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Six Tips to Avoid Disaster Before Your Journey


Organizing our gear at the Olso airport. It took us awhile to get out of there, but everything arrived in one piece.
Organizing our gear at the Olso airport. It took us awhile to get out of there, but everything arrived in one piece.

Weeks before our trip, we began our countdown to departure and made list after list of things to get done and packed before leaving. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we’ll remember all of those things we need to get done and, inevitably, something will go awry.

Below, I tell the short tales of six major mistakes we made, to help you avoid these same pitfalls. Of course, you’ll probably have your own to add to this list.

1. If you’re relying on someone else in order to obtain Very Important Items, such as rain covers, to keep your gear and clothing dry, make sure you have these Very Important Items well in advance. We did not, and as a result, Dave spent 45 minutes with our local bike shop, whom we were told would have these Very Important Items waiting for us, trying to figure out the snafu two days before our departure from Portland to Seattle.

With no luck at our bike shop, we set out on a mission to call every bike shop in Portland that carried our brand. No one had them in stock. Nor did anyone in Seattle. Dave finally found a shop in Iowa who agreed to send us our Very Important Items, which they mailed two-day air, for full price and $60 in shipping fees. Did we mention we had already paid for these Very Important Items? Ouch.

2. Don’t send the Very Important Dog Paperwork to Seattle with your parents. My brother and parents came to Portland to help us clean our house, pack, and take some of our personal belongings to Seattle, where they would live indefinitely at my parents’ house (but not forever, we promise).

On the way home from an errand, Dave realized something very bad. He realized that the folder containing all of Sora’s Very Important Dog Paperwork for EU entry was with my parents. In the car. Far, far away. We were headed for Tumwater, WA the the following morning, where we would provide the USDA veterinary services with our Very Important Dog Paperwork. This visit would grant us approval to bring Sora into Europe. Tumwater is halfway in between Portland, Oregon where Dave and I were to remain for the evening, and my parents in Mukilteo, WA.

Our vet was no longer open for the afternoon, and closed the following day. We had no choice but to expedite the cleaning of our house and make the 3.5 hour drive to Seattle that evening.

Silver lining? Since we had assumed that Seattle traffic would move as swiftly as a bicycle pedaling through chia pudding, we departed with plenty of time to spare and arrived an hour early for our appointment, which allowed us to meet our friend, Meg for coffee before leaving on our trip.

Airport Ride_Oslo-1
Scenic ride along country roads in Norway.

3. Check your drawers before leaving your house. Check everything in the house, really. In our rush to leave and get to Seattle to retrieve Sora’s paperwork, we did a quick circle in the basement, and pronounced that all Very Important Items had been included. Never mind that we hadn’t really spent quality time packing our panniers. In an attempt to have a trial run, we haphazardly shoved gear into our bags an hour before our going away party three miles down the road at a brewery. It didn’t all fit, and not all of it was even ready to go. The following day, we stuffed the remaining items into bags, threw them in the car, waved good-bye to our home, and went on our way.

After spending dedicated time with our gear and laying it all out at my parents’, Dave realized he was missing some Very Important Clothing. Like his bike shorts. And his only pair of warm cycling pants.

An urgent call to our renters, who had thankfully decided to move in as soon as we had evacuated, revealed that Dave’s Very Important Clothing was folded neatly in his dresser drawer. Amanda, renter extraordinaire, kindly overnighted Dave his Very Important Clothing to my parents house. This time, our mistake cost us $100. Needless to say, we are huge fans of FedEx.

4. Don’t trust the confirmed, written, guarantee from your airline that your dog can travel with you in cabin for the entire duration of your flight. Just before departing for the airport, Dave received a voicemail from our airline, indicating she had some questions about our dog. I returned the call on our way, and the woman on the other end informed me that Sora would not be able to travel on board with us from Frankfurt to Oslo because the EU does not recognize Emotional Support Animals and policies had changed in the new year. Dogs weighing over 8kg are now required to fly in the belly, with a kennel, and for a charge. She didn’t care that we had a confirmed, written, guarantee from the airline. She said Sora was not permitted to fly on board. I told her she was. We went back and forth like that a few times before I asked her who makes this sort of phone call to someone who is 15 minutes away from the airport.

Fortunately, Sora was able to fly on board with us throughout our entire duration, since we had booked our trip in 2014, before rules had changed. Whew.

Airport Ride_Oslo_2-1
This wasn’t even the long, massive hill. This was just a short, easy one.

5. Oh, we were supposed to box our bikes? Even though you told us not to? We had bike boxes, but took them back to our local bike shop. In Portland. Several phone calls to our airline indicated that our best move was to not box our bikes, as there was a special area on the plane dedicated to bicycles. If we did box them, we were told, they would be considered oversized baggage and cost $300 apiece. Unboxed, $150. I don’t understand the logic, but we didn’t feel like spending an extra $300 if we didn’t have to. They assured us our bikes would be safe.

When we took our bikes over to the oversized baggage loading area, the fellow there asked about bike boxes, essentially informing us that our bikes would not come back to us in one piece. We carried our bikes back and forth twice between oversized baggage and the ticketing counter before the airline found someone to load them directly onto the flight.

We joyfully collected our bikes in Oslo and found them to be in one piece and in working order.

Airport Ride_Oslo_Sky_Stripe-1
Just before the long climb into Oslo. Exhausted, hungry, and ready to be off our bikes and in bed. We did have energy to enjoy this stripe in the sky.

6. Download your route map to your phone or tablet before entering a country where you won’t have cell reception or reliable wifi. I had printed out the map and turn by turn directions from the airport to our friend’s house in Oslo, but it was about as useful as a broken bike chain.

We thought we had struck gold when we discovered a bike path just outside the airport. Route 7, it was called. It was well-labeled and let us know we had 58km to go before we arrived in Oslo. We hit the trail and continued on our merry way, sleep-deprived, but in good spirits.

The signs guided our way for about 10km and then they just stopped once we hit a fork in the road. We consulted some locals who pointed the way to Oslo, after they first asked incredulously why we weren’t taking the train.

After arriving at yet another un-signed forked about 2k down the road, we noticed a street sign matching a street in our printed directions. The weren’t useless after all! Well, those handy directions took us on three right turns, and you know what that means – we ended up back at that original fork. One more try with the locals and we set on our way, past the same school and small town we had seen moments before.

Seven hours later, after many, many stops for directions, and climbs up long, massive hills, we somehow made our way into Oslo and to the front door of our friend’s home. We scarfed down the soup she had made for us and slept like rocks that evening.

We downloaded maps for Norway, Sweden, and Denmark the next morning.

What massive mistakes have you made before embarking on a long term journey?

Jen Sotolongo

Hello! I'm Jen. I'm a writer, photographer, dog mom, and outdoor enthusiast. When I'm not writing about awesome ways to get outside with your dog, I'm probably out for a long trail run. I also fancy myself a pretty decent vegan cook, and am always happy to whip up a batch of cookies for friends. I am based in the Pacific Northwest and I never leave home without my dogs.

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