you don’t know that, because you’re in there doing your thing, but rest assured, we’re out here making smirky eyes at each other.

Change into pajamas. I don’t know, I guess you can, if you want. But do you need to? Do you really need to change clothes (see: don’t take too long in the bathroom) in order to get a horrible sleep? It feels weird, like we’re strangers sharing a king-size bed in a hotel or something.

Overflow your carry-ons. Totally, totally overfill them. Fill them, fill them! But hide it, hide it. Pretend that 2-ton carry-on is lightweight. This is to spare yourself the judgment others might cast upon you, who probably have just as much in their carry-ons, they just packed it better. Don’t have three plastic bags stacked on top of your carry on, a backpack, and a pillow the size of a toddler. Okay, again to be honest, go ahead, have all that stuff. I don’t really care, but you will get some snarky looks and side comments behind your back. Who cares, we’re all strangers. You do you.

Barefeet. Stocking feet, questionable. Bare? Gross. I’m telling this to my very own precious and gross family, so there’s that. Seriously. There is never a good reason to go into a public bathroom in bare feet and I dare say it is problematic even in socks. Have you ever looked, I mean really looked at the floor in an airplane bathroom? Have you thought about what is likely down there? Plus, your feet stink. I know mine do after hours and hours on a plane. If you don’t have stinky feet and if you put your shoes back on to go to the bathroom, fine, take ‘em off while in your seat.

Snore. Not only is this loud and sounds painful, it reminds the rest of us that you are soundly asleep while we toss and turn. How do people manage to fall asleep so deeply on planes that they actually snore? On our most recent epic flight which took 72 hours, I slept maybe 4 hours. My husband thought I was going to lose it and I nearly did, and then he started snoring.

Take out your frustration or anger on the airline employees who are not the ones who broke your plane, lost your luggage, and do not have stinky bare feet. They are doing the best they can.


Don’t listen to me.

Do what you need to do to get through the flights as happily as you can. Its hard and you’re about to land and experience culture shock. Brace yourself. Pick, fart, stink, snore, overpack, and just get there in one piece.

What are some of your best travel tips?


10 Essential Expatriate Travel Skills

I recently met a woman who heard I have lived in the Horn of Africa for sixteen years WITHOUT AMAZON PRIME. She figured that was probably the hardest thing about those sixteen years. If she only knew…

Being sans immediate doorstep delivery of all the things does not constitute suffering in my worldview. That said, it does make expatriate life a bit more challenging and requires a bit more creativity. There are some important skills to develop. When prodigious amounts of travel are required to see your children, attend a wedding or funeral, pick up your life-saving medications, purchase new running shoes, or simply get a break in an English-speaking country, there are some important skills to develop. When navigating two worlds, there are some important skills to develop.

If you already live abroad, you know of what I speak. If you don’t, but are planning to move, here’s some skills to start developing now.

travel skills

  1. Packing the right amount of peanut butter. How long will you be away from peanut butter? How many children do you have? How lazy are you when it comes to dinner (if you’re anything like me, the answer is: very)? If you’re packing a load of this liquid gold, here’s an easy link to order it. Via Amazon. Because why not just buy the 80 ouncer?
  2. Knowing exactly what 50.0 pounds feels like. Airline staff will be impressed and you won’t have to literally spread your underwear all over the airport floor in front of everyone, re-shuffling.
  3. Accurately guessing what style and size shoes your toddler/tween/teenager will wear eighteen months from now.
  4. Purchasing the right running shoes to get through the next 2,500 miles. My go-to’s lately are Brooks Ghost and Altra trail shoes, nice and wide for my toes, and great for off-road.
  5. Sitting nearly upright for fifteen hours at a time without losing your mind.
  6. Walking off those fifteen hours in preparation for another 8-10 before doing it again, while in a cramped airport lugging carry-ons, purses, computer bags, backpacks, diaper bags, strollers, and 1-3 zombie children.
  7. Filling out visa and immigration paperwork with one hand, the paper balanced on soft-sided luggage which is balanced on top of your thigh which is leaning against the metal bars that hold up those red ropes, so that you can stand in line while filling it out instead of getting stuck at the back of a group of not-from-around-here tourists, while hollering at your children and passing out Cheerios, while holding your pee and ordering everyone else in the family to hold their pee because you are NOT going to the back of the line.
  8. Peeing from any level of squat regardless of the availability of toilet paper or hand sanitizer or bathroom stall doors or bathrooms.
  9. Calling two countries home.
  10. Knowing that ‘home’ has multiple meanings.

What have been some of your essential skills?

*image via Flickr

*contains affiliate links to things you can order on AMAZON PRIME!


What I Learned from a Five-Day Flight Fiasco

(a little bit long but here is the story of our incredible journey last weekend, in case anyone is interested in details. jet lag makes for quiet, early morning blogging hours…)

I left the United States, or tried to, Thursday August 28. I was going home. My intent was to land in Djibouti at 2:45 a.m. Sunday morning. I would pass through Chicago, Doha (Qatar), Nairobi (Kenya), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). On Saturday I had a required 22 hour layover during which I would drop my kids off at boarding school, see their new high school dorms, meet their dorm parents, and generally ensure things were off to a good start for their freshman year.

The flight from Minneapolis left almost two hours late and we were off on the adventure of a lifetime. And here is lesson number one:

We had a bad time. We weren’t suffering. Some might call what we have been through these past five days (I’ll say five because I started on Thursday and ended on Monday) suffering.

