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Commentary - How I Come to Miss My Worst Trip

HOST, FEI LU: The coronavirus pandemic kept millions of us locked down and indoors. We couldn't see anyone, we couldn't go anywhere, we couldn't do the things we most loved to do. In the last of our series of commentaries, Hayley Zhao tells how she missed travel so much, she ended up pining for a travel nightmare.

HAYLEY ZHAO, BYLINE: My trip to Chile ticked all the boxes for the vacation from hell.

Traveling with someone I didn't really know? Check. It was my first year in college and I'd been dating this guy for about four months. Long enough to know him: But long enough to travel with him? I guess I'd find out.

Taking the kind of vacation I don't usually take? Check. Boyfriend wanted to go hiking. In Patagonia! I'm more of a beach day and city tour kind of traveler. But the romantic fantasy of being stranded alone with my boyfriend under starry skies, surrounded by snowy peaks … that image I made up in my head persuaded me.

Lost luggage? Check. It was a 10-hour flight with a layover in Toronto. Not too bad. But when we arrived in Santiago, I found myself bagless, without a toothbrush or a spare pair of socks to my name. Luckily Santiago has an H&M.

Travel sickness? Check. The moment we touched down, boyfriend began running a fever, which kept both of us confined to our room. FOR THE ENTIRE TRIP!

Fortunately, I brought my laptop with me. But uh-oh. No Wi-Fi? Check.

Luckily I have my hard drive, loaded with 10 seasons of Friends.


Doctor who didn’t speak either English or Chinese? Check.

Canceled return flight? Check. It turns out you can’t connect through Canada without a visa if you’re a Chinese national flying to Boston from Chile.

It's hard to imagine a trip where so many things went so wrong. At the time, it was a nightmare. We had to spend hundreds of extra dollars on new tickets. We had to make an extra stop in Miami on the way home. To this day we have no idea what weird bug my boyfriend got.

Like I say, the vacation from hell. We went on a break not long after that.

But after a sedentary year, first quarantining in my apartment in Boston for three months, and then locked down in a tiny studio apartment on the Upper West Side ... after all that isolation, that vacation doesn't seem so hellish now.

My boyfriend’s not my boyfriend anymore, but I found I kind of missed having him around.

I missed lounging in our hotel rooms, watching Friends, laughing at Chandler's awkward jokes.

I missed the long conversations we had, about nature and humanity.

I missed so many things about that trip: Trying to understand the doctor; rushing for flights we nearly missed; even arguing with the airline staff at the check-in desk in Santiago.

I realize now that while those experiences were uncomfortable at the time, they made me feel alive. Travel is supposed to be fun and exciting. But quite often, it isn't. Quite often, it's exhausting and frustrating. Even scary. Losing your phone at a nightclub in Mexico City, getting lost in the Yosemite National Park, walking through a dark alley in Athens with weird men staring at you. That's just part of life.

And now that this pandemic is waning, and I'm vaccinated, I can't wait to start living again. To me, that means traveling. Wherever I can go. Maybe I’ll even give Chile another try.

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