Study Abroad Disaster: How to Learn From A Bad Weekend Trip

England, Studying Abroad — By on March 16, 2012 at 12:00 pm

By Katie Marpe
Special to the Lost Girls

My weekend holiday to Brighton can be described as the trip when everything went wrong and everything went right.

I was studying abroad in England, and my first big trip out of my Canterbury-comfort-zone was to Brighton, a gorgeous beach town known for its pebble beaches and lively atmosphere. My travel buddies consisted of three other international students and three of our English neighbors.

The day of our departure I woke up to a light knock on my door. It was 8:45am, the time we were supposed to leave, and my alarm hadn’t gone off. I snapped out of bed, packed a small backpack, forgot everything important, naturally, and ran downstairs to greet the six new friends waiting patiently in my kitchen.

Weekend Trip to BrightonThis was my first experience traveling via rail. I couldn’t wait to sit leisurely on the train for the three hours it takes to get from our university in Canterbury to the main train station in Brighton. It seemed like such a departure from my usual mode of transportation: worrying about rush hour traffic and maneuvering a two ton piece of heavy machinery, also known as my Honda Civic, through the hell that is the Los Angeles freeways.

Unfortunately, my dream of a comfortable train seat and a cup of coffee quickly subsided when we saw that every person in southern England had the same idea as us; the train was packed with families who were ready to break in new swimsuits and beach chairs for the warmest weekend England had seen all year. It is an understatement to say that there was standing room only on the train.  I spent at least half the train ride desperately trying to reach my short arm around the stranger in front of me to hold onto the back of someone’s seat while simultaneously trying to keep my body parts in an appropriate bubble of personal space. It was not the most ideal inaugural rail journey.

I snapped back to life as we arrived in sunny Brighton. We went straight to The Lanes, lines of streets filled with indie shops, then directly to a cute café to get a coffee – my magic potion of happiness. We spent the rest of the day roaming the city. As we expected, it was packed with people. Apparently there are pebble beaches, but all I saw was a mass of bodies flooding the ocean’s border. We pushed our way onto the pier and for a while became distracted with the amusement park, energetic children and loud arcades. We found a more secluded place to have a picnic, soaked up the warm weather, and by the end of the day I had forgotten everything that had gone wrong that morning.

Little did we know the drama was far from over.

Weekend Trip to BrightonThat evening we began to walk to our hostel, which was a mile down the beach. We’re on a college budget, so we don’t mind a mile walk for a cheap place to stay. As the sun set we arrived at the semi-attractive, Victorian-looking building with a glowing neon ‘HOSTEL’ sign. As soon as one of my friends started the check-in process I could tell something was amiss. Linnea handed the receptionist her ID, both of them looked confused, and an exchange began which involved a lot of passing the ID back and forth and pointing at the computer screen behind the desk. As it turned out, there was a mix up with our reservation and we didn’t have a room for the night.

“It’s the warmest weekend in England, every room in Brighton is full. Even if you could afford the Hilton you wouldn’t be able to find a room!” laughed Lambda the receptionist. We all responded with our politest, don’t-kill-the-messenger death stare.

After a long, drawn out conversation with our not so friendly friend Lambda, our group left in a panic. As we were standing on the street corner discussing our options, my British friend David, who grew up in a nearby town, snapped closed his phone and reported that his mom had invited us all to his house for the night. We were all so grateful not only for his family’s generosity, but for the fact that we wouldn’t be sleeping on the beach that night. When we arrived his mom had laid out seven beds for us in the living room – seven pillows, seven blankets, all lined up in a row.

When we woke up the next morning we took advantage of the sofas, television, and 90s MTV music videos that we lacked in student housing. While we lounged David was busy running in and out of the kitchen, refusing our offers for help. When he finally summoned us we walked into the gorgeous sun room at the back of his house – glass windows floor to ceiling with views of his spacious backyard (fully equipped with a chicken coop!) – and saw the table set with seven full English breakfasts. A full English breakfast consists of eggs, sausage, bacon, baked beans, mushrooms, half a tomato, hash browns and black pudding (go ahead and look that one up on your own). It is a ton of work to make one, and David just casually made seven for his surprise house-guests.

I learned three important lessons on that little weekend trip to Brighton.

1.      There is a stereotype about the British that they are very polite. This stereotype is true, and that is a compliment. If we all acted more like the British this world would be a better place.

2.     Holly Corbett, one of the original Lost Girls gave me some advice before going on this study abroad trip. She told me meet locals. I didn’t know if I could; I thought as an international student I would be secluded from the rest of the university. Luckily, I did have the amazing opportunity to meet British students and if I didn’t, I never would have had this experience. They became some of my best friends.

3.     It is the things that go wrong in travel that make the trip. It’s the mistakes, the mix-ups, getting lost, taking risks. It’s all part of the adventure. Not only did my friends and I learn from our mistakes, we also became closer.

As mad as I was about the initial mishaps: my slept-through alarm, the packed, uncomfortable train, Lambda and the hostel horror – I cannot imagine this trip going any other way. The moral of the story is you can’t help it if things go wrong, but you can help your reaction and your outlook. With the right attitude, what seems like the worst weekend can turn into the best.

Have you ever had a trip gone wrong? How did you handle the situation, and what did you take away from it? Share in the comments below!

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