To say my last day in Rome was a disaster would be an understatement.
The days leading up to my trek back to Leonardo da Vinci International Airport were, of course, just as romantic as you’d imagine. I strolled down ancient streets in my flowy lace and velvet dress that I bought just a few days into my trip at the most quaint boutique I found on a side street, my hair loosely tied up in a bun that had strands falling ever so freely around my face, snapping pictures of laundry hanging over alleys and the Coliseum in the same minute. What a blissful day, and an amazing trip. It had been everything I imagined it would be. No, I did not fall in love as everyone told me would happen in this romantic city, but I did fill myself with way too much gelato and spend my days wandering the ancient streets just like a tourist should. There’s really no place quite like Rome.
Of course, as soon as I packed my bags and said a final goodbye to the eternal city, I started to feel like there was no place like home, either. The tiredness I felt after my whirlwind tour of the Italian capital had me dreaming of setting down my bags and plopping into my bed as I grabbed the express train to the airport.
I stood in line with my fellow travelers, excited to make my cross-Atlantic voyage in style: I had a first class ticket for the first time in my life. I saved all of my airline miles for this indulgence, too, and I saved it for the last leg of my trip when I knew I’d enjoy the cushy, sleep-inducing chair the most.
I had tried to load my boarding pass on my phone the night before flying out, but, for some reason, there was an error in the completion of the task. I didn’t think twice about it, especially because this sort of thing was new in Europe in the fall of 2014. When I arrived at the check-in desk for a printed copy of my boarding pass, I was told there was an error in my booking.
“We can’t print the pass,” said the attendant with a thick Italian accent, “because you don’t have a seat in first class.”
I figured I just didn’t understand because his English wasn’t quite clear, but my heart dropped. I double- and triple-checked my booking to make completely sure that my miles could buy me the luxurious seat I had envisioned.
“We overbooked the first class because of a computer error,” he said. “And only the paying customers get their first class seats.”
This I heard loud and clear. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that a cash-paying customer would get priority, but it still felt like a major bummer. I spent the next 30 minutes discussing the return of my points with the staff at the airport though none were too helpful. As my frustration started to rise, I decided to grab the numbers of the airline’s customer service team; my heart couldn’t handle any more letdowns this morning.
Needless to say, I spent the rest of my time at the airport in a foul mood. I know that I should not have taken my disappointment out on the airport at large, but I would be lying if I said I could have been a more pleasant traveler. I felt like I couldn’t shed the disappointment I felt at that moment, though.
It stayed with me, in fact, until I sat down in my new economy class seat. I found myself huffing and puffing more than ever as I lifted my bag into the overhead bin. Where were my gallons of gelato and spiraling roadways which led to perfect cafes and shops? My head began to wander off into the deepest form of wishful thinking until I heard a voice from behind me.
“Need some help with that?”
I turned around to see a man much older than me smiling from behind round-rimmed glasses. Despite his age, he hoisted my bag up with ease. I had no problem saying “yes” to his offer of help, either, because I just felt so exhausted.
I prefer not to chat on airplanes, especially on long rides. However, Ben, the guy behind the glasses, had other plans.
“Sad to leave Rome?” He asked with a smile. I think the disappointment was pretty clear on my face. And, seeing him grin with the mere mention of the word “Rome” made me realize that I was focusing on all of the wrong things after the trip of a lifetime. All of my negative energy seemed to float away and was replaced with a sense of lightness as I reminisced on what exactly I had just done. I traveled to one of the most incredible locations I have ever had the chance to visit! A sour mood was the last thing I should have been feeling.
I decided to keep my airport experience to myself, telling him that I was indeed sad to be leaving Italy. He was, too.
“My wife and I dreamed of taking this trip when we retired,” he told me. I noticed then that he was traveling alone. I doubted that she stayed behind in Italy, and I didn’t want to press, but I could tell now by the look on his face that he took their dream trip alone. And, at that moment, my entire struggle that morning disappeared. How could I let myself fume over something so trivial?
I ended up chatting with Ben throughout the transatlantic voyage. And, when it came time to part ways, we exchanged e-mail addresses to keep in touch. I still hear from him, and he often finds time to share with me an inspirational quote or travel story from his ongoing world tour, which he says he does to honor the memory of his brave wife.
I, on the other hand, have to thank Ben for showing me that life’s too short to hold onto the frustrations we feel over the unimportant things. I also have to thank the airline that carried me to Rome for flubbing my booking and putting me in the seat that I really needed.
Just like Rome, Ben started out as a stranger, a person who I would share the bland row of economy airline seating with. But with a change of heart and a small introduction which led to us chatting the entire plane ride home, Ben became a friend that I would remember for the rest of my life. And just like Rome, Ben would forever be a wonderful reminder to me that life is beautiful.
Once a stranger, forever a friend.
Kacey Mya is a lifestyle blogger for The Drifter Collective. Throughout her life, she has found excitement in the world around her. Kacey graduated with a degree in Communications while working for a lifestyle magazine. She has been able to fully embrace herself with the knowledge of nature, the power of exploring other locations and cultures, continuously building her strong love for style while communicating these endeavors through her passion for writing and expression. Her love for the world around her is portrayed through her visually pleasing, culturally embracing and inspiring posts.