It was the middle of the night and our train finally arrived in Amsterdam after about 18 hours of traveling and layover-ing from when we’d left Arizona the night before. And, ah! There was the train we needed to take into the city, just in time. We made a run for it. As we were stepping from the platform onto the train, my boyfriend, who was on crutches at the time for a broken ankle, dropped one of his crutches onto the tracks below. We couldn’t leave it behind, of course, so we both backed off onto the platform and stood there, helpless, clueless, and undeniably, embarrassingly American.

statue autumnal trees

Jeff had broken his ankle about two months before our visit to Amsterdam, while he was on a different trip with friends in Hawaii. I was only a little stressed about it, despite being the sort of person who can work myself into an anxious tizzy over tasks like choosing what side to order at a restaurant, or slipping out of a small store without buying anything. If I had to wear an ankle boot and crutches on a trip where at least 70 percent of our plans were to “walk around and explore the city,” I’d be freaking out. But Jeff is a calmer, stronger person that I am, so I tried not to project my anxieties onto him.

As we stood there, staring down at his crutch like children who had just dropped an ice cream cone on a hot day, I kept trying not to project. We looked around in shocked unison for a few minutes. Another tourist who witnessed the debacle stared in horrified fascination before boarding his own train. “Maybe I can get it with my other crutch?” Jeff suggested hesitantly. This meant laying down on the ground and reaching his crutch down to try to get it through the open part of the fallen crutch, then dragging it up the wall. Very Instagrammable travel content; the ideal start to any trip. Jeff laid down on the ground, which stressed me out deeply. But, as I had no other solutions or suggestions to offer, I didn’t protest.

bridge water reflectionTwo Dutch officials in yellow vests, on the other hand, did. It could be that my memory is mistaken, but I remember the one who did most of the talking being about eight feet tall and booming in a very loud, scary voice. The two men spoke a lot of Dutch to each other – probably something like, “What do we do about these poor idiots?” Then, the tall one spoke a lot of Dutch into his radio – probably something like, “We need to do something about these poor idiots.” He did not tell us what was going on, but he seemed like he was going to help us. After several minutes of uncertainty, he was able to ascertain that no trains were coming (or, possibly, held up a train momentarily) so he could jump down onto the track and get the crutch for us. He switched briefly to English and told Jeff to “never, ever, ever, ever do that again.”

I could easily be humiliated by this encounter. Who wants to be bumbling tourists, sticking out like sore thumbs and making mistakes in a new place? What brings me comfort when I travel remembering that, as much as they may not want to admit it – and though it may be in different ways – the locals bumble too. We’re all bumbling humans. We drop things and miss ferries and struggle to figure out how to work systems we’ve never seen before. But in traveling, as in life, we learn lessons as we go along. Jeff, I can tell you, will certainly never lay down next to a train track to try to reach something he dropped ever again. Or, at least, not on my watch. I will never have too much to drink at an art museum fundraiser, though that’s another story entirely.

boat close up

And, as long as we’re learning, which is really the whole point, then why waste time feeling ashamed? We will still bumble, whether we leave our countries or cities or houses. So, if, while you’re bumbling your way through the world, why not try to see as many parts of it as you can?

The crutch situation certainly wasn’t the last mishap of our trip. (It wasn’t even the first, actually. We nearly missed our flight to Amsterdam due to a last-minute gate change during our layover.)

For example, our Airbnb host very kindly lent us his and his girlfriend’s city museum passes, which allow free entrance into many of the city’s most popular attractions. They were photo IDs, but our hostperson crossing bridge assured us confidently that, “They never check the photo.” When we got to the front of the line for the Vincent Van Gogh museum and the attendant looked at us, looked at our passes, and said, “This… is not you,” all we could say was, “Oh, yeah, look at that. It isn’t. Sorry,” and go buy our tickets from the other kiosk like we should have in the first place.

When we messed up the process for buying our train tickets for a day trip to Germany, we ended up with no seats, standing in an awkward entrance area with a couple of other clueless Americans, until someone felt sorry for Jeff on his crutches and offered him her seat.

But there were so many unexpectedly pleasant and sweet moments on the trip too. On our very first morning, we passed a sign advertising a museum exhibit all about Jeff’s favorite film director of all time. Then, there was the time we realized the pancake restaurant we’d been wanting to try but always had an intolerably long line for some reason had no line at all, and we went in and enjoyed a fantastic pancake breakfast. There were the serene foggy mornings when I went running along the canal, or the moment we timed our arrival for a morning boat tour absolutely perfectly.

houseboats on river

So, no, our time in Amsterdam didn’t get off to a perfect start. In fact, we were in such a rush to get away from the scene of the crutch-dropping crime that we didn’t check to make sure the train we ended up getting on was going in the right direction. It was not. This caused us to miss a ferry, take a roundabout route across a canal in the middle of the night, then wander around in the dark trying to find our Airbnb. And, anxious as I may have been in the midst of the situation, we caught the train, found the ferry, tracked down our shelter, and, along the way, saw some new parts of the world.

Have you ever had a trip full of pitfalls and mishaps? Tell us about your comedy of errors in the comments or on Twitter

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Emily Dieckman
Emily Dieckman is a writer living in Tucson, Arizona. Besides traveling and talking to new people, she enjoys reading, running, cooking and making cups of tea which she promptly forgets about and must later reheat. Her podcast, Love in the Time of Everyone, explores the way relationships have changed over the past few generations, and is available on iTunes, Spotify and Stitcher.