Live Everyday Like You Were in Madrid

Principle # 9 for keeping sane and productive in an insane world: Live everyday like you were in Madrid.

When you fly across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe and beyond, you will leave in the evening and arrive in the morning. You will try to sleep in a tiny seat unless you get bumped to first class like I did one time on my way to Egypt. It won’t work out that great. You will arrive tired.

My daughter Anna and I traveled to Spain in April 2022. It was partly to visit missionaries our church supported near Barcelona. It was also partly to tour Spain. The ticket to fly into Spain and out of Barcelona was nearly the same as flying in and out of Barcelona, so I thought, why not see these two great cities and take the train to Barcelona? That’s what we did.

When we arrived in Madrid, we were tired. We checked into our hotel and both laid down to sleep. I woke up about a half an hour later and said to myself? “What am I doing sleeping? I’m in Madrid!” So, I got up, left a note for my daughter, and went out to walk around.

I did need coffee, though. I went right down the street and found that icon of Madrid: Tim Horton’s. No, the place where I walked was not one of the great tourist spots of Madrid, but it was Madrid. I loved it. I savored it. I looked at every shop, listened to every person, and observed the architecture of every building. I was in Madrid!

A year later, I went back to Madrid. I had arranged a mission trip for my church with the missionaries from Spain. We were going to go work at a camp north of Sevilla in the south of Spain. I had no idea if anyone would go, but I bought my plane ticket for the trip. It was an unheard of $375 round trip from my local regional airport in Knoxville to Madrid. I not only bought the ticket for the week of the mission trip. I would actually go one week earlier and spend a week in Madrid. If no one went on the trip and it got cancelled, what was the worst that could happen? I would spend two weeks in Spain. That did not seem like a bad downside.

The mission trip did happen, and I did spend a week in Madrid. I walked all over the city. I took tours. I visited museums. I talked to people. I tried restaurants. I loved every moment of it. I was in Madrid!

Thinking back on all this when I arrived home, I thought, what if I could live here in Tennessee like I was in Madrid? What if I saw my own city with the excitement of being in a foreign country?

It is really not that unreasonable. There are people here who have stories. There is natural beauty to see. There are animals to observe. There are restaurants to visit. There are visitors from other places. There are fascinating stories in this place. There are sites and attractions and parks and businesses and houses and architecture and events to see. So why not live here like I was in Madrid?

For me, it’s even easier. I live near Pigeon Forge, TN. Everyone wants to come here. Everyone loves it. Everyone wants to move here. I own a home for which I pay less per month than what some people pay per day for a large cabin! Can I enjoy that? Can I have that excitement like I was in Madrid?

It’s hard sometimes. We get used to things, and we get bored with them. We categorize them in our mind and stop really seeing them. But we have only scratched the surface of the places where we live. I am reminded of that when I visit foreign countries. I study the country and learn about it. I go there and am generally able to tell people things that they don’t even know about their own country. I have had the reverse experience here. People visit here, and I keep learning about my own city from them. There’s more to see and know than we think. There’s more excitement than we think.

We can live each day like we were visiting a foreign country. We can capture the wonder of visiting a new destination each day. We can live each day like we had just landed in Madrid.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. It is a series of posts where I share principles or ways of seeing things that have helped keep me sane and productive in the midst of raising seven kids, pastoring churches for 19 years, getting higher degrees, and traveling the world. I hope that you find them helpful and that I’ll see you here again. Subscribe below to keep updated on the posts.

The Problem with Traveling by Airplane

The problem with traveling by airplane is not that they crash but that they sometimes don’t work. This means you may get stuck.

That’s the reality of traveling, but it’s especially disappointing when traveling internationally. It can wreak havoc with your trip or end it.

This is one of the risks that you have to take when traveling internationally. If you can, it’s best to allow margins in your trips in case things go wrong. The worst case scenario is that you get there early and can do more things in the country you are visiting.

