A tragic guide to completely screwing up your own travel plans

It seems fitting that the first trip I should take under the moniker of the Tragic Traveller has already descended into farce. Having been rejected from my flight due to Chinese visa regulations I could’ve sworn I wasn’t breaking, I’ve had to cough up a sizeable sum for a new ticket to Shanghai, with the added bonus of an extra six hours to kill in my home airport. It’s hard to find the humour in that when you’re feeling frazzled and forlorn in the limbo-land of Melbourne Airport, but I’m gunna try. Here’s my guide to turning your relaxing holiday into a tragicomic shitshow!

  1. Be a shameless tightarse at the expense of practicality

This point refers to my previous blog post, in which I advised you to fritter away valuable hours of your life looking for too-good-to-be-true flight offers online.

My saga started a few months ago when, heeding my own advice about cheap flights (which is both sarcastic and terrible in equal measures), I scoured SkyScanner looking for the Melbourne-to-Belgrade bargain of a lifetime. The deal I found took me via Xiamen, Shanghai and Moscow on Xiamen Airlines and Aeroflot – a sentence containing more alarming key words than a Donald Trump press conference. Nevertheless, taking it upon myself to be your irrational guide to the world of travel, I snaffled up those suspiciously cheap tickets in a heartbeat, giving myself a six-day break in Shanghai to make use of the city’s recently introduced 144-hour visa free policy.

That all came back to bite me today when, at the Xiamen Airlines check-in counter (otherwise known as the seventh circle of Hell), the attendant politely informed me that, due to the fact that my first Chinese port was Xiamen and not Shanghai, my six-day stay in Shanghai can’t be considered transit under the visa rules and I am, to paraphrase slightly, “fucked”. I was refused boarding and told to buy a last-minute flight direct to Shanghai, which I could fund by selling a kidney or carrying some headphones for her friend (lol she didn’t actually say that but props for the topical reference, right?!).

Anyway, the point is that my tightarsery in looking for the cheapest flights and opting not to get a proper visa landed me in this mess, and it’s tightarsery that will get me out of it! (actually no it won’t).

  1. Act like a dick until you get your way

This next piece of advice is actually completely useless because when it comes to being dicks, airlines will have you covered any day of the week. The only reason to carry on like a whining little shit is for the sake of catharsis; there’s no better feeling than shouting “Well my company policy is that your face is STUPID” at the smarmy attendant who was never going to give you a refund anyway.

“All wait and no flight make Nick something something …” – “Go crazy?” – “DON’T MIND IF I DO!”

My experience today has taught me that, as a passenger who’s made a bit of a fuck-up, you have absolutely zero leverage over the airline, and bargaining or complaining will get you nowhere. That said, the chance to feel justified in being an obnoxious prick is one you should grasp with both hands, even it if it gives you only the most fleeting moment of joy.

  1. Learn your lesson

About one minute after I’d been rejected from my cheap, internet-bought flight, I thought to myself: “Let’s look for another cheap, internet-bought flight.” NO! DON’T DO IT! The absolute last thing you want at this stage is to fork out another several hundred bucks on a non-refundable flight that will once again leave you “fucked”.

If there’s ever a moment you need a competent travel agent by your side, this is it. Thankfully my wonderful mum knows one and, after a few frantic calls, had found me a seat on an actual proper flight direct to Shanghai, with no chance of getting “fucked” in the process. It cost a fair bit but, in the grand scheme of things, it’s with Thai Airways, so I’ll get a decent meal and the plane probably won’t crash …

  1. Find the positives

Every cloud has its silver lining, or in this case every tablet of rat poison has its aluminium packaging. As covered in my previous point, my new flight will include at least two good meals, a comfortable seat and some in-flight movies to numb my mind with. I’ll also have access to free booze, which I’ve already decided to consume in a quantity best described as “fuckloads” to relieve stress.

It’s not just the flight – you’ve also got to find the positive side of spending a whole day stuck in an airport. I’ve always found (and this really is a fitting moment to be writing this) that airports are a great place to get work done as a freelancer. When you have seven hours in transit and LITERALLY NOTHING ELSE TO DO, you become incredibly efficient at doing all that writing you’ve been putting off for so long.

It’s also true that airports, while horrible in many ways, can actually be kind of fascinating places. Where else can you hear so many languages and see so many cultures colliding simultaneously and effortlessly? In the moments today when I haven’t had my head buried in my laptop screen, I’ve enjoyed some pretty amazing people-watching. You can see the world and all its faraway, exotic corners in the faces of the people passing in front of you. The best are the babies; when you get a wide, uninhibited grin from the little Indian girl sitting across from you in her mother’s lap, you suddenly feel as if everything might be okay after all.

  1. Get some perspective in ya

Recently, more than ever, it’s been a philosophy of mine to reflect immediately on every low moment I have and put it into perspective. That philosophy has led me to this thought: while it might be shit to have already spent about a large chunk of my trip budget without having set foot on the plane, there are many people around the world who are having a much worse day than me. At least I’m safe, I have support and the day’s events have not affected me or anybody I love in any significant way.

This is actually a moment to reflect on how amazing it is that I happen to be alive at this time, born into the set of circumstances that have even allowed me to electronically swap a set of numbers representing gold that doesn’t exist for a seat on a giant Coke can that’s about to shoot up miles into the air and land on the other side of the world. How the fuck did we even get here?? If being barred from a flight and ending up a few hundred dollars short is the worst life has to throw at me right now, then things aren’t looking too Tragic™ after all …

Love, peace and joy.


(okay that all sounded nice but god I wish I still had that money!)

PS: I can confirm that, at the moment of writing, I have a boarding pass to Shanghai and have made it through the arsehole of Australian customs. LET THE TRAGIC TRAVELS COMMENCE!

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