Note: Janet Hommel Mangas’ 16-year-old daughter, Phoebe, just returned from a two-week, high school Spanish immersion trip to Sevilla, Spain. She shares a few travel insights.
I am sure you have heard travel stories about nightmarish trips and crazy experiences. There generally are two responses to those stories — a sense of immunity to such “easily avoided and foolish mishaps,” or a paralyzing fear of traveling.
I was the former. Having traveled since 4 months of age and frequently since (even alone), I consider myself travel-savvy. You could even say I pride myself on my ability to work through the kinks and quirks of airport craziness.
I just got back from Spain, and while 99 percent of the trip was amazing, some things happened that not even an “all-knowing” teenager such as myself could have known how to prepare for. Now that I have been through it all, I’m ready to share my “abundant knowledge.”
My first piece of advice is something my parents taught me and repeated each time I traveled, yet had still overlooked: Do not carry all your cash at once; spread it out.
I did just that, but it appeared that by “spread it out” they didn’t mean for me to spend it all in several different stores. In the dark recesses of my mind, I heard a wise voice reminding me to have an alternative source to get money if I needed it.
“Pre-planning Phoebe,” after spending all the cash I had (thank you Grandma and Grandpa for the Christmas cash), was ready with my prepaid debit card in hand … but what was this? My card was blocked? Long story short: I struggled with getting money, going to eight banks and returning to the Western Union four times until the winning try, when I hit the jackpot (everything checked out).
FYI: If you accidentally misplace your debit card and your ever-patient parents wire money to you so you can eat, you must be 18 years old to receive money in Spain, which is quite frustrating when you’re only 16.
Mom told me later that she really hadn’t worried about me since she knew I was very resourceful and had emailed Mr. Goodwin, my principal and trip leader, that I could earn my food by tap dancing or telling stories on the streets. He reassured her that he would make sure I had my “routine down” and would direct me to the main plaza, which was abundant with passers-by.
Another important risk to factor into trips (what most people worry about) is the airport itself. Checking the bags, getting the tickets, going through security and customs, finding the gate and refraining from losing the passport are the top concerns of airline passengers.
Late flights are among those as well, and while there is a way to prepare for those, they have a way of still taking one by surprise. After enduring a canceled flight, five hours in the airport to rebook and being delayed for one night in Madrid, we were ready to go home.
After our nine-hour flight from Madrid to New York was an hour and a half late, we landed as our connecting flight was boarding for Indy. Simultaneously, the airline mixed three different flights’ luggage together, and the lines for customs and security were longer and more frenetic than 12-year-olds waiting for Justin Bieber tickets.
Workers told us we wouldn’t make it, and passengers screamed that we couldn’t cut in front, although we did have express passes; but one staff member guided us through them all.
We sprinted barefoot through JFK — one of the busiest airport in the U.S. — and somehow we all got onto the plane, out of breath and sweating. But we made it.
Finally, if you plan to travel abroad, it is important to know enough of the language to survive. I am blessed to go to a school that emphasizes conversational Spanish, and I am nearly fluent — or so I thought.
Being in class and speaking “classroom Spanish” (paragraphs about what we did over the weekend, our childhood, etc.) is much different from knowing the majority of the language. Dialect plays a large role in Spain as well, because they speak with a lisp on c’s and z’s, which took a while to get the hang of.
As if that didn’t make for enough awkward stuttering moments on my part, I quickly found out the most important thing for my stay: Know about the people you will be around. My amazing host mom, Yoko, has lived in Spain for 12 years but originally is from Japan. For the first two days, I thought she was speaking Japanese and simply nodded and smiled when she did.
Her two children, Leo, 13, and Lisa, 10, had the accent of Spain and tried to help us communicate better, but things got a little more confusing later in the week. To our surprise, her ex-husband lived next door, and was he Spanish? No. Was he Japanese? No. Lo and behold, he was Russian. It was quite the international party at dinner.
I went expecting to learn more Spanish culture and train my ear for that one dialect but got more than I bargained for in an awesome way.
I found out that instead of preparing so fervently for the trips I take, I should try to keep an open mind. While being ready for crazy situations is good, all the lists of toiletries and money in the world couldn’t have changed the experiences I had from just “rolling with it.”
Sometimes, a little chaos is just what everybody needs — and hey, the stories are great, too.
Janet Hommel Mangas, the third of seven children, grew up on the east side of Greenwood. The Center Grove area resident and her husband are the parents of three daughters.