Written by Henrylito D. Tacio
Since time immemorial, man has traveled. The Bible, for instance, is replete of people who traveled from one place to another. In the book of Exodus, Moses led his people out of Egypt. In the New Testament, Paul chronicled his visit to various places through his epistles. Matthew wrote the story of the “wise men” who traveled from east to Jerusalem looking for the Holy Child so that they could worship Him.
Today, traveling has become a major part of life for modern man. “Why do you go away?” asked Terry Pratchett, author of A Hat Full of Sky. “So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
In his book, The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It, Mark Twain wrote: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
And so, here are some of the lessons I learned during my recent travel to the United States (this was before the pandemic):
Lesson No. 1: If you are going abroad, be sure to get your connecting flights with the same airline company or having alliance with the airline of your choice. It may be more expensive but you are sure that you will get to your destination without much hassles.
It may be cheaper to book in different airline companies but the problem is when some of your flights are delayed. The rest of your flights will definitely be affected. And new bookings – if ever there are available flights – may entail you to spend more. Not to mention is the headache of getting a room reservation in the hotel where you are stuck.
If you want to save money, try to book an earlier flight. This was what I did when I had my flight from Davao to Manila. I saved a few thousands when I opted to fly the early flight – at around 3 in the morning. What I lost, however, was sleep; I had a hard time sleeping knowing that if I had to be in deep slumber, I may miss my flight.
Lesson No. 2: If you have a mobile phone, program it for international use. Go to the menu and click “international roaming.” Or, you may send a text (ROAM) to 333. By doing this, you can use your phone anywhere in the world. I did it because I may have a problem contacting my friend who would pick me at the JFK International Airport in New York.
Immediately, when I arrived at the airport at the middle of the night, I texted my friend, Atty. Nicolas Caraquel. Fortunately, he answered back. So, when I left the terminal after getting my luggage, I saw him waving at me.
Lesson No. 3: Have yourself connected with friends and relatives through social media. I highly recommend Facebook. Most airports have free Wi-Fi connection and all you have to do is connect; just follow the guide and presto you get connected for free. From there, you can immediately send messages privately to who you want to contact. Also, you can post some photos while waiting for your flight. A great way to break boredom.
Lesson No. 4: It’s a cashless world out there so be sure to bring credit and debit cards at your disposal when traveling abroad. Okay, you have brought some dollars with you but they may not be enough. In my case, I use cash only in case of an emergency. Hotels don’t accept cash, they usually ask for your credit card when you check-in. I learned this the first time when I was in New York. I didn’t have a credit card then but it was good that my friend had one and he used it for me to be checked-in. When I checked-out, I paid all my bills in cash though.
Why two cards? During my recent trip, I usually use my debit card. But there are instances when it doesn’t work. And so, I had to use my sister’s credit card to pay the bills when I was shopping together with her. In other words, if you have two cards, you can never go wrong!
Lesson No. 5: Know the airport where you will fly. Airports have their uniqueness so you better study them so you won’t get lost. When I flew from Orlando, Florida to JFK in New York on my way back to Manila, I had to fly a different airline (Delta Air Lines). When I checked-in, I had to pay US$70 for my two luggage ($30 for the first and $40 for the second). After doing so all the requirements, I went inside lo and behold, it was not the departure zone. I had to ride a train to go to the said area. If I wasn’t told by my brother-in-law, David Eplite, I would have never known it.
Another problem I encountered was the JFK International Airport, the busiest international air passenger gateway into North America. Over ninety airlines operate from the airport with nonstop or direct flights to destinations in all six continents. The sixth busiest airport in the United States, it has six passenger terminals.
Delta Air Lines operates at Terminal 2 and my flight back to Manila was on Terminal 1. There is a train that operates around the busy terminal but I had to travel all around to get to Terminal 1. When I arrived, I asked some people on how to get to my terminal; it is just on the other side, I was told. It was only a matter of a five-minute walk but it was raining and was freezing.
I did the unimaginable. I took my two huge luggage walking under the rain and crossed to the other building. The good thing was there were few vehicles crossing the street – or else I would be smashed.
Lesson No. 6: It’s maybe good to travel alone but it’s not good at all times. If you are alone, you can do things abruptly. You don’t have to ask for approval from your companions. But the hitch is: You have no one to lean on or ask for help.
I really had a big problem inside the JFK International Airport since check-in time was still at 10 pm and I was already there at 3 pm. There were only a few seats available for people who were waiting for their flights. If I had to buy some food or go to the bathroom, I had to bring the two huge luggage with me. By the time, I would have returned to “my” seat, someone may already occupy it.
Lesson No. 7: Filipinos lack discipline. During the presidency of Ferdinand E. Marcos, one of the most popular sayings was: “Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan.” Twenty-two years after he was ousted by People Power, the situation remains the same. We may have progressed a little bit, but the attitude has not changed.
We were supposed to leave at 1:45 in the morning but it wasn’t until 3 am that the boarding started. It was still an announcement but all were eager to go inside the plane already; it was explained that those seated at the tail of the plane would go on board first. I was among those who were supposed to go first but those people who should be there in the first place were blocking our way.
I asked her number and I found out that they were the last people to go on board. I asked her to give way so I could find my way to the boarding area but she just looked at me sternly. To think, she was having an American passport. Nothing has changed – even if she has changed her citizenship. How I wish I have told her these words from Bertrand Russell: “Nothing of importance is ever achieved without discipline.”
Lesson No. 8: Expect the expected. A few hours after we left New York, we were given a menu. I looked at it and decided to have chicken. Since we were at the rear end of the plane, what we got was beef, which I didn’t want. But I had no other choice. “There’s no more chicken, sir,” I was told.
The same thing happened with the rest of our two other meals. But the good thing was: they were good and filled my empty stomach.
Lesson No. 9: Don’t believe what they have told you – especially when it comes to your luggage. While in New York, I told the check-in counter lady that I had a connecting flight from Manila to Davao City. “You can pick up your luggage at Davao,” she informed me. “Good,” I replied.
But it was another story when I arrived in Manila at Terminal 1. After passing the E-gate, I immediately went to the front desk for people who have connecting flights. My flight for Davao was in Terminal 2. “Do you have luggage, Sir?” I was asked.
I answered affirmatively. Then, she told me: “Sir, you have to pick up your luggage, and bring them here. We will see to it that they will be brought to your final destination.” I wondered: “I thought I had to pick them at Davao airport and not here.”
It took me more than an hour to pick up my two luggage. After giving them to the front desk, I was told to go outside and find a waiting vehicle that would bring me to Terminal 2.
I thought it was the end of my luggage saga. But I was wrong! When we arrived at the Davao International Airport, I immediately went to the carousel where I usually picked up my check-in luggage. After all the passengers had taken theirs, I had nothing at all. When I asked some airport personnel, I was told that my luggage would have been on the other side of the building where international visitors would get their luggage.
But we – other passengers who were with me during our flight from New York – were not informed about it. Had we known earlier, we could immediately go to the said place.
As they say, travels bring out the best – and worst – of you!
To end this piece, the statement of American cultural and literary historian Paul Fussell seems to apt: “All the pathos and irony of leaving one’s youth behind is thus implicit in every joyous moment of travel: one knows that the first joy can never be recovered, and the wise traveler learns not to repeat successes but tries new places all the time.”