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The Spring Break Mistake

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We may fear booking the wrong flight and going to the wrong city. How about accidently going to another country? It happened to Kat Houston. Can we say O.M.G?

Katherine (Kat) Houston is a student at Monash University Australia. She wrote the following article for International Student Voice Magazine. We’re sure this situation wasn’t funny at the moment, but it makes a great story now. Thanks for sharing, Kat! 

What would you say if I were to tell you that instead of booking a flight to Panama City Beach, Florida, I bought a ticket to Panama City, Panama, and didn’t realise until we were landing in Central America? Hypothetically speaking of course.

This is the text message my best friend received when I returned to North America after making the biggest and most expensive blonde mistake of my life. She laughed hysterically of course. Normally I’m pretty good in the dumb-blonde department. My older sister was always the culprit of posting letters without stamps and walking to the DVD shop to return a movie but not actually bringing it with her. But I think I win this time.

“I’d spent a few days exploring New York City when I decided that Florida was where I wanted to go next….”

My spring break was spontaneous as it was, but ending up in the wrong country was pushing it. I’d spent a few days exploring New York City when I decided that Florida was where I wanted to go next, even the subway sign was telling me so. NYC was great, especially when, out of the generosity of my heart, I gave a guy in need at the station $5 because I didn’t have a one, and he starts yelling after me, “Can I have your number? I will give you back those five dollars. You must be rich – who’s your father? What if I didn’t have a girlfriend!”. I promise I’m not making this up.

I messaged some friends and they seemed happy to have me stay with them for a few days at Panama City beach, so I started looking online for flights. It confused me how Panama City had three airports so I naïvely chose one at random for the next day and booked a return for that Saturday. A few hundred dollars later I was pumped for Florida and we headed to NYC’s Coyote Ugly bar to celebrate our last night in the city.

My first hint should’ve been filling out the immigrations forms after we’d left Atlanta but I just thought hey, maybe it’s different down in Florida. And starting a conversation with the girl next me discussing where we were going seemed pointless seeing as we were clearly both on a plane to the same place. Looking back, I probably should’ve had those conversations, because if I didn’t save the money I could’ve at least saved myself a five-hour flight, not to mention a panic-attack.

As I tried to add a different time zone to my iPod without success, a sudden dreaded thought occurred to me as we were descending – what if Panama was a separate place from Florida? Holy shit I think there are two. I frantically tapped away at the TV screen in front of me to confirm what I feared to be true.

Kat in New York City

Now my geography is clearly bad, but seeing Mexico to the north, Ecuador to the east, and the Galapagos Islands to the south were not good signs if I was trying to land in Florida. So in case you were wondering; there are two Panama cities and one is in fact located in a separate country. Most expensively discovered fun-fact of the week right there.

After silently freaking out during wheels-down it was time to leave the plane. I exited with full intentions of getting through immigrations, booking the next flight out of there, and not leaving the airport unless it was on a plane leaving the country.

Unfortunately immigrations wanted to know what was up, apparently a teary-eyed Australian girl raises questions. The only response I managed to get out was, “I got the wrong flight”. For Spanish speakers, Panamanians had a pretty sound knowledge of the English language, so I had no issue telling them everything that had happened. It was pretty simple really; I f**ked up. After being told to wait for further help I noticed a boy from my flight hovering around.
“They screw you over too?” he asked.
“Umm… pretty sure my situation’s a little worse than yours,” I responded, expecting him to have picked up the wrong cowboy hat or something.
“Try me.”
“I’m in the wrong country. I should be in Florida right now”
“Haha me too”.

Gobsmacked.
How do two people make that same error? Turns out the airline had booked his incorrectly over the phone and his Memphis mother had kicked up a fuss. But for me, it was just a rookie mistake. At least with this fellow spring-breaker kid around I figured I was less likely to get robbed and stabbed, plus we managed to get free accommodation at a nearby hotel that was surely five stars worth. Another plus was that Memphis here spoke fluent Spanish, so I could stop repeating, ‘I’m sorry I don’t speak Spanish’, although at least then I felt like Will Ferrell in Anchorman.

Next step: tell parents.

Due to being in a scary unknown country I didn’t appear to be in too much trouble, but somehow I feel like that’s going to change once they get the flight bill in the mail. I mean… it’s called emergency money for a reason. At least Dad mentioned that in the future it’d be a funny story. I don’t know how far into the future he was thinking but by the time I was flying from Atlanta to Florida things were definitely looking up.

*               *               *

Finally, beautiful Florida!

Florida was almost perfect. It had beaches, bars and the promise of a good tan, which mostly ended up as burn. Even though I only had one epic night out of three it was definitely time and money well spent and I’ll aim to get back there when I can.

I’m not going to lie, when I was pulled aside going through customs in Newark, NJ, I certainly thought that was going to be the most interesting part of my flight to what I thought was Florida. Especially when it was because I’d forgotten about the toy handcuffs I had randomly thrown in at the last minute, because you never know right? So when the officer asked me what was in the bottom of my bag, my only answer was shoes. He then proceeded to tell me about the handcuffs also there.
“I completely forgot about those, they’re fake don’t worry, if it’s an issue you can just take them”, I said, not wanting to look like a crim. I’d already had to cut-down on my liquids i.e. subtly attempting to pour out the Captain from my leopard-print flask.
He just frowned then looked at me enquiringly.

“Ma’am, are you travelling with a child?”
Umm… No?! First of all, do you see a small child running around my feet? Pretty sure I wouldn’t let them come through customs ten people behind me. And secondly, what kind of a country jumps to conclusions involving a 20 year-old handcuffing their child?!
“No sir…?”
“Alright, have a good day”.
Score. Keeping the handcuffs.

Seven hours later I ended up in the wrong country.

… I’ll never live this down.

Do you have a crazy, embarrassing, or incredible story to share?

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3 Responses to “The Spring Break Mistake”

  1. jistudents says:

    very interesting!!!

    Journal of International Students

  2. Juan Martinez says:

    thanks for sharing your story Kat. Most people would be afraid of sharing this as they would be made fun. I’m sure others have experienced a similar issue. I really liked the way you wrote the article. Still looks like you had a fun Spring Break. Good luck to you :) .

  3. Bahar says:

    I loved your story, Kat! All of us may experience such unbelievable happenings because of our own or other people’s mistakes. This is a great idea to share such an experience in the form of a story! I totally agree with your father and I loved the way you tell the story! One can completely imagine the exact feeling that you have had in that situation! :)

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