My most heroic travel feat to date

When I booked this trip to Togo and Benin, with a 24 hour layover in Lisbon, it was July and I was halfway through the year of an intensive masters program away from any friends and family. I started to plan a trip imagining getting away from South Africa. I remembered then that when I found out I was pregnant with Ryder, it was October 13, 2011-and I knew then we couldn’t go to the voodoo festival in January of the next year, as I’d planned. Six years later, I decided to use our AmEx points and book it. Then, I didn’t think much about it again until December rolled around and I realized we needed to prepare.

One issue that came up immediately is that I did not have our vaccination records with me. Normally I travel with our most important documents at all times, but now that we have a ‘base’ in Cape Town, much of our possessions were left behind. I then wrote our au pair to try to get the documents out to us, but it didn’t happen in time, so I had to come up with a plan B. Which was to take a picture of the document (Ryder got his yellow fever vaccination in Cusco, Peru) and get it signed by the Park County Immunizations office in Missouri, while getting copies of Jacob and I’s records.

Visa information was touch and go online. I could only hope that it was true that we could get a transit visa at the border.

We flew with TAP Portugal from Lisbon. It’s a decent budget airline. The food was not really edible, but neither was the 40 euro ‘cultural experience’ meal of piglet and cod at the airport, so at least this ‘iffy’ meal was included with the price of the flight. The turbulence was the worst in-air experience I’ve been in-felt like we’d crashed into something, but it only lasted for a couple of moments while we passengers looked at each other like, ‘Is it time to panic yet?’

After all that concern about vaccinations, the doctor at the yellow fever station in the airport waved us on without looking as I took too long rifling through papers.

The visa cost 15000 CFA each person, lasted for 7 days and we were directed to go extend the visa for a whole year in the office in town, no extra cost.

The man helping us was jovial enough, and his English was quite good. Perhaps the only local Togolese that I can say that of so far…

While we were taking visa photos, a man came up asking if my name was Hansen. Jacob said that was my name. He directed me over to the baggage claim. We had not checked any luggage, and in fact, the two other passengers, last out of the airport were also both Hansens-from Denmark, born Togolese. The luggage was theirs. What are the chances?

hansens from denmark

The reason we did not check any luggage is what leads me to my story and the reason behind the title of my blog post, came about after a series of unfortunate events, starting in Edinburgh. Our flight to Lisbon was from Heathrow in London at 1:40 pm. We had already purchased tickets for the train.

*We were standing on the wrong side of the road and missed the first bus to the train station, and then a taxi was waved on by me so that we could take the next bus instead (we’d already paid 4 pounds for the bus tickets)

*On the next bus, our departure was delayed by several minutes because the lady told me I had purchased tram tickets, not bus tickets, and she couldn’t let me on. I told her we would miss our train. I said I’d thought they were bus tickets. She said there was nothing she could do. I said I’d purchase the bus tickets again then. I was short 50 pence or about 70 cents. I kept asking Jacob if he had it and he kept saying no. I pleaded with her to take the remainder in euros. She said she’d wait while I looked for change, otherwise no. I said we’d have to get off. She said I was being rude when she was just trying to help, and finally said she’d just take it out of her paycheck. I apologized and said I was not trying to be rude, just didn’t want to miss the train. She would not accept any euros from me, calling them useless, which is true on a technicality but surely redeemable eventually. She did not accept my apology and seemed tearful. Jacob as witness says I was not rude but just pleading. I think she just felt bad for being unrelenting when any other bus driver would have just waved me on ahead. However I was disturbed that I seemed to have ruined someone’s morning, and I was so rattled by this exchange I did not get the rest of my credit card and ticket information prepared as I’d planned, so

*When we got to the train platform and I tried to pick up my tickets, it said error-wrong credit card, see assistant. But there was no assistant. I raced to the office while Jacob decided to go get on the train. Unfortunately, I did not realize it but he had my passport so that

*When I tried to pick up my tickets at the assistant’s office, I did not have any photo identification, other than Ryder’s aquarium card, which I emptied out my backpack looking for something. My new backpack has literally 6 zippered layered pockets. That required a lot of zipping and unzipping and emptying.


