As part of a Tuesday Travel series, we had Erika Wagner (aka Wags) tell us about her longest adventure ever. If you have any great travel stories, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org; we love to hear from our amazing community!
By Erika Wagner
On December 8th, 2017, circumstances found me suddenly jobless due to a massive layoff and restructure at my previous company—a pretty dismal experience right before the holidays. In this unfortunate experience, serendipity threw me a bone: that same day, I called Adriana at VC Ultimate and asked if there was room on their Australia team for U24 and she said yes! Had it been a few days later, flights would have been prohibitively expensive. Even with that fortunate timing, we were already cutting it close; I was tasked with finding a flight for less than $1500 round-trip with only 28 days until takeoff.
Dear readers, these are the circumstances that led me to 70 hours in the air and 64 hours in layovers in order to make it to and from Australia in a month.
Over 130 hours in travel time adds up, but I’ll spare you all the nitty gritty details. Instead, here are a few highlights (and lowlights) from the craziest travel itinerary I’ve ever experienced.
When you’re trapped in a metal tube of recycled air for 14 hours with 200 other people in the height of the flu season, and running on very little sleep, getting sick can be a little tough to avoid. In the 13th hour of a 14-hour flight to China, my sniffles turned into more of a hot and feverish sort of feeling, but I just figured I was tired from the traveling. This is how I almost got quarantined in Asia – hooray!
Turns out China has technology to read your temperature as you come off the flight before getting to customs. I was stopped by an agent who spoke enough English to tell me “temperature too high”, but unable to tell me anything else. I was about to start a 15-hour layover in Xiamen, so I was thinking quarantine might not be that bad if it meant a comfy bed in a quiet room for the duration of my layover!
I think the language barrier was a blessing and a curse. The agent didn’t understand my questions about what quarantine entailed, so I’ll never know the potential comfortable relaxation I missed out on. On the other hand, I think my generally chipper demeanor, despite not understanding a word I was saying, led him to think that maybe I wasn’t so sick after all. After removing all my extra layers, splashing water on my face to cool off, and walking through the temperature reader another 7 times, he eventually just had me cover my pulse on my neck, which tricked the machine enough for me to get through and head to customs. This could have been a way different story if he spoke more English or if I spoke Chinese, but I’m fine with it just being that time I almost got quarantined in China.
This one just shocked me in general. I have a United Explorer Card which has no foreign transaction fees, so in previous travel for VC Ultimate, I’ve always withdrawn a small amount of cash and then put everything else on the card.
Not the case in China! A lot of their registers don’t have any way to read credit card chips, so after barely escaping quarantine, I found there was only one shop and one restaurant that would accept my card in the whole airport. Even the McDonalds didn’t take credit card—and that was my fallback plan! If you’re traveling to China anytime soon, bring some cash to convert or be prepared to survive your layover on cough drops, chips, and tea from the layover lounge like I foolishly did.
If you’ve ever traveled internationally for ultimate, you probably already know this: ultimate players are very generous with housing other ultimate players. After U24’s, I flew to Sydney and stayed with a friend I had met back in Italy during WUCC in 2014. Even though we had only spoken 1-2 times per year since 2014, their household was warm, welcoming, and it helped fill-up my few days there with sightseeing and new friends!
Even more incredibly, they set me up with a place to stay in Melbourne with people I had never even met before! How awesome is the ultimate community that you can go to a foreign country, stay with strangers, and still find that you immediately have mutual friends and interests and so much to talk about! It seems like no matter how much ultimate grows, the community’s vibe still stays the same. After a few brews on Australia Day, I may have invited every single Australian ultimate player to stay at my place in Chicago before WUCC...and I hope they do so that I can return all the hospitality I experienced!
Truly does look like a wonderful network to us!
If You’re Friendly, You Go Farther
This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing what you can learn if you’re friendly with people, despite a language barrier. My trip back through China was much smoother than the way there: a helpful Canadian man informed me of Xiamen’s little-known free hotel room for overnight layovers, and directed me to some attractions to see the next day. Thank goodness we were next to each other in customs!
After scoring a free snooze, I woke up refreshed and with about 8 hours to check out Xiamen before heading to the airport for the next leg. This is where friendliness really broke down those language barriers. The hotel staff used their smart phones to translate and explain how to take the bus into town (pro tip: use Google Maps when you have Wi-Fi and the map will stay loaded with your location even when you leave Wi-Fi). For each country I visit, I collect a French children’s novel called The Little Prince, so finding a bookstore was at the top of the list (I’m up to 14 books in my collection, largely thanks to VC Ultimate!). At the bookstore, a shy clerk tried to help me, but I struggled to communicate what I was looking for. I left and found Wi-Fi (and a funny latte) at a Hello Kitty café and snagged a picture online of the Chinese cover of the book, and when I returned, she was excited to help me. After that, she started asking me questions about where I was from and telling me where she’d like to visit—it turns out her English was actually pretty good, she was just a little nervous at first! It ended up being lovely speaking with her about traveling and books, and even though we were still slightly limited by the language barrier, being friendly and patient helped lead to a conversation I never expected! On the other hand, some people definitely don’t have any hidden English, which is fine too: I said “airport terminal three please” to my taxi driver and we had a hilarious miming competition, including airplanes, pointing, and hand signals to make sure we understood each other.
Traveling is awesome, although it doesn’t always work out how you think it will. Roll with the punches, expect things to change, and always remember you are representing your country and culture to people around the world. While things like taking public transit in a foreign country with minimal English can be a bit scary (especially when you realize you didn’t ask how to get back), you end up with a richer experience because of it. We’ve got some exciting international events coming up soon on a global stage—if you’ll be traveling to North America in the coming months, now is the time to use our unique and wonderful network of athletes to see spectacular sights and meet people you never would have otherwise. I just hope you don’t have to spend over 100 hours in transit to do it =]
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