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My Terrible Experience Traveling to India
How it all began
I will never forget my terrible experience traveling to India in September of 2018. It was the hardest day I have ever experienced in my twenty three years of living.
I hope that anyone reading this will learn to take your worst experiences and find the good in them. These are the memories you look back on and know you are stronger because of it. I wouldn’t go back and change a thing no matter how scared I felt at the time. This experience made me who I am today. I now feel like any situation I am put in I will get through somehow.
Ever since the age of ten I knew I wanted to volunteer abroad and experience what life is for those living in severe poverty. My friends always made fun of me because this is what I talked about all the time. Not many people my age were interested in what I was. I decided to stop dreaming and start doing. I had been planning for about five months my trip to volunteer in India and I was going to go solo. It took a lot of interrogate planning. I was going for about two weeks to do what they called the Slum Teaching Program. Before I knew it, the day had come to set off for my flight out of New York City.
I am from Maine so it was about a five our drive from my house to the JFK airport. As soon as I left the driveway my nerves and anxiety kicked in and I started bawling my eyes out. “What in the world am I doing?” I am setting off to the other side of the world alone as a woman. Going into a place where rape and sexual assault are extremely common on the daily basis. The excitement suddenly turned into extreme anxiety. I was crying and hyperventilating every twenty minutes. I would get myself to calm down and breathe and tell myself I am going to be okay, I prepared very well, it’s going to be okay. I would be fine for a minute and it was just a vicious cycle for the next five hours until I reached New York.
My First Big Mistake
My first destination was an offsite parking lot I was going to keep my car in for the next couple of weeks in Jamaica – Queens New York. The closer my GPS said I was to the lot I started to get this pit in my stomach. The area looked super sketchy, at least it did for me. I am a girl from the small town in Maine.
These types of New York neighborhoods were places I had only seen in movies where people get kidnapped and assaulted on an SVU episode. I pulled into the parking lot to find a tiny shack the size of my closet was the main office. Out came a large dark skinned man that told me to get out of the car and come into the office. I immediately do what I have always done when I feel threatened; I pull out my phone and pretend I was talking to someone. I remember saying something like “yeah I just got here how far away are you?” The man gave me some paperwork to fill out and followed me back to my car so I could take out my stuff and he could park my car. I told him “this is going to be a while.” I had a lot of stuff to get together. I had been driving for five hours and planned on taking my time when I got there to make sure I had everything I needed. Still, he stood right behind me and waited for me to gather my things and took my car away. Things were okay for a while and another man loaded my suitcases in the back of a white van and took me to the airport.
So far I learned to never rent a place without doing a thorough review and research beforehand. By this I don’t just mean reading the top ten reviews. Read the bottom 50 reviews and from multiple perspectives. I did the bare minimum which is why I got in this situation. Always do your research before you go with the cheapest option. This is not the last time you will hear about the sketchy car lot men. Trust me will they come back into my story soon you just wait.
I made it safe and sound to the airport. I was finally getting really excited again. The five hour trek was over and my car was parked, made it past phase one and got in line to check in.
Once it was my turn I lugged all of my belongings over to this very serious looking young hispanic girl she started to check me in. She weighed all of my bags then started asking for the important stuff. I had my passport in this shiny silver bling case I handed over.
“Can I have your visa?” she said. I thought to myself in the back of my mind I remember skimming over something that mentioned a visa on the volunteer website but I thought it was not needed if you had a passport. A passport is supposed to bring you anywhere … right? “Your visa please,” she asked again. “Oh, you mean like the visa card I paid for my flight with right?” She starred at me like I was an idiot. “Mam you need a visa to go to India” she said. I had traveled internationally before when I was about 12 years old and I only needed a passport then. I thought I was an expert on this international travel thing but clearly I knew nothing.
My heart dropped. I couldn’t believe I was that dumb and didn’t apply for an Indian visa. I had no idea what to do. I busted out into tears. This was about the thirteenth mental break down I have had since I left the driveway. This lady and I just stood in front of each other awkwardly while she watched me have a panic attack and my heart be ripped apart. After so much planning this was supposed to be the biggest thing I have ever done in my life. I have people wishing me luck and posting on Facebook about how proud of them they were of me.
There I was though after five hours of driving and many months of planning and gloating about my adventure.
I took my bags back and found a little spot in the corner of the airport that would be mine for the next many many hours.
I called my mom and told her I couldn’t go because I misread the requirements and didn’t apply for an Indian Visa. She immediately went on the website and started my application but they can take weeks to be approved. The thought of having to drive back home and go back to work until I could figure everything out was the most defeating feeling I have ever felt.