Plane trouble was magnified in the time of Covid, but I have had some crazy experiences with plane trouble that had nothing to do with it. In this post, I want to share a few examples to help you know what you are up against.

We flew from Knoxville to Houston. From Houston, we would fly to Germany and then on to Egypt. We got onto the plane in Houston, and it all looked good. Then, over the speaker, we heard the bad news, the flight would be delayed. There was a maintenance issue with the electronics, and it had to be checked out.

The problem with this delay is that we only had a one and a half hour layover in Germany. No problem, I thought. We can just get a later flight into Cairo. That’ll be fine. However, being the person that I am, I wanted to check what flights were available from Germany to Cairo. Ok. There was a problem. There were no other flights from Germany to Cairo that night. What that meant was that our Covid test for Egypt would no longer valid (see my explanation of Covid tests and international travel here). We also could not enter Germany because Americans weren’t allowed to enter at that time. We could be stuck perpetually in the German airport like Tom Hanks in The Terminal.

I got up and went to speak with one of the flight attendants to explain the issue. He said, “This is going to take a while. We will have you talk to one of our representatives, and they will arrange new flights for you.”

A few moments after that, I went outside to talk to one of United’s representatives. I explained to him my situation. He clicked away at his keyboard for a few seconds and then said to me. “OK. Here’s what you can do. You can fly into Istanbul, Turkey. Your Covid test will still be good to enter Turkey. Then, you can get a ride to the hospital downtown and get a new Covid test. You can stay at a hotel in Istanbul and then get a flight to Cairo the next day.”

I looked at him with disbelief. “Uhhh . . . that is way, way outside my comfort zone.”

He didn’t miss a beat. “Alright. We can put you up in a hotel for tonight and give you meal vouchers. Then, you can go to the Kingswood Emergency Hospital and get a test. You can expedite it, and they will get it back to you within an hour or so. It will cost you $500 a piece. Then, you can get the same flight tomorrow, and that test will be good for Germany and Egypt.”

At this point, there was no turning back. We were going to go to Egypt. So, if two $500 tests was what we needed to get there, then that’s what we were going to do. One more benefit. He moved us to first class for our trouble. My father looked it up on Priceline the next day. A first class ticket to Germany would have cost about $9,000 that day. So, in terms of assets, we were way ahead, even if we had less money in our bank account.

We went to Kingswood, and we had a wonderful experience. This was a really great hospital. If you are in Houston and need an emergency hospital, I highly recommend it. They also have great coffee, and it’s free!

We went back for our tests. In less than an hour, they gave us a folder with our results. I opened them. There was a paper copy, and at the bottom there was a stamp! And it was signed! This is what I had been wanting for months! And now, I had it! Exactly what the Egyptian government wanted.

Colombia and Spain
A surprising number of my plane trips went well after that. No problem going to Cancun or getting home. No problem going to Spain.

It’s not always the plane itself. Sometimes, it’s what you need to get on the plane. My daughter ended up moving to Bogota, Colombia to study. So, we bought her a plane ticket to get there. We did not buy a return ticket. Why? Because she did not know when her semester would end or if she would want to stay after the semester. Well, that turned out to be a problem. You can only stay six months in Colombia without getting permission. So, getting a one way ticket made it look like my daughter was trying to illegally immigrate to Colombia from the United States. So, they would not let us get on the plane. With the clock ticking, I looked online for a return ticket. Fortunately, she was able to purchase one but for a lot more than her ticket for going there. It was also changeable. All she needed was proof that she had a return ticket. So, we were able to board the plane.

When I went to Spain the second time, I had a long wait in Knoxville and a long layover in Atlanta. I was going on a mission trip, but I was going a week early to hang out in Madrid. The plane was delayed quite a bit, but I thought, “I have a lot of time, so I can just relax here and do my work.” I felt bad for the many people who were struggling. I experienced a delay of several hours in Atlanta, too, but it did not bother me. I had no schedule for my week in Madrid. It was all just fine, but people all around me were in a panic.

