A traveler sits on a wooden bench, next to a backpack topped with a sun hat, inside of a long train station.

Tales in Transit: The Twists & Turns of World Travel

The adventure begins when you leave your house, not just when your passport gets its next stamp. Traveling has taught me that time in transit should not be taken for granted. For starters, it will not go the way you want it to. Plain and simple. The flight will be delayed, that weekday train will be completely booked (for some inexplicable reason), and a cavalcade of other hiccups is likely to occur. At the same time, those dead spaces between destinations offer a chance to disconnect from hustle culture, engage with strangers (i.e., a friend you haven't met yet), and develop a flexible resilience that will translate into other areas of your life. Allow me to demonstrate with a tale (and a few corresponding tips) from a recent, long and choppy trip. 

A wild, tree-lined beach meets the gentle sea on a sunny day.
One of the many untouched beaches of Legrena, Greece. Photo: Andrew Douglas

I had been touring Greece for the past three months, but now I needed to travel from one obscure village on the Attica peninsula to another in the French Pyrenees in order to start my next quest: hiking the Camino Francés. Crossing from Legrena, Greece, to St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France, would require two flights, two buses, three trains, and a healthy dose of walking. But first, I had to get to the Athens International Airport. Enter Yorgos – my amiable Airbnb host.

We had bonded in respectful chunks over the past month but hadn't really done a deeper dive. Now was our chance. Yorgos, a man of about 60, with dreadlocks and a fire in his soul, insisted on driving me there free of charge (and wouldn't let me pay for gas either). I learned of his four marriages, his phases of life spent in different parts of the country (and even a stint on a farm in remote Germany), his son, the famous rapper, and the time he walked the 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Athens to Legrena on a whim. I strongly doubt that any comparable conversation would have been had if I politely declined his offer and called a cab instead (as is the ingrained habit for many Westerners). 

Travel Tip #1: You can always rely on the kindness of strangers.

It was 9 pm when I slammed the rickety car door and waved off Yorgos. The first of my two flights to Barcelona didn't take off until 4:40 am, so it didn't make sense to squander my precious freelance wages on a hotel for only a few hours. This meant it was time for another round of "sleeping" on the airport floor – a right of passage for any true traveler. 

A row of empty black airport chairs in an empty terminal. The sun rises over an airport setting.
If only I could have found a place like this to sleep in Athens. Photo: Andrew Douglas.

Airports seemingly go out of their way to avoid infrastructure that is even remotely comfortable for lying down on. Don't even bother with the seated, head-on-hand tactic – you'll just waste time and end up with a wicked kink in your neck. You just have to make peace with getting down and dirty on the floor. The next step is to find a sneaky spot where you actually have a chance of being undisturbed for an extended period (not an easy find in major airports). After doing a little lap of the main terminal, I found the perfect spot behind a sign and in the shadows of some closed administrative booth. Just as I was drifting into sweet slumber, a loud phone talker decided that the other side of the sign was also the perfect spot for him to hole up. For longer than I could bear, he laughed, yelled, and sang to what sounded like a large family audience. Defeated, I quickly sought a backup nook. The dusty strip on the lee side of a row of plants would have to do. Though undisturbed by people, the airport announcements and crying babies still reverberated throughout the terminal. I slept in short spurts (better than nothing) and earned another imaginary merit badge. 

Travel Tip #2: Pack good earplugs. 

I always look forward to time in the air. It is one of the few remaining accepted scenarios in which a person can be completely unreachable. Where else can you watch an entire action movie during regular working hours? It is also the perfect time to catch up on some reading, or delve back into those nostalgic albums. On this particular occasion, I engaged in another pastime that I seldom give myself an allowance for creative writing. I wrote an entire article and a few poems that will never earn a cent or even see the light of day, but it was glorious. 

Travel Tip #3: Transportation is part of the vacation. 

As a habitual under-planner, I figured I would just work my way from Josep Tarradella (Barcelona's airport) to Barcelona-Sants and hop the next available train to Pamplona, Spain. It's a domestic line between a major European city and a popular tourist attraction, I reasoned; what could go wrong? Well, seeing as the off-season had just descended, and the price of trains was on the rise, I would have to wait four hours and pay 100 Euro for a first-class ticket (the only remaining wagon). I could have flown almost anywhere on the continent for that price. Oh well, I once again rationalized; I guess it evens out for not getting a hotel last night. Plus, the delay gave me time to eat, take a nap, brush my teeth in a public fountain (not my best look), and explore a bit of the city that I wouldn't have otherwise seen. Since I couldn't possibly do anything productive, I simply reveled in the extended period of no-expectation existence. 

A large concrete city park with a watering hole, next to the Barcelona-Sants train station
Parc de l'Espanya Industrial in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Andrew Douglas

Travel Tip #4: When things go awry, focus on silver linings. 

The cool thing about arriving late to Pamplona was that I got to walk through the streets of the Old Town on Halloween night. This Navarre, Camino town, is famous for its San Fermin Festival but apparently will take any excuse to throw a big party. The streets pulsated with costumed bar hoppers. Had I arrived earlier, I may simply have checked into my hostel and laid low for the evening, not knowing what I was missing. 

The colorful old town streets of Pamplona, Spain, littered with garbage.
The post-Halloween carnage. Pamplona sure knows how to enjoy itself. Photo: Andrew Douglas

Another happy accident occurred the following morning. Usually, there is a bus straight from Pamplona to St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port. However, given the moody mountain weather and the fact that the number of daily pilgrims drops off dramatically at the end of the summer, the route ceased two weeks prior to my arrival (something I learned only upon reaching the bus station). This forced me to detour to San Sebastián/Donostia, on Spain's northern coast, which turned out to be a remarkable city filled with beautiful surf beaches and delicious pintxos bars. Even the bus ride there was enjoyable, as it showed me a large chunk of Spanish Basque Country. Again, I never would have had these experiences if things didn't go "wrong." 

People walk a beachside boardwalk in front of a hillside Spanish old town.
La Concha Beach in San Sebastián, Spain. Photo: Andrew Douglas

Travel Tip #5: Making a plan is all well and good, but remember, sometimes things change for the better. 

The next leg of my detour brought me to Bayonne, just inside French Basque Country. This was another place I knew nothing about but was happy to be randomly tossed into. Since I once again had a few hours to kill before my final train to SJPP, I took the opportunity to hunker down in a quintessential French cafe just across from the station. I washed the afternoon down with some red wine and window gazing. Inside, there was indie singer-songwriter music playing (complete with accordion and all) and a few tables of people chatting amongst themselves. I couldn't understand any of it, but the atmosphere was warm and contrasted with the brisk, cloudy day on the other side of the glass. I thought about my upcoming three-week pilgrimage and laughed at how much effort went into simply reaching the start line. What would the Camino itself entail? 

Empty tracks underneath an overhang at a French train station.
Waiting by the tracks in Bayonne, France. Photo: Andrew Douglas

Travel Tip #6: Never stop romanticizing the world. 

All of this is, of course, a roundabout way of regurgitating the old Emerson line: "It's not the destination; it's the journey." But I wanted to give you a real-life example of this timeliness, albeit cliché, adage. Exploring the world will mean many days (collectively, to and fro) spent in limbo. So don't just muscle through them; learn to enjoy them. You never know what lessons, opportunities, and/or fun stories your time in transit will produce. In any case, one thing is for sure: it's all part of the adventure. 

Happy travels!


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