I’ve always been hilariously accident-prone when I travel. I’ve missed flights, hopped on trains going the wrong direction, and once got so lost I walked myself into another city. My trip to France two months ago was no exception.
I went to France to visit my two friends I never get to see, one of which didn’t know I was coming, so it was going to be a really cute surprise. If, of course, I managed to get there.
To go to my friends’ house, I had to fly into Paris and then take three trains. I found an amazing flight deal to Paris (shoutout to Norwegian Airlines!), showed up to the airport early, and managed to make all my connections with no drama.
I was sitting on Train #3, gazing out the window at the lush French countryside, two stops away from my destination, and starting to feel pretty proud of myself for traveling for fourteen hours so far with zero issues. Guess my travel shitshow days are over, I thought cockily to myself. (Can one think cockily? If so, that’s definitely what I was doing). I’m literally two stops away. There’s literally no way I can f**k this up now!
Spoiler alert: there was.
Since I was sitting there thinking cockily and everything, I cockily apparently also thought I could suddenly read French. My train ticket was entirely in French, and my uninformed interpretation of what it said was that I had a 20 minute layover in the second-to-last stop before going on to the final destination. Turns out what it actually said was that I had to get off the train I was on, change trains, wait for 20 minutes, and then get on another totally separate train that went to my final destination.
Well, I didn’t do that.
Two minutes after the train started moving again, I thought I might as well just pull up my Google Maps and make sure that I was going in the right direction still. Even though I knew that of course I was, since I was suddenly a seasoned travel who didn’t get lost and could read French and everything.
Except, the blue location dot on my map told a different story. It definitely looked like it was moving pretty far away from Thiviers. Like, in the opposite direction.
There was WiFi on the bus (and I also had my trusty OneSimCard so I would have data either way), so I quickly Googled how to ask “excuse me, does this train go to Thiviers?” in French.
I sheepishly showed the result to the guy sitting next to me, who took his headphones out, frowned and said “do you speak English?” 🤦🏻♀️
I said, “Yes, sorry, does this train go to Thiviers?”
“No,” he said, “you had to get off at the last stop.”
“Oh,” I said, processing this information. “Um, sorry. Do you know where we’re going now?”
“Brive-la-Gaillarde,” he said, “it’s the last stop of the night. Maybe you can get a train in the morning,” and put his headphones back in.
I called my friend to explain what had happened. He said Brive-la-Gaillarde was 70 miles from where he lived, and that I would probably have to stay in Brive-la-Gaillarde for the night and take a train in the morning. He said he would research hotels for me and call me right back. That’s a good friend right there.
BUT THEN, right when we hung up, my phone screen went completely black. I’d been charging it, and it was at 80 percent, but all of a sudden, the screen just went black and it wouldn’t turn back on. So now I was headed to a random French town with no idea of where I was staying the night and no way to contact anyone once I got there. See what I mean by accident-prone?
The poor guy next to me saw me hitting my phone and unplugging it and plugging it back in, and took his headphones out again.
“Bad luck,” he noted.
“This always happens when I travel,” I said, frantically pushing the power button on my phone to no avail.
“Do you need to make a call?” he offered, motioning to his phone. I’d been talking to my friend on Facebook Messenger, so I didn’t know his number. I did have his mom’s phone number written down, but of course it was in a note in my phone. Which was, you know. Not turning on.
After ten or so minutes, my phone magically turned back on. The guy next to me, entirely headphone-less and invested in my drama at this point, cheered as I breathed a sigh of relief and audibly instructed my phone “don’t do that to me again!”
My friend had messaged me and confirmed that I was indeed on the last train in or out of Brive-la-Gaillarde for the night. He also said he had found a hotel for me a 5 minute walk from the station, and I could pay with my bank card once I got there. I thanked him and apologized for being such a mess.
About 15 minutes later, we arrived at our destination. Not the destination I had intended, but a destination. I started laughing as I stepped off the bus. I would end up spending the night in the wrong town on accident.
Walking to my hotel with my trusty blue blue backpack as I watched the sun set pink and orange over the town, I started to think this wasn’t the worst thing. I got a funny story, a new city, and a pretty sunset. Plus, my last-minute hotel room was only $40.
When I got settled in, I bought a train ticket out of the town for 10:10 a.m. the next morning. My friend told me to get a ticket into a different station than before, because it was a more popular station with more trains coming in and out, and therefore less of a chance for me to f**k it up
OR SO WE THOUGHT.
I set an alarm for the morning with the note “YOU CAN’T MISS YOUR TRAIN!!!!” When it went off around 9 a.m., I chuckled as I turned it off. There was literally no way I’d miss this train, not after the s**itshow of the previous day. That was just not happening. Also, I don’t know if you know this, but I can speak French. Oui.
I left around 9:30 in search of breakfast before the train, as I hadn’t eaten in roughly 24 hours. I started leisurely walking while admiring the streets and the colorful array of rainbow umbrellas that decorated them. It really is a cute town. 10/10 a good place to get lost and spend the night.
My hotel was a 5 minute walk from the train station, and I found a croissant place that was a 5 minute walk in the other direction, but 5 minutes there and 5 minutes back still put me at the train station like half an hour early. Right?
Sure, in theory. Except for one small detail.
When I stepped off the train in Brive the previous evening and looked up the directions to the hotel, Google Maps said my starting point was just “Brive-la-Gaillarde.” In an effort to retrace my steps, as to not get lost again, because that would be just ridiculous, I put my destination as “Brive-la-Gaillarde.”
But wait, I swear I’ve seen these rainbow umbrellas before. And I’ve definitely passed this Subway sandwich shop like three times. Is…yep, this map is leading me in circles. And now it’s 9:50 a.m.
An older man and a woman walking by saw me frantically power walking with my large blue backpack on my back and a croissant in my hand and looked at me quizzically. “Excusez-moi,” I said. They stopped. I smiled and sheepishly mimicked a person driving a car for some reason, and then shrugged with my arms out as if to ask “Where?”
The guy looked at me as if, well, as if I was a lost American girl with a large blue backpack eating a croissant and playing bad charades. But the woman, by some miracle, got what I was saying. “La gare!” she exclaimed. Yes! That word had been on my ticket! Maybe it meant station!
“C’est une distance,” she said, and held her hands up with her fingers splayed out like people normally do when they’re trying to say “ten.” Maybe I can’t speak French, but I understood that this meant it was a ways to go, like ten minutes. Challenge accepted.
“Merci beaucoup!” I said, and ran off in the direction she pointed, typing “gare” into my Google Maps as I did so. “Gare de Brive” popped up, and it was a 13 minute walk. And also 9:55 a.m. I started running.
I got to the station at 10:12. Even though I know this sounds like my first rodeo, I promise it’s not, and I’ve been on enough trains throughout Europe to know that if it says the train is leaving at 10:10, the train is physically pulling out of the station at 10:10 exactly.
I ran to the ticket booth for another round of charades, which luckily the attendant seemed to find hilarious. Through finger pointing and my sudden ability to definitely not speak French but understand a little of it, I was able to understand that yes, I had indeed missed my train, the next one was in three hours, and I could use the ticket I had bought for the 10:10 train, so I didn’t have to buy a new one!
I called my friend, told him the bad news, and apologized three thousand times. We laughed it off and he said I wasn’t allowed to leave the station. Fair enough.
After 48 hours of travel, and 24 hours later than I was supposed to get there, I finally got to my originally intended destination.
I spent the next four days with my two friends I never get to see, and my whole 48 travel mishap saga was worth it.