Sometimes strange stuff happens when you travel. People have been asking me for travel tips as they prepare for fun summer adventures around the world. I can recommend hotels and tell you where not to go, but there are some things I just can’t spare you from. I guess it’s more accurate to say I won’t spare you from these moments. Hey, no one told me…
1. Photobombed by a nun
This picture is a classic example of the sort of travel awkwardness I’m talking about. I was 17 on our family trip to Italy. I have always been a bit awkward about posing for photos to begin with (notice the feet together, bowling pin pose). We were at the Vatican at the crack of dawn, so it was pretty empty. I felt safe posing for my big Vatican photo in front of the doors where no one would see me posing. That’s what I thought before a Mother Theresa-sized nun came out of nowhere and decided to photobomb my picture. Dad snapped it as she was basically beside me. At first Dad thought she was just really far away, but then she almost knocked into me, and it became evident that she was just really petite. And stealthy. I didn’t realize she was there until she was at my elbow. And I jumped out of my skin. In the Vatican. We almost lost dad to an uncontrollable fit of laughter that probably had something to do with his parochial school childhood.
I always thought of Shakespearean women as being pretty modest. Well guess what? Their skivvies were see-through. I learned this the hard way. On television. When I was 20, I decided to buy a plane ticket to London with my friend Christine. We were visiting Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London one day, when I was accosted by an enthusiastic curator. She was looking for someone to participate in a period costume demonstration, and I was one of the only people who was the right size in the museum. There weren’t too many people around to see, so I reluctantly agreed. Dumb, dumb, dumb. As I mounted the stage, people seemed to come out of nowhere. Then the curator nonchalantly said, “Oh yes, there is the press. They will be filming for a television broadcast.”
I have blocked the memory, so I will resort to my journal entry from the day:
“I was asked to change in a little closet to one side of the stage into a nearly-shear shift–and Christine could see me change from the audience. The curator had me stand on the stage in the shift to show the first layer of clothing. I was mortified that my undergarments were clearly visible through the shift, to the entertainment of the laughing men in the first row. I was relieved to try on the covering corset, bustle, and dress. We bypassed the rest of the museum.”
3. Handsy Honduran goes heavy on the pina coladas
I think the picture tells the story here. But the backstory is pretty awkward, too. During my stay on the Honduran island of Roatan, I took a snorkel trip to a shipwreck. You had to swim against some currents for a while and also dive down about 18 feet to see the shipwreck that day because of poor conditions. I have always wanted to see a shipwreck, so I was a little over-zealous and swam ahead of the group. Before I knew it, I was out at sea with this guy, giving him plenty of time to compliment my swimming. You can’t really compliment anything else when you are looking at someone in a snorkel mask. It’s super attractive. When we got back to the island, he got thoroughly drunk and tried to give me and my friends a series of free pina coladas (Shaved ice in Honduras? Great idea!). As we moved to the monkey-feeding part of the tour, he also became increasingly “hands-on” and the real trick of the day ended up being avoiding him. This picture was our tender farewell. He’s stroking my ear, but also has me in a head-lock with his elbow. Super endearing.
In some cases, it is wise to research the places you go before you get there. If you don’t, you may find yourself experiencing something you weren’t exactly prepared for. Case and point: this crypt in Sicily. We were excited to see my grandmother’s homeland of Sicily and decided to explore Palermo on foot with little information about the city. Imagine our surprise when we learned that the basement of this church was festooned with dried bodies. They still had the clothes on they were wearing in the 1800s and 1900s when they were pinned on the wall. Their mouths had dried in these horrible positions. There were monks, grandfathers, women–babies. Yes. Uncomfortable doesn’t begin to describe it.
I’m a big fan of historical accuracy. But I have to take my hat off to the folks at one historical site–because they took just about everything else off. When my sisters and I travel together, we are about 10 seconds shy of a laughing fit at any given moment. It takes very little to send us over. So imagine how I felt when I saw my sister round the corner and come face to face with this guy. She stopped. Her eyes got big. Then he turned sideways. He was wearing no underwear. I saw the convulsing shoulders and knew that if I looked at her face, the laughter would bubble over. So we did what any polite young ladies would do: we ducked into a wigwam. It was too late. The historically accurate reenactor had spotted my pretty sister. We saw his moccasins under the doorway and pulled it together in time for him to jauntily duck inside and strike up a conversation. He had a decided Brooklyn accent, which was startling, since all the reenactors up to that point had been the sort of employees who would probably not break character even at gunpoint (ok, musket or tomahawk point). It threw me off and I didn’t know where to look. This guy made the point of following us around the village for the better part of an hour, as Mom and Dad were mysteriously suddenly fascinated with Indian culture.
As you prepare for your summer travel adventures, remember that plenty of things will happen that you could never see coming. As they happen to you, just smile and enjoy them. Remember, you may only pass that way once–and in the case of awkward moments, that’s a really good thing.