My 36 hours of travel before arriving safely at my Couchsurfing hosts' apartment in Beijing was admittedly not the most enjoyable experience I've ever had. It started with Frontier Airlines making me check both my bags and pay $25 for each. Apparently this was because I booked my tickets through a third party. Oh well, what can you do right? Tip: Scan every inch of that fine print. I had no idea booking through a third party gave me a different type of ticket. Next, my flight out of Kansas City was delayed four hours due to maintenance. In the meantime I met a stylish woman who had been to Beijing on an executive MBA program and told me about how to work frequent flyer miles and such. Tip: Talk to strangers.
The delay was a bit of a problem considering I had two more connecting flights. Frontier did a decent job of managing this though. They gave everyone vouchers for a hotel in Denver should we miss our connecting flights as well as vouchers for dinner, a snack, and breakfast in the morning. It almost made up for the check bag fiasco. Almost. Luckily, my flight out of Denver was also delayed. I was one of the first ones off plane 1 and last one on plane 2. It took off about 10 minutes after I sat down. Talk about cutting it close! Tip: If you will be cutting it close to catch your connecting flight, ask the flight attendant if you can sit near the front during landing so you can be one of the first ones off. It helped!
On my way to LA I sat next to Zahir, who just finished acting school in New York and was headed back home. We ended up talking the entire two hour flight. It was probably the best part of my whole travel experience. Tip: Talk to strangers!
We landed in LA at midnight, with my flight to Beijing leaving at 12:40. By the time I got my luggage and made it to the Air China desk, there wasn't a soul in sight. Needless to say, I missed it. The Air China phone line wasn't open until the next morning and there wasn't another incoming flight until 9:30 am. So a night on the floor of LAX it had to be. Tip: If you have to sleep in a public place wrap the handles and straps of your bags around you so they can't be easily taken. Sit against a wall, preferably a corner, and sleep on your suitcase if need be.
During the night I pulled out my laptop to discover it had been cracked and the screen rendered useless due to the rough treatment checked bags usually go through. I hadn't even WANTED to check that bag! It was about this time I started to totally lose any semblance of put-togetherness I had left.
Tips for dealing with stress: 1) If you can't keep your cool, find someone who can for you. Calling my brother was the only thing keeping me sane at some points. 2) BREATHE. Slowly and a lot. 3) Think of things you can do to fix or alleviate your situation instead of just drowning in it.
In the night, I also met a nice man going home to Vancouver who also had a super long layover. I gave him my Frontier snack voucher, because he hadn't had more than a slice of pizza for hours! Tip: Talk to strangers!!
After my night in LAX, I finally talked to someone with Air China and got put on a flight leaving just after 11:00 am. HALLELUJAH. I walked my grimy self to my gate clutching my boarding pass like Wonka's golden ticket.
Tips for feeling like a human again: 1) Freshen up. Dry shampoo, wet wipes, deodorant, and a headband can work wonders. A change of clothes helps too if you've got it. 2) Get your favorite drink. Mine happens to be a chai latte. But hey, a martini or strong coffee could work too. 3) Get a snack. Something light like fruit would probably be best. I used my remaining vouchers to get a muffin and banana, and I kind of regretted the muffin. 4) Try to eat light in general. Stress eating comfort food does not relieve stress OR make you more comfortable. Trust me. Lesson learned.
I was so tired I couldn't even keep my eyes open for take off, which I usually love. I slept a lot, and was thankful for a window seat with something to lean against. Tip: FILL A WATER BOTTLE before boarding a long flight. Seriously, that air is dry and those little cups of water are not enough. I could feel myself getting dehydrated. Also, FULLY CHARGE YOUR PHONE. I neglected to do so and it was at 2% when we landed. That's my translator, map, and sole means of communication potentially gone. STUPID mistake I made.
Side Note: Landing was like descending into gray milk. It's been heavy smog since I've been here and it is no joke. Constant dusk and people wearing those surgical masks...the picture above can give you an idea.
Airport signs are super clear, and the ones at Beijing were in both Chinese and English, so I had no problem getting my bags, exchanging some currency (because even though airport exchange rates suck it's just smart to have some local cash), and THANKFULLY finding a charging station. Can I just say the USB on the iPhone is the GREATEST thing ever? I didn't have to worry about not yet having an electrical converter.
At the charging station I met Kristen from California, who was studying in Beijing for a year and had spent her winter break in Hong Kong. She gave me some really good advice and convinced me to take a cab instead of attempting the subway with my bags. I was really happy I'd exchanged some cash. Potentially the best decision I've ever made, taking a cab. (A bit of an exaggeration, but not much.) Kristen kept me calm when my phone wouldn't connect to the airport's wifi and I had to use the public phone to call Jinling, my host. Tip: TALK TO STRANGERS.
I had the cab driver call Jinling so she could direct him and I finally, finally, FINALLY made it to her apartment about 8:00 pm CST on Monday. Despite the stress involved, when I really think about it everything was likely for the best. I spent a night in a U.S. Airport with some familiarity instead of a day in a Chinese one, which is what I would of done had I not missed my flight. Because I met Kristen and was so tired, I took a cab instead of the subway, which Jinling later told me would have been next to impossible with my bags. And with the vouchers I received I didn't spend a dime until I paid my cab fare.
When I said, "my foot is slipping," your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy. - Psalm 94:18&19
Through it all, the big man kept his eye on me and I'm better for the entire experience. Jinling and her family have been spectacularly hospitable and I couldn't be more thankful for my time with them. A BIG thank you to everyone who helped and supported me in this rough part of my adventure. Look for future posts about Couchsurfing and touring Beijing!