I consider myself a fairly lucky traveler. I say that because, for as much as I travel, I have had precious few bad things happen to me. That all came to a screeching halt recently when flying on SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) from Washington to Oslo, via Copenhagen, I fell victim to that dreaded of European anomalies – the strike. While intensely annoying at the time, it wasn’t the worst thing in the world but I did want to share the lost luggage experience with you and a few things I learned from it all.
There were 7 other people there with me, staring at the baggage carousel as it stopped, intellectually understanding what had happened, but not prepared for it emotionally. After a very long travel day with no sleep, the last thing anyone wants to deal with is missing luggage, but that’s exactly what happened to me as I arrived in Oslo. Back in Copenhagen, a massive airline strike was underway wreaking havoc at all levels and, I would later learn, causing thousands of bags to not be routed to their final destinations. All I knew at the time of course was that I was tired, cranky and a little bit smelly and all I wanted was to change into something fresh. That wouldn’t happen for a couple of more days.
Given a handy web address and phone number to check into periodically, I was sent on my way and told the bags wouldn’t be far behind. By day two of no updates anywhere and customer service reps who didn’t seem to care about either customers or service, I began to give up hope. Still wearing my slip on loafers and a very light flannel shirt, I was due to leave the next day for Alta, Norway, in the far northern reaches of the country. Much colder, I was expected to go dog sledding, snow-shoeing and many other outdoorsy and cold sounding activities for which I had nothing to wear – not even gloves and a hat.
I was in Oslo, infamous around the world as one of the most expensive cities in which to live. After a couple of days of buying snacks and coffees, I understood where that reputation came from and I was terrified how much money I’d spend if forced to go out and replace my clothes and luggage. I waited until the last minute and when no information from SAS was forthcoming, I slipped my wallet into my slightly stiff pants and set out into the heart of the downtown, hoping for the best but expecting the worst.
As it turns out, I benefited from end of winter sales for the style of clothes I needed, items that are warm and easy to wear. Without detailing the MANY stores I trundled in and out of, I instead want to share some lessons I learned during what became a five-hour shopping extravaganza.
Toiletries are complicated and expensive
I had noticed this before, but toiletries are perhaps the most unique and personal items each country uses. In many cases not only the names are different, but some places don’t use the same items. Knowing this, I went into the pharmacy looking for guidance. The toothpaste was easy enough to find, but the deodorant was more of a challenge. I could only find deodorant and not the antiperspirant/deodorant combo I’m so used to back at home. Shaving supplies were easier, but solution required a couple of more stops, eventually ending up at an optician’s shop, which had the best and cheapest options. I also have knee problems, and had the added complication of finding an appropriate knee brace. I found many, but they were priced between $75-$100 each, a far cry from the $13 at CVS I’m used to. I eventually found one for only $25 and left, frustrated and worried about the rest of the shopping experience. Tip: Buy toiletries not at the pharmacy, but at the local grocery store where they’re usually cheaper.
European clothes are different
I knew the sizing would be different, but there were other issues I ran into when buying normal, everyday men’s clothes in Oslo. First it had to do with the pants. Most of the ones I found didn’t have separate sizing for the length, only the waist. Since I have a long torso, this became an issue as I just couldn’t find what I needed. I was also dismayed that I couldn’t find packs of plain white under-shirts to wear. At home I would’ve run out to Target and picked up a 3-pack for $8 or so, but I never found them in Oslo. (I should note that I went into no fewer than 12 stores looking for everything) Also, do Europeans wear turtlenecks? I looked everywhere and couldn’t find one to save my life.
On the whole though, the shirt and pants portion of the trip went well. I found a number of sales and ended up really liking what I found. I began to see why some folks shop when they travel, something I’d never really done before.
Boots and bags
Sadly, I had to have something more than a pair of loafers in Northern Norway. I would’ve skidded across the ice as soon as I landed. Buying shoes was more of an ordeal than I thought it would be, given the relative success of my clothes buying. They were just so very expensive, even in the cheapest of places. I had also never before tried European sizes and it took a lot of trying on to find the size that worked best on me. (Size 44!) Eventually, I found a pair on sale that would work out, but still they cost $100. Much more than I was hoping to spend. Towards the end of my shopping adventure I realized that I would need something into which I could store my newfound items. The options for bags and suitcases in downtown Oslo was sadly limited and I walked away literally with the cheapest thing I could find, which was $100. I don’t think I have missed Target any more than I did that day.
Probably bought too much
I was angry, depressed and in a bad mood thanks to SAS and the loss of my bags. An update of any kind would have helped, but none was forthcoming and I honestly didn’t know if my bags would arrive in 3 hours or never. So, I bought clothes to wear for each remaining day of my trip, even specialty outdoors clothes I knew I would need, and did in fact require. But I still bought too much because after a couple of more days my bags did arrive. I instantly felt guilty and silly and thought that perhaps I did the wrong thing by going out and replacing the contents of my bags. But, the more I thought about it the more I realized that I did indeed do the right thing. There was just no way I could go on wearing the same clothes for another day and while I certainly spent more money than I would have hoped, it was an oddly fun and educational experience.
As a final note, I implore everyone to buy travel insurance. I didn’t have it and I regret that. I knew better, especially since I do a lot of work with , but like many other travelers I felt invincible. I felt like nothing bad would ever happen to me, until it did. I’m never going to be able to go to a carry-on only bag system, so I have to do a better job of bracing myself for future lost bags and that starts with the proper travel insurance.
So there you go, my story of retail woe in Oslo that, while starting out really depressing me, led to interesting experiences I would never have had otherwise.
Has an airline ever lost your bags for an extended period of time? What did you do?