I've shared a lot of my adventures in Asia, but I've deliberately left out some of the rougher patches. It's a lot more fun to talk about seeing elephants than the four hours we and I stood in line to get our Thai visas, packed in like sardines in 100-degree heat and slowly fighting our way through the mob to the front of the room with our 50-pound bags. In fact, I swore not to talk about that experience ever again. Whoops. At any rate, I've decided that I share a few lessons learned on the road, so I'm not glamorizing my travels too much.
I've had a few terrible nights here. The first was when an earthquake hit at 3:45 a.m. in Taipei when we were asleep in an 8th-floor apartment. I staggered to my phone and saw an email from a travel buddy that her work might not let her make the trip after all. I stayed up the rest of the night watching CNN and replanning the trip, unable to shake my anxiety that another earthquake would topple the building. I was used to quakes in California but didn't know whether the apartment had been built according to safety standards. In the end, it was fine.
Another unhappy night began when I flew from Tokyo to Taiwan before departing for Cambodia the next morning. My friend had a similar layover, and we were planning to meet up and sleep in the airport. However, upon arrival in Taiwan I was ushered through tonget my visa, pick up my checked bags, and go through customs before checking in for my next flight. I was suddenly in the arrival hall at 23:00 with three heavy bags, unable to call or locate my friend and clearly not allowed to sleep where I stood. I desperately wanted to sleep before my day in Cambodia the next day, and the departure hall was closed until morning. At 12:30 I gave up on messaging my friend, who was clearly safely ensconced in the terminal, and joined a young family in booking hotel rooms and taxis from a man closing his hotel kiosk. It cost $100 including taxi rides, a huge amount for one person in Taiwan, but I paid it and hopped in the shares taxi. Six hours later I was back at the airport.
This experience taught me a lesson. Sometimes plans you felt sure of will fail, and I am an adult who has to figure out a solution. I can't expect someone else to jump in and explain everything. Sometimes, you just have to bite the bullet and get yourself a hotel room. I feel that at these moments of panic in the middle of the night, I've come into my adulthood in a new way. I can do what needs to be done, make unhappy decisions under pressure. While it might have been really stressful, I think those moments are among the most valuable of the trip as they taught me how self-sufficient I am. Hopefully my last few days in Thailand will be smooth sailing, but there are always wrinkles that come up when you travel in a foreign country, and I feel like I'm ready for them.