• The Journey Before the Expedition

    August 9th

    Shared by Academic Travel Abroad’s Travel Program Assistant, Stacie Kellermann.

    The great thing about airplanes is that for x number of hours you are out of the touch with the rest of the world – blissfully unaware. The bad thing about airplanes is that for x number of hours you are out of touch with the world – blissfully unaware. This was a lesson that I would learn while traveling on my latest expedition to Southwest France and Northern Spain. I have been working on the National Geographic Human Origins Expedition in some capacity since I started working at ATA three years ago. I started in the role of Guest Services Advisor, making sure that all travelers were prepped and ready to explore the dwellings of early man and evolved to my current role, working on the back-end of the program with the staff and receptive operators in-country. Imagine how thrilled I was to experience the program firsthand! Though recently approved for TSA PreCheck/Global Entry, making traveling through airports a breeze, I still insist on showing up to the airport 3 hours before my flight departs. Once at Dulles, I had some time to kill. I downloaded some podcasts, bought some magazines and waited for boarding to begin.

    Bordeaux

    Streets of Bordeaux

    I got to the Amsterdam airport at 7:00 a.m. with my body feeling like it was 1:00 a.m. Excited and hungry, I made my way to the food court in search of a Stroopwafel and some espresso. At this point, my Wi-Fi started to kick in. Remember that thing I said about airplanes? It turns out that while I was blissfully flying across the Atlantic Ocean, the tour manager for this departure had her flights cancelled and would no longer be arriving in France until the following morning! Thankfully, she would still make it in time for the initial “meet and greet” at the airport with all our guests. Okay – no big deal. I ate my waffle, drank my espresso (or three) and continued on to Bordeaux. Upon my arrival in Bordeaux, with my Wi-Fi back in action, I learned that the tour manager would no longer be arriving in time for the initial group greeting. Instead, she would have to meet us all at the first hotel-located roughly three hours away from the airport.

    Smaller file hotel

    Hotel Le Centenaire

    In a situation like this, having worked on the program for so many years truly proved to be even more valuable than I ever could have imagined. I knew where the group meeting place was located, where money was exchanged and that a pay phone still does, in fact, exist at the Bordeaux airport. I collected my thoughts and did a physical run through of the airport before making my way into town. I was on the quest to find a SIM card so that I could stay in contact with my team back in Washington D.C. The EuroCup had just arrived into town and the majority of the local shops closed by the time the bus dropped me off: no SIM card for me. So with no Wi-Fi, no SIM card, and my college-level French failing me, I did what any reasonable person would do in France: ate a delicious plate of cheese.

    Cheese plate

    Cheese plate

    I woke up the next morning feeling rested and ready to take on the day. With my expedition binder in hand and my name badge securely fastened, I made my way back to the airport to do some last-minute recon before the travelers started to arrive. Meeting the travelers for the first time, I felt invigorated by their excitement for the upcoming expedition. Panic did not start to set in until we were on the bus, pulling away from the airport. It was just after I had counted heads for the 5th time that all of those “what if” thoughts started creeping into my brain. Leaving someone behind at the airport was simply not an option. Thanks to my trusty participant list, I was able to cast all doubts aside and know that everyone made it onto the bus and was happily on their way to Les Eyzies.

    Les Eyzies

    I remember sitting on the bus that day, the lovely French countryside rolling past my window, and feeling fulfilled and really proud. I have traveled on trips for work before, and have always pitched in when needed, but this time things were different. I had been called upon to fix a problem—solo. And I did. There are endless reasons why I love traveling, but maybe one of the most important is that travel pushes you beyond your comfort zone and challenges you in new ways. You always return having learned something new—about the world, about others and about yourself.