Have you ever gone on a perfectly amazing trip, then had such a frustrating experience returning home that those amazing vibes are fully extinguished by the time your suitcase has been shoved across the threshold of your front door as you collapse in exhaustion, barely managing to brush your teeth before passing out in your bed, the memories of your trip now left with a permanent asterisk noting the headache of your return? No? Just me? Come, now. I know this has happened to every traveler. You can tell just from standing around an airport, observing the frustration of others as you wait out your own flight delay.
My friends have heard me speak ad nauseam about my love for Edinburgh, so much so that I’m sure they hear bagpipes when they see me approach. But what they don’t know is that my first trip to Scotland ended with me sitting on the floor of the Newark airport, on the verge of going bonkers as I rode out a five hour delayed connection for a forty-five minute flight home on a commuter plane. My outbound flight had been so easy, with a brief layover between Baltimore and Newark before I boarded the flight to Edinburgh and discovered that I had the entire row to myself on the overnight flight. The woman on the other side of the aisle had her entire row to herself as well, and we toasted each other with our complimentary wine before stretching out across our respective three economy class seats and watching movies until we fell asleep. I arrived in Edinburgh refreshed and ready for my adventure.
When I decided to return to Scotland the next year, I was determined to avoid the Newark experience. I booked a flight from Baltimore to Edinburgh with a layover in Reykjavik, and it was perfect. While I didn’t get much time to sleep before my arrival in Iceland, I appreciated the quick flight and the opportunity to freshen myself up at the airport and grab a coffee and muffin from Joe and The Juice. After a brief nap on the flight to Edinburgh, my coffee kicked in just as we arrived and I was once again ready for my adventure. Returning home was just as easy, and this truly was the ideal travel experience, one that I would have absolutely loved to replicate as I planned another trip to Scotland this fall. Except that I couldn’t, because the flight was on WOW Air, which has gone out of business.
WOW Air flew out of Baltimore, and I live just fifteen minutes from BWI. Reykjavik was a convenient layover, so if I wanted to book a similar flight, I could make the hour drive to Washington Dulles and fly Icelandair to Glasgow. When I flew on Icelandair last year from Dulles to Stockholm, everything went smoothly on the outbound trip. I got my coffee and muffin at Joe and The Juice before my connecting flight to Sweden. On the way back, I grabbed lunch from there as well. But the flight back to Dulles dampened my great trip vibes. Due to stormy weather, we ended up circling DC for an hour before we were able to land. By the time I made it through customs and onto the shuttle for the long-term parking lot to get my car, I was exhausted. My watch read 2 a.m. Stockholm time, and my body concurred, which made for a very stressful long drive home in the rain. Did I want to risk putting myself in that situation again? I didn’t rule it out, and knew I could always find another ride home. But still, I thought there had to be another way.
While picking up my sister at BWI one day, I noticed the signs advertising direct flights on British Airways between London and Baltimore, and the lightbulb went off. That’s how I’d plan my perfectly efficient trip. With a direct flight home from London to Baltimore, I would avoid the curse of the return flight buzz-kill. So I booked a plane ticket, then mapped out my journey via train up towards Edinburgh, with a few stops in between. As I planned my trip chronologically, it was only after everything else had been booked that I realized that the final leg of my journey, the train ride from Edinburgh to London, would be six hours long. I had assumed it would be shorter, similar to the travel time between Washington and New York. There’s something about crossing that four hour mark on a train that’s really, really long.
I knew I could fly the route instead, but, inspired by Greta Thunberg and the flight-shaming movement, I decided against this option. Surely, I would enjoy the scenic journey, wouldn’t I? I could have restructured my itinerary, effectively start all over and allow a day to explore a town in between, thereby breaking the six hour trip into two three hour trips. But then I would be taking away from the other plans I had made. I would just have to handle a six hour train ride, followed by a seven hour flight home the next day. I could do it. I just had to keep a stiff upper lip, keep calm and carry on, eat the beans on toast, so to speak.
And then I received an email that my flight from Baltimore to London was canceled due to the pilot’s strike. I had three options on such short notice. I could buy a ticket from Baltimore to London on Virgin Airlines, but I had used my credit card points for the British Airways ticket, and having to now purchase a ticket would put me well over budget. I could use my points for a different ticket, but the only flight left was an Air Canada flight with a five hour layover in Montreal. While technically an option, this was far from my goal of going to Scotland and coming back with vacation vibes intact. My third option was to cancel the entire trip. British Airways was offering a full refund, and as I considered what to do, I saw this as a sign to start over. All this effort to rebook a flight to London and deal with a six hour train ride, when my destination was actually Edinburgh. So I canceled my trip.
I thought I had finally figured out the best way to get to Scotland and back. But by prioritizing the perfect flight home, I had shifted my potential for headaches and buzz-kills onto the trip itself. I thought back to that layover in Newark, and how I ended up sitting on the floor near the gate. How I closed my eyes, tuned out the world for a bit, and gathered my thoughts. How I reflected on my trip, on the people I met, on the experiences I had enjoyed. Yes, the delay was frustrating, but it really was a great trip. I’d do it all over again.