I wouldn't say I like surprises when I travel; I simply don't enjoy planning. I've left that part of the trip to my partner and traveling companion for the last 11 years. He loves planning; I love how adorable I look when I shrug and say, "I have no idea where we're going. Ask him."
A few years ago, we traveled to New Zealand—a three-week trip "we" had planned for months. I knew New Zealand was home to Crowded House, one of my favorite bands, and that's really all I needed to know. I was all set for my Kiwi experience. Or not.
As we were checking in at the airport in Munich, the Austrian Airline staff member—we'll call her Sissy—mentioned something to my partner about needing an e-visa. She said it would just take a second to fill out the form on the internet.
"I thought we didn't need a visa for New Zealand," I said.
"You don't," Sissy replied. "But you have a stopover in Sydney."
"That's Australia," my partner said.
"That was unkind," I said.
"Done." Sissy gave my partner his passport back and grabbed mine. "Oh," she said after a couple of seconds. "It keeps telling me to refer passenger to the Australian embassy."
"That's in Berlin," said my partner.
"Sorry," said Sissy. "It keeps telling me—"
"Sissy, it's Sunday morning," I didn't shout. "How can I possibly contact the embassy?"
"This is a very good point," she said. "I'm afraid I cannot let you on the airplane."
As I've clearly indicated, I'm in charge only of cluelessness and adorableness on our trips (although in the mornings I sometimes fetch coffee from a Starbucks if it’s close). My partner holds the reins when it comes to planning. Assigning fault was therefore a no-brainer, I thought.
"You're an American!" he yelled. "You have to know what the requirements are for Americans! You never know anything. You are a completely useless—but adorable—hunk of hooey!" [paraphrased]
True. But I can also think on my feet (I can tap and buck dance as well).
I batted my eyes at Sissy and suggested, "What would happen, Sis, if I stayed in the transit room until our flight to Auckland the next day?"
"You cannot stay in the transit room for longer than eight hours."
"Hmmm. And if I bought a ticket to Auckland that left within that time?" You may have trouble believing—considering my history of blissful, sweet stupidity—that I came up with this plan all by myself—but I did.
"That will work." She typed furiously—which was good, because our flight was already boarding—and handed me my boarding card for Sydney as well as a 900-dollar ticket to Auckland. "You’re all set."
So, almost a thousand dollars poorer and several racing heartbeats later, we boarded the plane to Vienna and then one to Kuala Lumpur, in which I explained my predicament to the Austrian Air crew "a few" times as they waltzed through the cabin. They were polite and understanding, but there was nothing they could do but bring more alcohol.
I know what you're thinking: Was the Riesling good on board?
I’m glad you asked. It was OK. Riesling has come a long way since the ‘70s. It got a bad rep then because the Germans were pumping it out to make a quick buck. Actually the Austrians are better at Sauvignon Blanc these days.
After 13 hours in the air and several bottles of Riesling, we arrived in Kuala Lumpur, where we were allowed a couple of hours to stretch our legs, buy a Starbucks coffee mug, and rattle on to anyone with ears about my e-visa fiasco.
The lost 900 dollars was just the beginning of my worries. Having to spend a night in Auckland by myself would mean I'd actually have to worry about things like getting to the hotel, feeding myself and figuring out the mystery of "the wake-up call."
I was in the middle of gathering "wake-up call" wisdom from four small Swedish children when I heard an Australian accent behind me: "Give me your passport, hun." I turned around to the visage of a woman in an Austrian Airlines uniform. She was middle-aged and there was a halo around her head. "I have a friend who works at the embassy in Canberra."
"You don't." I laughed.
"I do. And the embassy has just opened."
“You could do this all day, couldn’t you?”
Three minutes later, Sheila—which will be the name of my firstborn child regardless of gender—gave me back my passport and said, "You're all set, hun." I could tell she thought I was adorable.
At the airport in Sydney, I was able to cancel my 900-dollar flight to Auckland. I got 800 dollars back, around 60 percent of my pride and 20 ounces of my innocence—a small price.
Christopher Allen’s fiction and non-fiction have appeared in places like, and unlike, Blue Five Notebook Series, The Legendary, Wilderness House Literary Review, Connotation Press and the best-selling series Chicken Soup for the Soul. In 2011 he was a finalist at Glimmer Train, and Blue Fifth Review gave him a Pushcart Prize nod for his story “The Shoes, the Girl and the Waves that Washed Them Away.”