I suppose in the dictionary meaning of the word, they would be right. It was hard, stressful, exhausting, confusing, frustrating, enraging, and completely out of my control. But in the emotional sense, I feel funny calling it suffering. Every plane flew safely. We spent one night in a nice hotel on American Airlines’ dime. We spent over $200 in food vouchers on, again, American Airlines’ dime. We dealt with staff who, though not god-like in their ability to solve our problems, were empathetic and seemed genuinely concerned about our welfare.

We were not shot at, our homes were not destroyed by fire or earthquake or flood or war, we broke no bones, felt little hunger, had no sense of our lives being in danger. We weren’t victims of a crime or violence.

We were tired and sore from lugging bags (had to check and recheck them multiple times) and wanted a shower, a toothbrush (never, ever, never forget your toothbrush on international flights), and a place to lie down but that is not the same as wanting a child not to have cancer, to not have been evicted from a home, to have a reliable source of income, or a stable and functioning government.

Due to our late departure we missed our connection, by less than five minutes, to Qatar. We ran, we sweat, we pleaded but the plane taxied away before our very eyes. After retrieving our luggage, we dragged the bags to the Radisson.

Here are lesson number 2 and 3: A little calmness goes a long way and misery loves company. Another woman had to retrieve her bags because her flight had been cancelled. She was furious. She insulted the lost baggage employee, insulted the airline, called people names, yelled, and generally made a stink.

Not because of any strength of character on my own part but simply because I was already too tired to muster rage, I spoke calmly with the same employee. She made a call on my behalf to her supervisor and retrieved my bags quickly.

The other woman eventually got her bags and we wound up on the same shuttle to the same Radisson. She spent the entire time huffing to her husband about how awful the experience had been. Henry, Maggie, and I laughed about the haul we picked up from Caribou on our food vouchers. The first haul of many. Had we known, it might not have been so fun.

Misery loves company so don’t give it any. I knew that once I started down the complaining route my kids would follow. I saw this in the woman and her fellow passengers. They riled each other up, egged each other on. I was with two teenagers who could easily derail into complaining. I already don’t like flying and tend toward impatience and could easily derail myself into complaining. We all made a conscious choice that we weren’t going to get on the complain train. This was quite possibly the best thing we did.

And here is lesson number 4: Take things as they come. No sense in worrying about making that connection or meeting that bag upon arrival. You can’t do anything about it. Worrying only makes you more upset and ruins the intervening experiences.

Had we known how hard things were going to get we would not have been able to laugh at Henry talking in his sleep and asking us what we would like to drink. We would not have enjoyed pedicures (at that time I thought I would no longer leave the airport in Kenya and spent the money I would have spent on that visa on pretty toenails. I was wrong but Maggie still got pretty blue toenails). We would not have laughed at the absolutely ridiculous American television that is on in hotels after midnight.

The next afternoon we boarded our plane now heading for London instead of Qatar, now on American Airlines instead of Qatar Airways. Qatar has better movies, better food, better service, better seats, gives you toothbrushes, socks, and face masks. American Airlines gets you there. Eventually.

They get you there five hours late. Due to a dented door on the outside of the plane, we sat on the tarmac for three hours (after more than an hour delay in boarding). They got us to London but not on time to meet our next connecting flight and thus we were handed more food vouchers and rescheduled tickets. This meant I would now have to rebook my final leg to Djibouti by purchasing a new ticket.

That was possibly my lowest moment up to that time. It took about three hours and more money than I want to think about. And here is lesson number 5:

I have so much to be thankful for. I had the money, or at least the credit card, to get myself home. This is a wildly unique experience in the global scheme of things. Almost everyone in the airport (probably there were a few refugees) is a person of some kind of means. We are in an airport! I know people in Djibouti who have never been in a car. Wealth beyond compare.

We had 51 pounds to spend and had already eaten a delicious Lebanese lunch with our other voucher. The employee said, “Spend it all, girl. They should have given you more.” We ended up literally throwing fistfuls of candy bars and gingerbread men into bags, he added cookies and croissants and fruit buckets. The kids brought it to school.

To make a long story just a bit longer, I will tell you that the tears began to actually leak out when, upon arrival in Kenya, we were missing bags. The hardest one to be missing was Maggie’s bag of clothes and some medicine for a friend. She handled it well, with a passing moment of discouragement. I had to bite my tongue and rub my red eyes to keep from finally, finally yelling at an employee who had nothing to do with the missing bag and was wonderfully helpful.

No one knows where the bags are or which airline is in charge of them or what the numbers are that are attached to them. We may or may not ever see them again.

None of us will go naked. It is just stuff.

I still have one leg to go. I am writing this in good faith that I will get to Djibouti at 2:45 a.m. with no further ado.

P.S. My kids are 100% amazing. This isn’t something I learned on this trip, I was convinced over fourteen years ago. But I saw it again. They did not complain one single time. There was no whining. Not even when the bag with all the new school clothes went missing. Not even when they had to get to school a day late and miss all the first day things with friends and have less time to prepare for classes Monday. There was anxiety, frustration, disappointment. But there was also laughter, gratitude, prayer, and the verbalizing that we were making quite the great memory together. That made the entire fiasco worthwhile.

Here they are, pretending to have an awful time.

crying in heathrow

P.P.S. Kenya Airways has done a heroic job of finding our missing bags and as of this writing (I am now in Djibouti), they are on their way to their respective locations.

*image via Flickr

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