Will and I had just graduated from the University of South Carolina and were just dating at this point. Will had already left for a summer internship with a contractor for the Audi headquarters in Ingolstadt, Germany. My graduation present was a plane ticket (thanks mom and dad!).
My parents were not exactly thrilled to send me off by myself on my very first plane ride. Not to mention, it was out of the busiest airport in the world to a country in which I didn’t speak the language and would have no cell service. They watched me go through security until I was through the gate and out of site.
Then they waited with bated breath until some ten hours later they got a photo of me with Will in Germany. Pretty sure my mom didn’t sleep at all that night (sorry Mama!).
The journey getting there though wasn’t exactly a smooth one.
Surprisingly, none of my issues were with the airport. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Terminal runs like a well oiled machine. There’s an internal subway which takes you between gates. I sat next to a sweet little old Danish man and excitedly told him this was my first plane ride. He wanted to make sure I knew that the plane was going to be really loud and that yes, it was supposed to make that noise.
What he didn’t realize is that I’d never been so excited in all my life. When I get really excited, I tend to cry. I DEFINITELY cried at that first takeoff, it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever experienced. Poor little Danish man didn’t know this though and panicked, thinking I was upset. What can I say? I just really love planes. Still cry every at every takeoff.
We arrived in Munich safe and sound. I had already booked my train ticket to take me from München Flughafen (that’s the airport) to München Hauptbahnhof (Munich’s central train station).
What I didn’t realize is that all trains leaving from the airport go directly to the Munich central station. I could have hopped on any one of those trains. Instead, I waited for it to say my specific destination. It never did.
The one phrase of German I had actually mastered (wo ist der bahnhof?) wasn’t going to help me now. I knew where the train station was. I just didn’t know where I was going. I finally heard a woman speaking broken English and she told to me to just hop on the next train and it would get me where I needed to go.
I got onto this train and immediately shoved my map in this guy’s face asking if I was headed the right direction. In response, I got a “uhhhh, I don’t know, I’m from Florida.” We stuck together at that point. Later we met this group of ladies from England who were there to bike down the Danube River for one of their 50th birthdays.
By the time I made it to Munich’s central station, I had already missed my regional train to Ingolstadt. I found enough of a wifi signal to quickly email Will and let him know I would be later than expected.
It was incredibly hard to find anyone who actually worked for the train station. I approached three different groups of people who I thought were wearing “train station uniforms.” Boy was I wrong.
I finally found a lady who worked for the train station and seemed like she couldn’t care less. For the second time that day, I was told to “just hop on this next train here.”
Sure. Just “hop on.” To some random train. I wasn’t even sure she even looked at my ticket. But what other option did I have?
So I hopped on. And waited. And prayed.
Of Feeling Insane
Quickly, busy Munich city center gave way into rural farms and quaint villages. I used what little data I did have to make sure I was at least heading east – and toward Ingolstadt – and not west – towards France.
We passed through many rural train stations with a single platform, a ticket booth, and the village right behind. I thought I understood the conductor say Ingolstadt so I excitedly began collecting my things.
When the train stopped and the doors opened, I immediately panicked. This station was MUCH bigger than any of the rest. And I didn’t think Ingolstadt was THAT big of a city. There were multiple platforms and elevators connecting down to the main floor. But I was sure the conductor announced Ingolstadt. So I got off, not knowing what I would do if I was in the wrong place.
I stepped out onto the platform, looked around, and… no Will. “Oh shoot. I’ve messed up. Okay, wait, don’t panic yet. Just follow that lady, she has a brief case, she knows what she’s doing” – it’s funny the things you remember thinking in those moments of sheer terror years later.
We go down an elevator. Around a corner. Up a little slope. Around another corner. And then. Smiling at me from across the room. It’s Will. I’ve done it. I’ve made it. Cue more tears. Of joy. Of terror. Of sheer relief.
Note to future self: ALWAYS learn the language FIRST if you’re going to travel alone. Or better yet, just take a friend. At least if you’re lost, you’re lost together!
Anyone have any good advice for traveling alone or what to do if you’re lost?