I felt prepared when I walked into JFK airport on September 4, 2022.
Apprehensive, yes, but prepared.
I had managed to fit three and a half months of necessities inside a single checked bag and a carry-on. Six pairs of pants, a dress, two skirts, twelve shirts, twenty-two pairs of underwear, a bra, socks, all of my makeup, copies of all my documentation, a camera, two lenses, a flash attachment, film, a laptop, four pairs of shoes, a fine leather jacket, toiletries, plug adaptors, cables, notepads, two books, pens, two vials of nail polish, a small purse, a towel, a small seashell, a tumbled stone, my wallet, my passport, my sunglasses.
It was all there.
Saying goodbye to my parents and my baby brother was hard, but I knew that I would see them again. I would return. I had bought my tickets round trip. I would again be in JFK on Saturday, December 17th. This much was certain, and it comforted me. I was prepared to be alone in Italy, because I was prepared to eventually come home.
Saying goodbye to my checked bag was harder, however. I had a strange sensation that I would not, in fact, be seeing it again.
The clerk ticketed my bag and shoved it onto the rolling rubber belt behind her.
Leather jacket. Six pairs of pants. Twelve shirts. Makeup.
Toothpaste, toothbrush, shampoo (2 bars), conditioner, facewash, body soap, moisturizer, lotion, skin creams, razor, shaving cream, clippers, micellar water.
JFK airport on September 4th remains as the most recent time I saw my checked bag.
I have never flown alone before, and I have never been to Europe. I bought a passport, a visa, paid for program fees, made flight reservations, and ordered new luggage with locking zippers. I was afraid, but my planning was thorough. I would be okay, it was certain.
When my flight from JFK got delayed, however, the spiraling began. I might miss my connecting flight at my layover in Amsterdam. I might arrive in Florence after my new classmates are long gone on the 2 p.m. schoolbus. I might have to travel alone. It might be night when I make it to Siena.
If my flight is rescheduled, where will my checked bag go?
I missed my connecting flight in Amsterdam. I was given a new boarding pass. Was my luggage given a new tag? How could I possibly know? One layover became two: first in Amsterdam, then in Zurich. When I got to Zurich, a nagging feeling gripped me - a feeling similar to that sensation I felt when handing the clerk in JFK my tagged, checked bag. It was a feeling of being severed from myself somehow. In Zurich, I could feel that my bag was no longer with me.
I called Delta. They told me to call Royal Dutch. I called Royal Dutch. They told me to call Swiss. Swiss told me to call the Zurich airport. Zurich kept me on hold until I boarded my final flight from Zurich into Florence. I had no reception. I realized I forgot my neck pillow on the flight out of Amsterdam. I sat anxiously in the aisle seat, head perked up, staring at the clouds piled beneath the plane, watching as the Swiss Alps scraped through their tops.
I was looking out through a moving window at the Swiss Alps, possibly the most beautiful thing to ever grace my eyes, and my mind could not leave my checked bag.
Florence, September 5th, 6:48 p.m. Baggage claim.
The semi-circular conveyor belt rolled out bag after bag. Luggage emerged from behind a wall, passing with a foreboding silence through thick rubber flaps. Travelers lifted their suitcases from the assemblage. None were mine.
The spiraling continued. I couldn’t figure out when I last ate in lieu of my changing timezone. Had it been 8 hours? 12? How long ago did I last sleep? How am I getting to Siena without my group? Where is my bag? Where are my clothes, my toiletries, my makeup, my wall adaptors? Will my phone die? I began to lose my composure. Tears started to roll. I was too shot at this point for thinking. I crouched in a bathroom for 20 minutes, feeling stupid for believing all my planning could fly me overseas unscathed. The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
I leave the bathroom, red and puffy, and wait online at the Lost & Found Kiosk, conveniently located right across from the baggage claim. 8:00 p.m. comes and passes. The last public bus leaving Florence for Siena has gone. I am offered a ziplock bag of unsalted roasted nuts by a stranger, which I reluctantly accept. I am offered a bed in another stranger's Airbnb, which I kindly refuse. I eat bland nuts from a gallon-sized bag. I reach the front of the kiosk line and fill out a form. I am meant to trust that this piece of paper will ensure the safe delivery of my bag to IES Abroad Siena headquarters. I inquire about staying in the airport overnight, to wait for my bag. The receptionist urges me to go home, to go to Siena.
My phone dies.
There are no stores open with wall adaptors to buy. Nobody I ask has one to spare.
Riding the night train alone is out of the question. I’m delirious. I’m an obtuse American stranded in Florence. Beneath a haze of self-pity and sleep deprivation, I almost feel embarrassed.
I sit at a cafe bar in the airport and order a glass of wine. This is my final course of action.
To my right, three older Italian men leaning against the bar counter in front of three shots of espresso tell me that I’m drinking at a bad time, which confuses me because it is now 9:30 p.m.—an entirely appropriate time to drink wine and a rather unusual time to be drinking espresso.
I entertain their conversation. What they meant was that I shouldn’t be drinking when I’m upset. I wonder if my face is still puffy from crying.
They listen to me explain the past day and a half of my life. They begin suggesting hotels for me in Florence, which devolves into them bantering with each other about which place is the best one, the closest one, and the cheapest one.
I hand my journal to one of them, a round man wearing an airport ID badge over a tight white tee, and ask for an address. He impassionedly scribbles on a blank page.
VIALE GUIDONI PALAZZI ROSSI B&B
He then walks me to the cab station adjoining the Florence airport, where three smudged white cars are lined up along a curb. Cabbies lift luggage into the trunks. Travelers duck their heads and crawl into back seats. My new friend from the bar leads me to a large white van, and against the better judgment of my mother, I allow him and the cab driver to escort me inside.
I should remind you that at this point I am delirious with sleep deprivation. So delirious was I that my American preconception of the notorious, dangerous large white van would never enter my mind. I should also clarify that it is typical for cabs leaving the Florence airport to be white vans.
My cab driver asks what I’m doing here, in Florence, and I explain myself again.
I’m a student. I’m meant to be in Siena right now. I arrived in Florence seven hours later than I had planned. I waited for two hours at the Lost & Found Kiosk just to write my school’s address and my contact information on a white sheet of paper. My phone is dead. I haven’t slept in a long time. My mom must be worried.
He asks if I would like to be driven to Siena instead, for 150 Euros.
Too tired to care, I agree. Yes, please take me to Siena.
He hands me a pad of paper and asks me to write down my 15 favorite songs. I can think of only three. I do as I was asked and return the paper. He plays the first song, and then hands me his phone, imploring me to call my program director and my mother. Let them know you’re safe, let them know you’re coming.
Siena, September 7th, 6:00 p.m. My apartment.
I thought I was prepared, but I was not. Being prepared isn’t about packing enough clothes or soap. It’s about being flexible, being aware, and being resilient. It’s about expecting the unexpected. It’s about problem solving.
And, it’s about packing some basic necessities in your carry-on.
Again, expect the unexpected.
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My name is Olivia Bozuhoski, and I am a Boston-based Arts Administration student. I love painting, reading, journaling, hiking, wine, and learning about art history. I am thrilled to be in Italy this semester, and even more thrilled to be sharing the experience with students like myself.