The back of my throat was on fire as I tried to catch my breath and hold back my tears. My trembling hands held the quickly, scribbled note reading “it’s going to be ok”. The plane had left us and the panic was bubbling up to the surface, I looked at Claire and we both stared at each other in shock. My feelings of guilt, uncertainty, and fear were mirrored in her eyes. Here we were alone in the Mexico City Airport – just two foreigners with mediocre Spanish speaking skills, low funds, and limited knowledge in international travel. Needless to say, things weren’t looking too good for us. Despite the odds, we survived to tell the tale. So if you ever find yourself in this situation, here are some guidelines for survival.
Guidelines to Surviving 28 Hours in an Airport
1. Take a Friend (one that appreciates your humor)
I would not be telling this story if I didn’t have Claire with me, quite frankly, I’d probably still be hitchhiking my way back to California right now. Having a friend gave me courage and strength when I didn’t think I had any left. There were moments when Claire would sink to the ground in surrender and I would scoop her up. Other times, tears of frustration welled up in my eyes and she would be ready with a reassuring hug and kind words. I look back fondly at those 6 hours because we battled so many obstacles that were much larger than us but we were persistent and found solutions. Along the way we continuously encouraged and supported one another. It’s hard to survive hardships without a good friend so if you find yourself in a difficult situation grab a homie and share it with them (I promise they want to be there for you). Or, if you see your friend in trouble stay back and weather the storm with them because the universe has a way of planting lessons in every hardship and you might bond in a way you never imagined with another human being.
2. Ask for Help
Humans are awesome! People love to help you if you ask nicely. We made friends with the information desk attendants, the restaurant waiters, the police officers, other travelers, and a really nice guy named Ernest. Communication was difficult but there is a universal language, one that closely resembles the game of charades. So maybe on your free time polish up how you would explain “I missed my plan and now I am suck here, please help me” using body and hand gestures.
3. Stay Focused
Claire and I quickly discovered that all flights to San Jose, Costa Rica were booked for the next 4 days. After 6 stressful hours of searching for another pair of tickets, 20 failed phone call attempts, 200 frantic text messages and one deep dip into our savings account later we had secured 2 tickets for a flight at 8 am the next day. It was a high intensity moment in my life, one that tested my physical, mental, and emotional resilience. The mentality of “what’s next” kept us moving forward while we solved one puzzle after another. As we ran around the terminal I realized that this big world moves fast and doesn’t wait for anyone. As daunting as that may seem, it’s also fun to imagine all the success stories that one accumulates throughout a lifetime. Crazy things happen in this crazy life, gates are closed, planes lift off without you, and you sleep on cold, dirty, concrete floors but then you survive to tell a great story. Just stay focused on the task at hand and don’t give up. It may take 6 hours but by the end of it you will be holding two golden tickets (literally those tickets were ridiculously expensive).
At one point after the storm had passed, I felt the need to step away and have a me moment. I found a small patch of cold airport floor to have some alone time and let out all my frustration, exhaustion, and fear in one giant cry fest. I cried for missing the flight, I cried for how hard the past 10 hours were, I cried for how hard life is in the real world, and I cried for the fact that I was crying. Once my eyeballs ran out of tears, I felt strangely refreshed. It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, I acknowledged everything that felt wrong in my soul and released all my anxiety and tension. Once it was all out there in salty, liquid form, I was able to wipe it off my red, puffy face and walk away. No shame ladies and gents! We have tear ducts for a reason, it’s okay to be upset about it, cry it all out!
Once the puzzle pieces had settled in their rightful places, all we had to do was wait for 8 am to come around. We were overcome with exhaustion so we settled in a quiet area to rest. Instantly, both of us started laughing hysterically at the ridiculous situation we found ourselves in. The ground was uninviting, frigid, and covered in crumbs where previous travelers had obviously enjoyed some snacks. I revealed that the reason I kept going to the bathroom was because I was having disturbances in my digestive system that resulted in some peculiar bowel movements. We started giggling even harder, clutching our abdomen as we tried to catch our breathe and then I ran to the bathroom again. We bought onion rings at Carls Jr. and after one bite I exclaimed “wow stale onion rings just how I like them” so we laughed at how awful the food was and then kept eating it. It was probably due to the lack of sleep but also I believe that these were the moments we stopped being sad about it. The adventurous spirit in both of us was relentlessly finding a way to turn this into a positive experience. We had enough of the self pity so we chose to laugh. The situation wasn’t going to change but our attitude about it could. Find a way to laugh about your hardships, it’s okay to grieve and be upset, but make sure to take some time to laugh. Find some sort of joy to hold onto because a life taken to seriously is not a life truly enjoyed.
6. Document the journey
At one point, to keep our sanity, Claire and I decided to go take pictures of every place in the airport that we visited. We walked around and took pictures, from the lockers we put our luggage in, to the public phones we attempted to make calls through. We found value in the experience even if it was traumatizing at times. We never wanted to forget the great feat we had accomplished by surviving this interesting day. This is when we realized that our perspective had shifted in a refreshing way; we wanted to document this story because it was one that we are proud of, it is a story that showed us how capable we were and how much we had learned. The story was no longer about two girls missing a plane and freaking out about it, now it was about the funny adventures two girls had in the Mexico City Airport. You’re the author, what story do you want to tell?
There’s nothing like getting stuck in an airport without sleep to makes two people bond. We talked about our dreams, our fears and our plans for the future. I discovered insecurities about graduating in 3 months and entering adulthood. The stark contrast between the weakness I felt and the strength I mustered up in those 24 hours led me to the realization that the only limitation I had was this poisonous mentality that I had a limit. This idea caused another shift in my perspective – although fear resides in all of us, we forget that there is also an innate strength that keeps us moving forward. This perspective made me feel empowered and set the tone for the rest of my experience because I decided that I want to lead a life driven by my inner strength not my fear.
8. Share It With a Smile
There were many moments that could have broken us and at one point we were asked if we “wanted to move forward or go back”. Both of us said move forward without hesitation. We chose to make this a positive, enlightening, and adventurous 24 hours. We refused to define it as a terrible situation, we decided to make it inspiring instead. When we finally reached San Jose, Rob met us at the airport and all I could do was smile. I felt like an exhausted and scarred warrior that had just survived her first battle. Everything felt like it was strangely aligned in the universe, as if everything was supposed to happen the way it did. Rob had flown in that morning so he was able to pick us up, we drove to Mastatal and on the way stumbled upon an awesome parade of horses and hung out in the town. When we reached the rest of the group and had some time to rest, we shared the story with them and found ourselves smiling. I will always look back at this memory with a smile because it was the best journey I have ever taken with an amazing and clever girl. So if you find yourself stuck in an airport remember that the universe has your back and choose to be inspired, choose to laugh, choose to tell it with a smile. 24 hours is going to pass one way or another whether you’re sad or happy. It is up to you to determine whether or not this experience goes down in history as the worst or the best. I hope you choose the latter.
P.S. Shout out to Claire Freeman! Thank you for tolerating my weird humor, being so kind, never giving up, and making this trip so memorable.
Written by Sabina Nussipov