Syria Series: The Value of Underplanning

We were so naive when we trooped off to Syria with a seven month-old baby, four suitcases, and three shoulder bags. And I think that's a big reason why the trip was fun.

Now that we're almost ten years older, Shannon and I would certainly plan long-term overseas trips differently. Partly that has to do with the fact that we have four kids now, but putting that aside we'd still do it differently. We'd overthink it. We'd suck the internet dry for information on the target country. We'd pack in our suitcase everything we couldn't conclusively confirm is available in the target country. We'd vacuum pack each item so it took up less room in our baggage. We'd undertake a rigorous workout routine so we'd be fit enough to carry luggage long distances, in case we get lost and can't find a train or bus, like happened to us in Frankfurt once (Shannon will blog that one -- she blogs everything else these days). We'd learn about all diseases it's possible to contract in the target country, and we'd bring along both pharmaceutical and herbal remedies, and we'd also get immunized by eight different doctors (in case the first seven accidentally only had saline solution in their syringes). That over-immunization thing would actually kill us, I suspect, so we wouldn't actually do that, but you get my drift.

My baby wants Middle Eastern diseases.
When we prepared to move to Syria, we did as much as we knew to do. We did scour the internet, I suppose. But there just wasn't a lot of information available back then -- it seemed like a lot, but compared to what's available now, just ten years later, and compared with the ease of finding online information now, things were pretty primitive in 2003. Shannon talked about the train we found from Istanbul to Damascus. It was so stupid to just assume that the website that mentioned the Orient Express train (last updated in the nineties, I believe) was accurate. But we did. And we failed to fathom that the train departed from an unknown location in Istanbul (a large city, perhaps?). We figured, "Well, it's a train, right? So it leaves from the train station, right?" I'm not sure it crossed our minds that finding the right train station in a country where we can't speak or read the language could be dicey.

But we quite accidentally selected the ferry -- from at least a half-dozen docked ferries -- that would deposit us on the other side of the Bosphorus Strait, and we quite accidentally got off the ferry at the correct stop, and then we quite accidentally wandered into the train station 20 minutes before it closed, and the train station quite accidentally had one of the few ATMs in Istanbul in 2003. And we toddled back to our hostel shrugging and saying, "See? And people make such a big deal out of overseas travel."

Looking back, we were fools, but everything worked out. And I think that in some ways were lucky, but even if we had been unlucky, everything still would've worked out. Things might've been more complicated if we'd have had to camp out in Istanbul for a week or two because there was, in fact, no train to Damascus and we had to email home for more money so we could buy plane tickets. But we wouldn't have died, right? And isn't that the goal of international travel? Don't die?