Avoid Car Lot Boys at all Costs
I sat in that little corner of the airport for hours and hours just crying and asking myself how I could be so stupid and read over the requirements on the website. After all of this became a reality that I was not going to India that day I had to figure out what the next step was. I had finally decided that there is nothing I can do at this point and I needed to drive back home.
I called the man from the car lot and said I needed the shuttle to come back and explained what had happened. They said it was no problem they will come get me now but wanted me to go to a party with them. He would say things like “oh don’t worry we will take care of you tonight.” I said “uhhh no I want to go back to my car.” I was literally bawling my eyes out practically begging them to just pick me up and bring me to my car so I can go home. He would say things like “oh you look like you drink or smoke, cmon lets go to a party.” This eventually turned into an argument. At this point it was about 1am and I wasn’t taking the risk of even having uber take me anywhere near that lot with those creepers. I had no idea what to do.
The Lovely Chinese Couple
Little did I know this entire time I was perched in the corner of the airport entrance there was a lovely Chinese couple that was just visiting America for the first time. I had seen them nearby but didn’t really think anything of it. They had been listening to what was happening as I was rambling away on the phone and crying. They were the absolute cutest people. The little man approached me and asked me what had happened. I explained everything to them and they said “no you should not go back to your car tonight, we help.” The couple througout this whole process was also asking my why I would go to India insetead of China anyways. Inda was “super diry not safe” they said. One thing that made me feel better was that they are only one country over and were so surprised you needed a visa to get into India.
They helped me download Airbnb on my phone and suggested a safe area for me to stay in. How they knew what was safe in NYC for their first time in America I have no idea. They stayed with me for hours until I could get myself together, stop crying and book a place to stay for the night.
Before I left to get in my taxi the Chinese couple asked me for a favor. They said I was the first person they met in America and they really wanted to take a sefie with me and show their friends. I thought this was the funniest thing. The first American person they meet and I was a hot mess. I wish I could see the picture they took of us. I had been crying for almost a whole days so I was probably super un attractive. I got the womans email and have thanked them for helping me get out of the airport that night. God bless them.
What happens next?
I did a lot of crying that day. More crying than I have ever done in one day for sure. If there is one thing crying does to me it’s give me a massive headache. I had the biggest migraine of all time. When I got in the taxi we started toward the Airbnb and I asked the driver to pull over because I knew I was about to vomit. He
said “no we don’t do that.” I said “okay then.” I opened the window and blew chunks all over the side of his taxi. I don’t think he had any idea because he never said anything to me that whole ride.
Missing my flight also meant that I missed out on seeing one of the 7 wonders of the world the Taj Mahal. I had booked a guided tour for the first day I was in India. The short length of time I was in India a long with completing volunteer work meant that I didn’t have enough time to reschedule. I had missed out on such an amazing opportunity.
I settled in the Airbnb super depressed. There was no way my visa was going to get approved fast enough for me to catch the next flight or even one tomorrow. I somehow fell asleep dreading waking up the next day.
The Fight Begins
It was magic. Absolute magic! I woke up the next morning and received an email saying my visa had been approved overnight. How? It must have been a miracle because it says 3-5 business days at the least before approval.
Okay, well my visa is approved, I’m good right? I can just catch the next flight. I
called flight hub the third party who I purchased my ticket with. They said that because I missed my flight it was out of their hands and I needed to talk to the airline directly, Kuwait airlines. I call Kuwait airlines and they said you booked this ticket with a third party so it’s out of our hands.
Are you freaking kidding me?
The next few hours were a hard battle. Flight hub finally said they would re direct my flight if I paid an extra $500. Airlines suck! They are the absolute worst. My mom ended up buying me a new one way ticket to India because we couldn’t get anywhere with the airlines.
I went back to the airport and checked in with the front table and just wanted to verify with them that my flight back from India would still be okay. She was a very nice but firm lady from with a strong Russian accent. The lady said “uh no if you miss your flight the whole thing gets canceled.” UGH. So now I have a new one way ticket but no way home, great.
Luckily this lady saved me. She called up flight hub and rang them a new one. I loved it. She was screaming at the customer service lady saying “why would you ever tell a paying customer that if they miss their flight there is nothing we can do?” “You do your job and you re direct this ladies flight now!” Flight Hub did just that.
My flights ended up getting situated and my mom got her money back for the one way ticket she bought me. I started to check in again. This time I made it past step two luggage check in.
