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The day I was abandoned in a concentration camp

Not every moment of a trip is Instagrammable. In fact, many of them are the opposite of that: stressful situations, boring waits and bad unforeseen events don’t usually yield nice photos. It’s like life itself, of course – ups and downs are part of the game. Fortunately, even when we face problems on our travels there is almost always a solution. And once it’s all over, our souvenirs are what we’ve learned (and hopefully might help us prevent it from happening again) and the stories we get to tell our friends – or blog readers, in my case.

Since I’ve been on the road very often for over 12 years, I’ve had my share of problems, mistakes and bizarre stories while traveling. Some funnier, others more dramatic, but they’ve never stopped my wanderlust – far from it! And some of these situations taught me important lessons about travel preparedness, like the day I was abandoned at the memorial of a concentration camp in Germany.

Before I tell you what happened, I must explain that I’m actually one of those people who always, always tries to be cautious. I make lists of what to pack, save important documents in the cloud, check the working hours of any attractions, and all these typical attitudes of organized and responsible (a.k.a. controlling) people. But everyone is always telling me to worry less and relax, so I ended up deciding to take the advice seriously – I just didn’t choose a good time to do it.

Here’s the story: it was Summer 2017. I was camping in the middle of nowhere in southern Germany with about two thousand young people for two weeks. The people in charge of the camping trip had created a mini “travel agency” to organize day trips, and I signed up to spend a day at the Dachau Concentration Camp memorial along with the two Brazilians who were with me, on a bus rented by the organization that ran the campsite.

The girl in charge was already losing patience because I confirmed the departure and returning times a thousand times. Sighing, she told me again and again: we would leave the memorial at 5pm and arrive at the campsite at 7pm. Noted.

When the day arrived, we woke up super early and went to the bus like zombies, Walking Dead style. I fell asleep in an instant, after a freezing and poorly slept night, and only woke up when people were getting off the bus. Still drowsy, I thought about confirming with the driver, for the thousandth time, the return time, but then I heard that voice on my mind: “worry less, relax”. My conscience replied: “you’ve already confirmed it, it’s okay”.

We followed the herd of people to the entrance of the memorial and separated from the group as we explored the place. When we finished seeing everything that interested us, there was still almost an hour to go before 5pm. “Let’s walk slowly towards the parking lot so we arrive there with time to spare”, I told the boys. And off we went.

We got there in about 15 minutes and saw the clock turn to 4:30 pm, 4:40 pm, 4:50 pm and still didn’t see anyone from our group. I started to worry: was it possible that everyone had decided to show up at the last minute – including the bus itself? This was Germany, after all, so I figured punctuality was the norm. I decided to approach another bus driver who was just sitting there and asked, in my stone-age German, if he had seen our group.

His response made my heart skip a beat: they had left at 4pm, clearly without counting the passengers and realizing that three people were missing. The new departure time had been announced, I discovered later, during the journey (yes, during that same route during which my friends and I slept soundly).

Besides not checking the time again while leaving the bus, another mistake we made was not having a European sim card that allowed us to call or send a message to anyone. I left the boys in the parking lot waiting for a miracle (I don’t know, maybe they suddenly felt our painful absence and came back?) and ran to reception, which was already closing, to ask for the Wi-Fi password. “I’ll be able to talk to someone on the bus and they’ll come and get us here”, I thought. So deluded.

“We don’t have wi-fi, miss”, was what I heard when I got there – information that hurt even more than when the internet goes down in the middle of that Netflix marathon. Luckily, an employee took pity on my lost-dog face and let me use the ticket office computer to send a Facebook message to a friend who was at the campsite.

Even more fortunately, the friend saw the message quickly and ran to talk to people at the “travel agency”. What wasn’t so lucky was their response: we would have to return on our own. Which wouldn’t be a big problem, if it weren’t for the facts that a) no one at the museum had even heard of the place where the campsite was located; b) there was no direct transport there; c) we had very little money, we hadn’t taken a card, and no one knew how much the tickets cost.

A few tense moments later, someone managed to figure out the best route for us to take and I wrote down the instructions on the memorial map. Meanwhile, the employee’s young son was waiting for his mother, who was late to pick him up from school (always good to know that you are potentially causing trauma to a child).

We took a bus and arrived at Dachau train station, where – surprise! – there was no employee to provide information. After a challenging time trying to understand the tickets machine, I managed to buy the three tickets for just two euros less than all the money we had (thank God that we hadn’t bought those useless souvenirs in the shop).

I started to remember what it felt like to be relieved when I picked up the tickets for the train, which would leave in just 10 minutes. From there, it would be about 2h30 to the town closest to the campsite, where someone would pick us up by car for another 40 minutes of travel.

“Great, now we just need to go to the platform and catch the train! But wait… Where is the platform?”. Strangely, this information wasn’t written anywhere, nor in the tickets or around the station. Once again, I used my rudimentary German to find someone who could help us. The train departure time came and went, and no one could tell which platform it was, because they were all taking a different type of train.

Finally, the fourth person I spoke to, an angel who spoke English, found the solution: we needed to go to the machine and click on a small icon to see more information, including the platform number – which, by the way, we would hardly find by checking the displays, as I tried to do, because it was the only platform behind a part of the station that was under renovation, covered by siding. Thanks, Murphy.

Obstacle overcome, I checked the train timetable, borrowed a random guy’s cell phone (who wasn’t so happy to be disturbed from catching Pokemons) and called the camp staff to let them know what time they could pick us up at the station.

Everything good now, right? Errr… Almost. We still had another hour to wait for the next train, so we went to look for a bathroom – there wasn’t one at the station. At that Mc Donald’s, the only commercial establishment in the area, there certainly was one, right? Except it was undergoing maintenance.

The wait was painful on our bladders, but there was a happy ending after all: at 11pm, five hours after the people who managed to get back on our bus, we arrived at the camp safe, tired, and hungry.

our campsite

What I’ve learned: when traveling, carry more money than you think you’ll need, have a local sim card, check important information a hundred times and most importantly: go to the bathroom whenever you can.

Since this happened, I’ve learned that although it’s good to relax, it’s also very important to be prepared when traveling abroad. And one of the things that I never forget is travel insurance! If you travel often, I recommend the Nomad Insurance from SafetyWing, a Norwegian company created by digital nomads to cater for the needs of people who never know where they’ll be next week.

They already offered a great product, but the recently launched Nomad Insurance 2.0, includes new add-ons that make it even more appealing. For more information, read my full article about this travel insurance for digital nomads or check out their Frequently Asked Questions page. If you’re ready to get covered, click here.

Disclosure: This isn’t a sponsored post, but I’m part of SafetyWing’s Ambassador program, which gives content creators that believe in their product some incentives to talk about the company. If you do sign up using the links on this article, I’ll get a small commission that helps me keep this blog up and running and you won’t pay anything extra. Thank you!

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