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When Travel Turns Into Disaster: Do’s And Don’t’s

September 30, 2018

This weekend, my friend and I headed over to Cinque Terre to hike and explore the picturesque towns.  If you have ever wanted to visit this part of the world, in my opinion, it is an absolute must.  The hikes were challenging but incredibly rewarding, the food was amazing, the views were breathtaking, and the experience is one I will carry with me forever.

But our travel plans did not run seamlessly this weekend.  After an amazing two days in Cinque Terre, the journey home to Milan took quite a turn.  Due to an oversight on our part, we boarded the wrong train. First piece of advice: DO verify the time of your train and whether or not you have a connection to catch at another station.

Despite this oversight, things went smoothly at first.  We made it to our connecting station and, having realized our mistake, decided to board the next train to Milan, since we had already purchased the ticket for an earlier one.  Luckily, there was a train leaving only a few minutes after we had arrived. 

We were pretty confident that this would work out well for us.  After all, we had purchased a ticket between the same two stations for the same type of train, from the same company.   Halfway through the ride we confidently presented our tickets to the attendant.  Unluckily for us, it turns out they do not honor a ticket for a different time, despite everything else being the same.  And thus began our confusing and rocky ride.  Second piece of advice: DO NOT attempt to buy a ticket on board of a train.  When the attendant told us the total price of a new ticket, I think I went into a brief moment of shock.  As we learned, there is a fifty-euro fee for buying a ticket on board.

While frantically trying to figure out what we could do, we asked if we could just get off at the current stop instead of remaining for the course of the train.  Thankfully, our attendant was kind enough to let us off without having to pay.  After the initial relief of saving my bank account, more panic set in.  We had no idea where we were or how to get back to Milan.  After consulting with the employee at the ticket office, it was determined there was no way to get to Milan that night as the next train was at 5 o’clock the following morning.  Third piece of advice: if you find yourself in this situation, DO NOT contemplate how bad it would be to find a comfortable bench to wait on for 10 hours instead of brainstorming other ways to get home at a reasonable time.

Suddenly the officer at the ticket window frantically waved us over: there was a train departing that instant from the station heading to a nearby station in Genova, where we could catch a train to Milan and be home before midnight.  We immediately bought the tickets and asked hurriedly which platform it left from.  Unfortunately, the employee did not seem to know off the top of his head.  So, we decided to run and figure it out ourselves.  When we went up to one platform we saw the train at the opposite platform and immediately turned and sprinted back.  The train pulled away just as we attempted to open the door to board.  Needless to say, we did not make that train.  Fourth piece of advice: it is probably best not to purchase a ticket for a train leaving at that exact moment if you do not know which platform it will be leaving from.

There was another train leaving ten minutes later, terminating at the station directly before the station we needed to get to in Genova.  A quick Google search showed we could take the metro between those two stations, and would probably have just enough time to run to the train to Milan and hop on.  The only issue was, this new train was set to arrive at that station at 21:02.  The metro was set to depart at 21:03. Fifth piece of advice: DO be crazy enough to keep trying, even if the odds seem set against you.

We found the metro area, sprinted to our train, and slid on just as the doors were about to close.  Not daring to believe our luck, we tried not to get our hopes up too high.  We would still be tight for time in getting to the train bound for Milano, and definitely wouldn’t have time to purchase a ticket at the ticket machines.  But again, time worked in our favor and we were able to hop onto the last train to Milano mere seconds before it was set to pull out of that station.

At this point, we weren’t sure what to do.  We didn’t want to pay another fifty-euro fine, and we didn’t want to be kicked off of a second train in one day.  But, we didn’t have tickets, and the train had already pulled out of the station.  There was no going back.

Sixth piece of advice: DO be honest.  We decided the best way to handle the situation was to find the conductor and explain exactly what had happened, asking to get new tickets for this train, and pray they’d give us a break on the fine this time around.

My friend and I were exceedingly lucky in this regard.  The staff on board was extremely kind, and I think they took pity on two (growingly desperate) American girls travelling.  I think they also appreciated our attempts at speaking Italian instead of immediately launching into English and assuming they’d understand.  Whatever it was, they did allow us to purchase tickets without the fine.  Disclaimer: just because it worked out for us this time, this is definitely not going to always be the case.  If you attempt to purchase a ticket on board a train, be prepared to face the consequences!

This experience, while stressful and a little bit scary, taught me a lot about navigating travel in a foreign country.  It made me realize that things can and do go very wrong sometimes, but there will almost always be something you can do to make things right again.  Last piece of advice: never give up hope and always try to think as logically as possible in the face of pressure.

My friend and I are travelling again next weekend, this time internationally.  Let’s hope we’ve learned our lesson this time around.  Until then – un abbraccio!

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