After all the planning and hopes and dreams of all that a European working vacation might bring, one is rarely prepared for what reality has in store. I arrived in London on Thursday, July 7th. Exhausted. After twenty hours of straight travel and with four more to go, my stress was rapidly reaching it’s limit. Only an hour in customs wasn’t terrible, and although I had had very little sleep or food in the previous 48 hours due to some highly upsetting news the day before I left, I was anxious to get to my hotel in Brighton. My plan had been to take the Tube to Victoria Station, walk down to the O2 shop, and get a UK sim card for my iPhone. Which, I did. The shop was a bit further than I had anticipated, but that might’ve just been due to my level of exhaustion and having to carry my luggage on my back there and back. I did pack rather light, a carry on shoulder bag, backpack, and purse, but they all did become quite heavy rather quickly.
The O2 sim card was a bargain. Only £10 for a UK number that included data, texts, and Internet. One problem: turns out my iPhone was locked with AT&T, so it wouldn’t recognize the UK sim. Okay. No worries. The lady at O2 said there was a shop back in Victoria Station called the Phone Doctor where I could get it unlocked for about £50. It would be worth it, as I needed my phone. Scratch that. I *live* on my phone. Without my phone, I was cut off from everything. Husband. Friends. Business. Email. Twitter. Support network. Everything. Plus, I was supposed to text a special friend my UK number for an important phone call later that day.
Stress mounting. Exhaustion weighing heavy. I trudged back down Victoria Street to the station, which, by the way, is fricken huge. My shoulders and back were already screaming at me for carrying so much weight up and down Victoria Street. There were dozens of shops in Victoria Station, and I couldn’t bear to think about walking the entire thing, in both terminals, to find this one shop. So I asked someone who worked there. I followed their directions, but nothing. So I asked another and another, and each time, each person sent me in the wrong direction. I guess just because they like to fuck with tourists. I was near tears at this point. Finally, someone told me where I could really find this Phone Doctor, and after nearly escaping a very frightening homeless man who tried to corner me, I found it. I walked in the shop ready to pay my £50 and be connected once again. I set down my heavy bags and handed the guy my iPhone.
Sorry. He said. Can’t unlock this phone.
What? I said. But the sign says you can unlock any phone.
Yes. Any phone but this phone. Only AT&T can unlock this phone.
Thank you I said, my voice began to crack. I took my phone, piled my bags back onto my weary body, and went back to the station to see through my tears that I had missed my train to Brighton. Of course.
Fortunately, the next train wasn’t too far off, and although it was more expensive than the last, I just wanted to sit down. Upon arrival in Brighton, I took a bus to the hotel, walked another 1/2 mile to my hotel, and checked in. Still. No phone. Although the hotel said it had Internet in the room, it didn’t. I had to squat in the stairwell to get any service. I immediately went out to another O2 shop to see what I could do about a phone, stopping at every “we can unlock any phone” service between my seaside hotel and Churchill Square. None of them could unlock my phone.
Neither of the two O2 shops in Churchill Square would take my sim card back, even though the lady in the London shop said any O2 shop would. I tried to get a cheap phone, but both shops were sold out of every phone under £50, which is about $80. So, I went back to my tiny hotel room in defeated tears and never felt so alone in my life, cut off from everyone.
I’ve still not had any food at this point, as I was far too upset to eat. After 24+ hours of travel, the stress of the phone debacle, no food, exhaustion, jet lag, and being cut off from the world as I knew it, I was teetering on a panic attack, and I really needed a friend. But the one person I knew in town didn’t have time for me that evening, so I was truly alone. That day turned out to be one of the worse days of my life.
I finally ended up getting a cheap phone the next day, and, on top of everything else, discovered I was getting sick. At first I thought it was a symptom of the anxiety, but it turned out to be a virus. Lucky me.
I was able to touch base with my husband briefly, for he was on the road somewhere in Colorado, but it helped some. For a few minutes, but there I was again in my tiny hotel room, alone. No where to go and no one to see, increasingly ill, and the only loo I shared with 9 other rooms. Out of sheer desperation, I called a kind man I had met via Twitter, who at that point was little more than a friendly acquaintance, just to have someone to talk to, and he graciously took pity on me and invited me to London to stay with him and his family. Even though I had to let go of my prepaid hotel and lose $350, I took him up on his generous offer. Losing the money was better than being alone, feeling as if I hadn’t a friend in the world for the next four days.
So I’ll always be grateful to @MarcUpdates, now a dear friend & my brother in London, for taking care of me in my hour of need. He was a real knoght in shing armor for this damsel in distress. I truly don’t know how I would’ve survived that painful weekend without him and his family.
Thank you, Marc, for being there when I needed someone.
You’re a true friend.
Thanks to the kindness of one person, I feel much less lonely now.
More (happier, I hope!) travel posts to follow.