World Tour Highlights: Top 5 Missed Transport Connections

Travel can be a pretty complicated organizational problem, sometimes. Deciding where to go, figuring out how to get there (which gets harder, the farther off the beaten track) and then actually getting there. It’s an exhausting business, a lot of the time. And when one step of your carefully-thought-out transportation plan fails, well, sometimes it’s not pretty. This second article in the World Tour Highlights series presents missed transport connections along the way, in order of how much trouble they caused.

5. We’re not in Shin-Osaka

Travelling through Japan, we had a 7-day rail pass that I’d made a hazardous trip into New Delhi to get before we left India. You’d think, given the technological reputation of the Japanese, that it would be a sophisticated swipe card linked to my DNA and unique retinal pattern. Not so. It was a piece of cardboard with my name on it. But this cardboard allowed unlimited travel on Japan’s legendary shinkansen bullet trains, and free seat reservations. So, in Kyoto we had seats booked from the Shin-Osaka hub, 40 kilometers away from Kyoto by shinkansen, to Hakata, then another bullet train to Kumamoto. But we hadn’t bothered to reserve seats from Kyoto to Shin-Osaka, because it was so close and trains left every few minutes. Somehow, though, this slipped our minds, and when I looked at my set of reservation slips for the day’s travel I thought to myself, Okay, need to be at Kyoto station at 9:15 to get the train to Hakata. Completely forgetting that there was a train we had to take before all that could happen, we duly presented ourselves at the right time at Kyoto station, to board a train that was leaving from Shin-Osaka 40km away. Did I feel stupid? Hell yes, I did. But the rail pass meant that there weren’t really any bad consequences from our absentmindedness - we just reserved seats on the next set of trains and got to Kumamoto an hour or two later than planned. Wouldn’t it be nice if all missed transport connections were so easy to fix? For the long version, read the dispatch.

4. Sleeping in Milan Central Station

Having seen Pompeii and spent enough time in Naples, we were on our way into France by train, with one change at Milan. But when we made our reservations we discovered that the second train, from Milan to France, was full. We decided to take the first train to Milan anyway, and figure it out when we got there. We arrived at 10pm and the next train to France didn’t leave until early morning. I trudged around the blocks surrounding the train station cursing, going from hotel to hotel and not finding anything even remotely within our budget - Milan’s an expensive place. So we decided to sleep in the station’s waiting room. There were lots of people sprawled out in various stages of sleep or trying-to-sleep, wedged uncomfortably into the contortions forced by the rows of chairs. We inflated our camping mattresses and rolled out our sleeping bags, feeling a little justifiable smugness at being prepared. A security guard looked in from time to time, making his rounds, his heels clicking along the marble floor and echoing back from the high ceiling, but we slept in shifts anyway, the better to watch our belongings. At 5:00 the next morning we caught the train to France with no harm done. Read the dispatch here.

3. Shanghai to Beijing by Train

This one I can’t blame on anybody else - it was entirely our fault. We’d spent ten days in Shanghai trying to get train tickets to Beijing, with a maximum of frustration and effort (all of which is written up in a previous dispatch) and when we finally did get our hard-won tickets we somehow didn’t pay any attention to the date printed on them. We only realized in the taxi on the way to the train station when I glanced idly at the tickets and realized with a flush of cold sweats and a sinking feeling that they were for yesterday. We did manage to get to Beijing that day, but it’s a long story and the amount we finally spent on train fare was the same as it would have cost to fly there. I still feel like an idiot when I remember this episode. The only thing that made it better was that when we arrived in Beijing at last, our hostel roommates - a nice Korean couple - admitted they’d done exactly the same thing in the opposite direction. Se at least we weren’t the only stupid ones.

2. Storms River to Cape Town, South Africa

We’d meandered our way along the Garden Route in South Africa, a third of the way from Cape Town to Johannesburg, and we were ready to turn around and head back. We had tickets booked on a highway bus, but the tiny place were we were at that moment, Storms River, was too small to rate a bus station and so passengers got picked up at a gas station a few kilometers out of town on the main motorway. And the schedule wasn’t great - we were due to be picked up at midnight. So we sat on our packs and waited. And waited. And waited. Hours went by, but buses are late sometimes and we didn’t think too much of it. But as time wore on it became clear that the bus had gone past without bothering to turn into the service station to pick us up. It was too far and too dark on a dangerous road to walk back to town, and nobody seemed inclined to give us a ride no matter how politely we approached them in the station shop. Can’t say I blame them, we probably looked pretty dodgy. In the end we got a ride in a police 4×4 back to the hostel in Storms River, where we climbed the fence and pitched our tent for what few hours sleep we could get, and then hitchhiked to Mossel Bay down the highway where we could catch an onward bus back to Cape Town. Read the full story here.

1. Buenos Aires to Iguazú Falls

We’d spent five or six weeks in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and fallen in love with the city. But as always, we had to move on, so we took the ferry across the Rio de la Plata to Uruguay and wound up in the capital, Montevideo. We’d planned to cross back into Argentina from western Uruguay on the way to Iguazú, but in the end (we thought) it was cheaper, quicker and easier just to go back to Buenos Aires and catch an overnight bus to Iguazú from there. And so it would have been, except that, after a bus to Colonia, ferry to Buenos Aires, and a walk to the bus station, just five minutes before we boarded the bus to Iguazú my bag was stolen, with my camera, computer, backup drive, iPod; anything of any value, and all the things I use every day. Most crushing of all, my irreplaceable journal with two years of travel notes and memories was in the bag that was stolen. We had to blow off the bus because of the theft, and stayed in Buenos Aires another five weeks licking our wounds and trying to replace all the stolen equipment. So in terms of disruption of plans, this missed connection vastly outweighs all the others combined. Financial impact, too; considering lost equipment, useless bus tickets, and rent and food for those five weeks, this little episode cost me upwards of $3000. At the time of writing we’re still stuck in Buenos Aires, and although there’s light at the end of the tunnel, the fact remains that this has cost me roughly a third of my remaining travel funds and shortened the World Tour by easily six months.

Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
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