A bump in the road from London to Paris

By Emily O'Hara
Published July 25, 2011

As a 20-year-old college junior, I hadn’t done any overseas travel without my family; so I was anxious for the opportunity to prove to them and to myself that I could go it alone. I made the choice to study abroad in London based on its accessibility to the surrounding areas, giving me plenty of opportunity to travel on my own, and see it all. My first stop: Paris, France.

My friends and I had every detail of the weekend planned perfectly. We got a great deal on train tickets and decided to stay with a friend studying abroad in Paris to save even more money. We didn’t have class on Friday so we booked our ticket for 6:40 on Thursday, allowing plenty of time for us to get out of class and get to the train in time with a full weekend ahead.

After class we went back to our flat, gathered our things and before we left, my roommate realized that she didn’t have her confirmation number. To save time, she decided to call the train station to get the number to bring with us. As I was getting the remainder of my things together, I noticed the tone of her voice changed and when I turned around she looked at me with a blank expression. She got off the phone and explained that we had booked a train for 0640 and it was currently 1715. Suddenly it was very clear, we didn’t account for military time. We had booked the train for 6:40am on Thursday, not 6:40pm or rather 1840. We were devastated. Our first trip was ruined.

After about an hour of wondering what to do next, we decided to stick to our original plan and get over the wasteful spending of booking another ticket for first thing the next morning. We were all packed for the next day, so we decided to watch a movie and fell asleep without setting an alarm. At 0500 we woke up, twenty minutes before our train. We were disoriented, but we managed to jump up in a hurry, grab our things and run out the door. We hailed the first cab we saw and got to the ticket booth at 0522. We missed our second train by two minutes. Yes, this really happened.

At this point, we were just mortified. How could we have missed our second train? We already accepted the money issue once and we were about to get over it again as we went back to the ticket counter with pride and asked for the next train to Paris. The woman knew exactly what had happened and all she did was look at us and said, “You know, you’re only young once.” That phrase still haunts me. Yet, despite the disaster of our first effort to plan a trip in Europe, on our own, we eventually made it to Paris, and despite a freezing cold weekend, we had a great trip. Third time’s a charm, right?


What should you do…if your travel plans suffer an unexpected glitch?

Stop the issue before it happens. When booking weekend trips and transportation, be alert and make sure to check your reservations twice and twice more! Especially if it’s early on in your study abroad experience and you’re booking trips for the first time.

Even more important is to adjust yourself to the conversion to military time. This is not the first time someone made a mistake in travel reservations because of being unfamiliar with military time. Know that going in and be prepared to check times extra carefully. Twelve hours make a big difference in time!

If you do find yourself in a similar predicament, know this: these things happen and it is an issue that is easy to handle. Keep your cool and decide whether it’s worth the funds to rebook the trip. And remember: “You’re only young once.”

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Emily O’Hara studied abroad in London during 2009. She is a 2010 graduate of American University.