For spring break, we were given two weeks off from classes, the first week being a week of break and the second week intended for us to have time to catch up on our studies. Since a trip back to the states is too expensive and not really practical for only two weeks, going home for spring break (or, spring holiday as it is called here) was never really on the table. Besides, I’m surrounded by friends in Europe–I would rather take advantage of this time! So I hatched a plan with a couple of my friends to visit Madrid.
Months ago, I had made plans to go to Copenhagen later in the break, so we coordinated our trips so that I could go to Madrid for the first four days of break, then fly to Copenhagen and meet my other friend there. We booked the flights through Ryanair and started to look forward to the big day. I have studied Spanish for seven years now, and this would be my first time in a Spanish speaking country. I was thrilled by the idea of being able to use this beautiful language to meet people and see a bit more of the world.
We began to prepare. Unless you want to pay an arm and a leg to check luggage, Ryanair allows for one bag that must fit under the seat in front of you and must be smaller than 40 x 20 x 25 cm. That gave us all the first challenge of the trip: how to pack for a week abroad in one small backpack. I packed my little
hand towel, as I always do, partly because The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy taught me always to travel with a towel, but more importantly, I never know what hostels will have towels, if they will charge me for use, or what might happen on our travels. A towel almost always comes in handy. I didn’t have enough room for another pair of shoes, but I also really wanted a backup pair. So, I tied the laces of my Converse together and tied them to the back of my backpack. I felt like quite the adventurer when I slung my pack over my shoulder and left my apartment for the next week.
On the day that we went to the airport, everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. Our first bus was late getting to the bus stop because of protests in the city center. Slightly disoriented, we went to the wrong bus stop for the connecting bus and missed that one too, having to wait for the next one. When we finally got to the airport, I had to go to the check in counter to get my ticket printed because I do not have an EU digital Covid certification, having been vaccinated against Covid in the US. My friend discovered that the airline had printed his English name instead of his Chinese name on his ticket, so as it didn’t match his passport, he had to have it reprinted for an exorbitant fee. Then, my ticket didn’t work properly at security. One of our party got through the security line, and we sent him ahead to try to hold the doors and tell the Ryanair employees that WE WERE COMING!!
When I did finally get up to the security check, my belongings were flagged for further search, and as my friend and I shifted from foot to foot, the security staff slowly and methodically searched every part of my backpack. Through a haze of panic, I wondered if the employees were moving purposefully slowly. Maybe they wanted to see me cry.
Finally, the woman searching my belongings nodded that I was cleared, and my friend and I grabbed all of my belongings and RAN. Our phones dinged with texts from our other friend telling us that we better hurry up, everyone had already boarded the plane. The texts were a little unnecessary of course–we were already sprinting as fast as we could, doing our utmost to keep all of my belongings gathered since we hadn’t bothered to stop and arrange them before we fled from security. As I often do in high pressure or tense situations, I started to talk to my beloved late Grandpa in my head: Grandpa, if you can, please hold that door for us, please help us get on the plane!
When we finally reached the gate, it was mostly deserted save for the two employees, with a red final boarding warning blinking across the screen. We tripped over ourselves pulling out ID, tickets, and passports, then looked around and realized that we were still missing one member of our party. A moment later, he rounded the corner, and as we wiped the sweat from our brows and gulped air, he pulled out his ID and scanned his ticket.
“You better hurry…” the Ryanair employees warned, and (not needing to be told twice) we hustled onto the tarmac. Minutes later, as I sat in my seat and the plane taxied and began to lift off, I reflected on all the ways we could have missed that plane and our entire adventure. A memory of Grandpa floated back to me. When I started studying a foreign language at age nine, Grandpa told me that if I ever became fluent in a language, he would take me on a trip to a country that spoke that language so I could use it in the real world. Perhaps the fact that we made it on that plane was a product of luck and pure determination. Or maybe Grandpa was making sure he would take me on that eye-opening, life changing trip he told me he would.