My Trip to Portugal – A Nightmare I Am Grateful For

Just two weeks ago, I was traveling to Lisbon to attend the Agile Portugal conference. While the event itself was fantastic, my path to it was an ordeal. Majority of things that could go wrong, did just that. I caught a bad cold two days prior to the trip. My first flight was cancelled and I was boarded for an alternate route – I had to embark a plane going in the opposite direction. Then, while switching terminals in Madrid, I missed my flight. It turned my three-leg journey into four leg one, as I had to fly to Porto first. Finally, on a plane somewhat resembling World War 2 bombers, I arrived in Lisbon mere 12 hours late. As you can expect, my luggage arrived two days later, just hours in advance of my return trip. On top of that, just after delivering my talk, my vocal chords finally gave up and I literally lost my voice.

The whole trip was essentially a nightmare. I will, however, reminisce it with smile on my face. It was one of the best lessons on life, for three reasons.

1. Things we take for granted

We make astonishing number of assumptions every single day of our lives. We expect that no nuclear warhead evaporates us. We expect people to behave according to some rules, norms, and laws. We expect running water to be available in our taps. Likewise, I had a series of expectations that day, many of which failed me. I expected German national carrier to live up to their legacy of professionalism. They didn’t. From the first cancelled flight to booking me an alternate flight I couldn’t possibly catch. I expected to attend the conference well rested. I didn’t. Four flights in a day, coupled with my cold and irresponsibly short sleep over night took their toll. Heck, I expected something ultimately obvious, like wearing fresh set of clothes. As you can imagine, that didn’t happen as well.

We are really spoiled by the staggering comfort of our daily lives. We take almost everything for granted. We are hardly ever grateful for basic aspects of our existence.

Which is odd, given that mere hundred years ago, life was harsher by an order of magnitude. Somehow we miss that perspective. Hiding within illusion of safety, we start to resemble John B. Calhoun’s mouse utopia experiment (google it if you’re not huge fan of scientific papers) more and more. As this thought is just skin teeth shy of scary, I’m grateful for all the discomfort I experienced. As I am for the clean clothes I wear today.

2. Little pleasures

My initial flight plan was very simple – Wroclaw to Frankfurt to Lisbon, all within 6 hours. My actual trip was somewhat different. Wroclaw to Warsaw to Madrid to Porto to Lisbon over 18 hours. As my path was riddled by obstacles, I decided to make the best of it.

God, it was worth it.

I got to see the Terminal 4 at Madrid airport. In terms of area, it’s one of the biggest in the world. Only when you get to one end, you get to notice rainbow coloured pillars and relative quietness of the place. It was actually quite relaxing, for a building of its kind, of course.

I got to fly turboprop plane from Porto to Lisbon, on the final leg of the journey. It departed about one hour after sunset, which gave me unique opportunity to see both cities at night, easily spotting most of the landmarks. The view was quite spectacular. Superb service aboard TAP’s “Ponte Aerea” flight boosted the experience even more. That would be impossible in the regular jet, not to mention I wouldn’t fly that way in the first place.

When life gives you lemons, make some lemonade. I did and enjoyed it, a lot.

3. Individuals and interactions

Ever since my first visit in 2014, I was always hugely impressed with how organizers of the Agile Portugal conference took care of the speakers. They are caring, pleasant, and helpful far beyond industry standards. And even though I knew them and expected everything would be superb – as always – seeing my misery, they went even further. From the very first moment, when I showed up at the registration desk, to urging me to write an email confirming my safe return home, I was staggered.

And then I made a huge mistake and asked myself if I could ever exercise that much empathy. Damn. I don’t know, I was never in such situation. For sure, I have a benchmark to aim for, if the opportunity arises. Because (triviality warning) people matter the most.

Even though I was ready to strike down with great vengeance and furious anger upon the culprits of my ordeal, I’m now grateful for it. My insights and experiences were all worth it.

Have you ever had similar adventure? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Opinions are my own and not the views of my employers, customers, or clients.

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