When the mission team left to go to Spain a week later and meet me in Madrid, it didn’t work out quite as well. They got on the plane, but the plane kept getting delayed. Eventually, the flight got cancelled all together because of maintenance issues. They had no backup planes available. They had to wait until the next day. Delta then gave everybody Uber trips to a Motel 6 in a sketchy neighborhood. They waited five hours with a large number of their fellow passengers into the wee hours of the morning to get their rooms. There was only one employee. The bathroom was closed. They waited on the floor. Finally, around 5:00 a.m., they got to their rooms. They got some good sleep and got on the flight the next day, which arrived in Madrid without any problems. We missed our day of touring Madrid, though, because of the plane trouble.

Sometimes the plane problem is not the plane but the lack of it. On our second trip to Colombia, we were going to go from Bogota to Ibague to Medellin to Cartagena and then home. I purchased 17 plane tickets for $500 total and was very proud of myself.

On Monday morning, we went to the Ibague airport. There was nobody there in that small airport. I brought the tickets to the counter. “These are from Bogota, not from Ibague.” Bogota is a minimum of four hours away. So, this was a problem. It was also a problem because we had to get to Cartagena to get home. Our flight to Cartagena was from Medellin.

I asked them, “How much is it to fly from Ibague to Cartagena tomorrow?”

I waited with a bit of anxiety to see how much it would cost for six tickets. “It will be about $100 a piece.” To purchase six tickets was more than I paid for the 17 tickets to fly around Colombia. But compared with buying a ticket the day before the flight in the U.S., it really wasn’t that bad. Plus, we would be able to take our return flight in Cartagena. So, I bought the tickets for the next day.

When you travel, you have to prepare for the unexpected. It is just part of the game. I experienced some difficulties, but others experienced worse. One family got to the airport to go to the Dominican Republic. The airline literally had no backup flights, so the entire trip got canceled. Another family, was taking a cruise around the British Isles, and their flight got canceled. They missed the cruise, and I am not sure if they ever even got a refund. Traveling is a bit of a risk. Recognizing that beforehand and accepting that God’s will is better than ours, as my Colombian friends said to me when I found out I had the wrong flight in Ibague, is a way to ensure that you will be mentally prepared for what might happen.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. This may be a bit of a downer, but knowing reality is always our friend in the end. Better to go into it with your eyes open, IMHO. I hope to see you here again. Each Tuesday, I’m exploring the ins and outs of international travel. Subscribe below or click on to read the article.

Thoughts and Observations on Traveling to Spain from America

If you’ve ever thought of visiting the “Florida of Europe,” you really should have no hesitation. Traveling to Spain could hardly be easier, and you will enjoy a country that is hospitable, enjoyable, beautiful, secure, tranquil, and interesting.

One thing to remember about the Florida of Europe is that it is actually far to the north of our Florida here in the U.S. That means it’s quite a bit cooler. Experiencing temperatures in the 80s here, I told my wife that I was not going to bring a jacket to Spain. She responded, “Have you looked at the weather forecast?”

“No.” I replied.

“That might be a good idea.” She said. She proceeded to check it for me. Turns out I definitely needed a jacket, but the weather was still pleasant.

One of the big issues with traveling internationally is still Covid-19. However, if you are traveling to Spain and have been vaccinated, it is super easy. You simply fill out this form, and you will receive a QR Code. It takes just a couple of minutes, and you are good to go. We did not even have to show our vaccine cards.

As of now, to return to the U.S., you need a negative Covid test one day before you leave. This does not mean 24 hours. It means one day. So, if you are leaving on Sunday, you do the test on Saturday. We used the Binax Now tests from Abbott Labs. It was very easy, and we had no problems. You can order them here.

When people think of Europe, they often think it is very expensive. It can be. However, I found that it was not much more expensive than the U.S. and, for many things, less. For example, we stayed in downtown Madrid and Barcelona in very good hotels for less than $150 a night in Madrid and less than $100 in Barcelona. Continue reading “Thoughts and Observations on Traveling to Spain from America”