*4 minutes before the train left the ticket man decided to use Ryder’s aquarium ID to give me my tickets. I gathered up my strewn possessions off of the ground and ran with my arms full towards the train. Jacob was shouting, “Kalli!” I responded, “I’m coming!” and dropped my mini Ipad, chipping the corner and cracking the screen. I continued running. I missed getting in by about five seconds. The train was still there but the doors had closed.  Again, the lady was standing there saying there was nothing she could do, the train had to depart. The next train, fortunately, left only 8 minutes later, but it was not an express, so we would arrive nearly an hour later with this one, at 10:35, rather than at 9:40.

*Ryder, using play to cope with that somewhat stressful event himself, began asking for our tickets. He wrote up tickets on the paper pad he’d gotten from the Campbells, and kept telling me I couldn’t go to the dinosaur museum, or to the library, because I didn’t have a ticket. I couldn’t hum the song I was humming, because I didn’t have a ticket. He, of course, didn’t need a ticket for anything, because he was the Ticket Man, and was the giver of tickets. I did not find the playing of this game to relieve my stress, however, because I was still ticketless in each version.

ryder pamphlets

*The train arrived in Kings Cross 10 minutes late. It was 10 to 11 by the time we were off the train. Jacob called Kings Cross a war zone. We got off the train and I asked someone to show us the right way to Piccadilly line. He was at a run already. The entire place is a madhouse. 100% stress. People all running and serious and desperate. We followed him until we were pretty much there and then I told him he could go on ahead. He raced out of sight. It is an hour train, so it was noon when we arrived to terminal 4, where I made the decision to disembark. My final words to Jacob were a reminder of our hotel in Lisbon, in case he and Ryder got on the train, and not me. I began to imagine how my desire to not pay extra for a taxi in Edinburgh was culminating in actually necessitating the purchase of an entire new plane ticket. Our flight was leaving from terminal 2, the next stop on the train.

*Getting out at terminal 4 turned out to be the wrong decision. Because it was clear out on the other side of the airport, away from Novotel, where I was going to drop off our luggage, so we did not have to check baggage for the flight to Portugal. I finally found the taxi rank after pushing all of our luggage including my two carry ons and two suitcases in a luggage handler at a full sprint around the airport, on the wrong floor (departures rather than arrivals) this cost me an extra 20 minutes.

*When I got in the taxi the driver told me it would take 16 minutes. Google said 8 I told him. Try 15 he said. This was due to the fact we were in terminal 4, again. There was a lot of traffic around the airport. We arrived at Novotel at approximately 12:36. It only took 1 minute to drop them off-the lady simply handed me baggage tags and told me she’d store them for me-taxi driver was still waiting for me. The drive to terminal 2 was only 5 minutes. I still had to pay the driver. It was 30 pounds plus a 3 pound tip. I raced into the airport with a little less than an hour to spare, with only two carry ons to herd around. Security was extremely quick and easy-(we weren’t flying to the US) and I actually got inside before they’d even announced the gate of departure- I got through security at 12:53, and they announced the boarding gate at 12:55.

*Because I had not slept more than an hour the night before, having instead chatted with a friend and packed all night, it was one of the longest days of my life. There is something about -just- making it, with that rush of adrenaline when racing toward the finish line, and then that burst of euphoria, when you know that you have won, despite obstacles along the way, that apparently feeds some addicted part of my brain, and probably reinforces and encourages repeat behavior. It remains to be seen what it will take to reform this habituated nick-of-time traveler.

*Jacob called me a hero because now he would not have to cart around two extra suitcases in Togo and Benin and Portugal. I did it for the family.

Kalli Hiller

Article by Kalli Hiller

Kalli Hiller is a voluntary vagabond who, with her husband Jacob, has traveled full time for the last eight years.

Kalli has written 377 awesome articles for us.

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