I Make it to India … Almost
I had a layover for a couple of hours in Kuwait, somewhere in the Middle East. I knew that I needed to get my visa stamped before I get to India. I was thinking okay well next stop is India I should probably figure out where my visa gets stamped here in Kuwait. I couldn’t read any of the airport signs. I had to ask
many people before I found the right spot. I got a ticket and waited in line for about an hour before I was called up to get my visa stamped. The ladies didn’t speak English well at all. They wanted me to put down a Kuwait address for my visa stamp. I was trying to explain that I am only in Kuwait for another hour, I don’t have any Kuwait address.
I could tell the ladies didn’t quite understand but continued to point to the missing field on my paperwork. Again, I broke down in tears having another panic attack. I was not trying to be stuck in Kuwait. I was already so uncomfortable with just being at this specific airport. I stuck out like a sore thumb. Every woman had their faces and every part of their skin covered. Here I was in leggings and a t-shirt with my long blonde hair everywhere.
A woman who I had passed a few hours with earlier in the airport had been the next in line for the visa stamp. She saw me crying and asked me what was wrong. I told her they won’t let me on my flight without a Kuwait address but I only have a layover here. She started laughing. I wasn’t sure why at first but she probably just felt bad for me. I stuck out like a sore thumb and everyone was staring at me.
The kind lady explained that you don’t need to get your visa stamped until you are actually in India. If you only have a layover in Kuwait you don’t get the visa stamp here unless you are staying here. The lady also explained what I was trying to say to the Kuwait visa stampers. We all ended up laughing and they finally understood that I was okay to get on my flight without the paperwork.
Please god just let me get to India.
Smooth Arrival … Sort of
Touchdown! I finally made it to India. I could finally breathe after going through all of that hassle to get here. I got through immigration and got my visa stamped in the correct place LOL. My last step was to collect my luggage and then I could finally say I did it.
I swear I was one of the last people off of my flight to make it through immigration and to the luggage cart. I finally made it over to the luggage cart and because I was so behind they had taken the entire leftover luggage from my flight and placed it aside. I had a bright pink carry on and a large black check in bag. None of which were set off to the side. “This can’t be
happening” I thought to myself. There is no way they could have possibly lost my luggage after all of this. I went up to the man who was standing next to the leftover luggage and I said “soo my luggage is not here.” They didn’t even check any other carts they just brought me over to a counter to fill out paperwork for the missing luggage. I was so frustrated because I was so determined that it was here just on a different cart. I kept trying to fight them saying that I knew what had happened and it had to of been on a different carrosel. They wouldn’t let me look around at all and forced me to come fill out paper work.
This would probably be considered break down number 207 out of my journey. I was so fed up with this trip. I landed in a third world country with no clothes and none of my supplies. Just the clothes I had been crying and sweating in for the past 48 hours. This is just how I wanted to meet all of the other volunteers.
As soon as I left the baggage area it was instant culture shock. Nobody looked like me and I wasn’t the only one who noticed it. I had so many taxi drivers trying to get my attention. Many people yelling at me “ma’am ma’am you need taxi?” I kept on searching for a paper with my name on it that said Cassandra. I eventually found them. The volunteer workers who were picking me up were so kind and friendly. They assured me that they would take care of my luggage and make sure it made it to me at my placement. I felt a little better but not really. All I wanted to do was change out of these clothes.
The volunteers I met right off of the back comforted me after I had told them about my tragic time getting here. It was so nice to finally see people that looked like me. They shared their clothes with me for the next few days. They made me feel so much better and made those few days without any luggage somewhat okay. I had to wear real Indian clothes from the market those few days as well. It was very uncomfortable not to be in my own clothes while I was already uncomfortable being in a new place. Not to mention the huge culture shock.
Was it worth it?
Was going through all of this even worth it? From the sketchy parking lot guys, no visa, no luggage, no flight, no Taj Mahal. Let me tell you this was the hardest day of my life. I mean it when I say that. Imaging you are about to live your biggest dream with your entire community cheering you on and it gets ripped from you. That was me this day.
Yes, It was totally worth it. I have grown so much in my confidence and willingness to try new things. I am a completely different person since I went through this terrible day. You always hear people say “it’s the tough times in life that make you stronger.” I never really experienced anything so tough that I could see the growth in myself when I returned back to the states.
If you are reading this post I can’t stress enough how important it is to do things that scare you. Put yourself out there. Be different then everyone else your age. You will not regret it no matter how hard you fall down or how many dumb mistakes you make. I traveled to the other side of the world alone. See my post on Traveling Solo as a Woman. I made so many mistakes but I don’t regret any of it for one second.
I encourage anyone reading this post to stop waiting on others. Your friends and family will never have the money and the time to do the traveling you are envisioning. Don’t wait for them. Solo travel has so many benefits. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to make memories.