Just one of those days when the travel stuff goes wrong

Kuala Lumpur | Ubud to Gili Trewangan | Inventing the Lost Phone Dance

I knew that my travel expertise, if it even existed, had gone AWOL when I turned up at the wrong airport, something I’ve never done before. Sure I’ve lost my ticket, passport, cards in the past but never turned up at the wrong airport. It was sillier as we were in Kuala Lumpur, a city that has only two airports, KL international and Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport. I had a 50% chance of getting it right and I got it wrong.

Caveat: I’m trying to search for excuses here and partly blame the ease and convenience of today’s mobile apps where the swipe of a screen gets you a flight, a hotel room, food deliveries and more. But this swipe-based convenience leads to a lackadaisical attitude and that morning on the taxi-hailing app, I typed in ‘airport’, hopped unthinkingly in to the taxi and 20 minutes later was at Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport. The wrong one. I remember thinking, it didn’t look this small when we landed here. Luckily we managed to get to the right airport in another taxi just before the check-in closed.

It all culminated a few days later in Bali when, like London buses, the mishaps all happened in a row. It was just one of those days when the travel stuff goes wrong.

The day had started so well. We had just spent three days in the house where the film Eat Pray Love was set, a small house to the north of Ubud in Bali surrounded by paddy fields where we’d do yoga, take walks, read and cook. When we needed more action we just hopped on a moped to the bustle of the town of Ubud, for a coffee or a supermarket trip, or to watch the incessant lines of mopeds in traffic jams.

Yes it was an idyllic start to the day, I woke to to the sounds of cockerels, fed the coi carp and put the kettle on in the verandah kitchen. Around the house, were tranquil waters of the paddy fields reflecting pink dawn clouds.

Paddy fields of Ubud at sunsrise

The night sounds in Bali are an orchestral treat. At dusk there are the sounds of frogs. In the west, frogs croak or go ribbit, they are generally sounds of indifference, low frequency shoulder shrugs if frogs could shrug their shoulders.

But in Bali frogs go whoop whoop all night long. It’s a sound of joy and ostentatious exuberance, in the hope of mating they are chat up lines repeated in philharmonic stereo for hours on hopeful hours.

The frogs’ chorus gives way to the crickets (an international sound, no translations needed) and by early dawn the dogs howl as if their lives depend on it, and then finally, as the kettle whistles on the stove, it’s roosters who outdo each other, with series of cockadoodle dos riposted by loud cockadoodle don’ts.

As the kettle whistled, pink dawn clouds reflected in the tranquil waters of the paddy fields. We had just spent three wonderful days in the house, a time filled with yoga, taking dusk walks, reading and cooking. When we needed more action we just hopped on a moped to the bustle of the town of Ubud, for a coffee or a supermarket trip, a short ride away.

A great start to a bad travel day from the house in the film, Eat Pray Love

You get the drift. It was chilled and by 6 am we were in the taxi on a 1.5 hour ride from Ubud to Bali’s International Airport at Denpasar.

The big ATM error

On the taxi ride I stopped to withdraw cash from an ATM and this is perhaps the most common error made by travellers when using a foreign ATM and I made it.

I entered the ATM booth beside the Tellalalung Rice Terraces, a beautiful valley of terraced paddy fields; I  love going in to ATM booths in tropical countries; they’re nicely air-conditioned. Infact if the temperature ever gets too hot, I enjoy going in to these booths to just literally chill out, occasionally checking how much money I haven’t got.

I blame distraction number two: the conversion rate. There are 17,000 Indonesian Rupiahs to a pound and at school I never got round to learning my 17,000 times table. As soon as the whir of wads sounded, I removed the cash, just enough for the ride, and I was off and guess what? I forgot to retrieve my card. This is the big ATM error.

In the UK, ATMs eject the card first and then the cash; in Indonesia it’s the other way round. As soon as I realised this error on the ride to the airport I froze the card with a deft swipe of my mobile banking app.

We got to Denpasar International Airport in good time, I paid the taxi driver in cash, and after a  short flight landed on Bali’s sister island of Lombok. At this point we needed to order a taxi to the ferry terminal at Bansal for the boat to the island of Gili Trewangan but then realised my second error. Neither of us had charged our phones or battery packs and so found an electrical plug point in the baggage hall and sat around until there till our phones got to an acceptable double digits of charge.

On the taxi hailing app I typed in ‘Bansal’, and lucky for me there was only one Bansal, but I couldn’t order the ride; my card was not valid. Why? Because I had frozen the card earlier that day. I found another ATM in the airport and withdrew over a quarter of a million rupiahs, stuffed them in my pockets and got on the taxi for the one and a half hour coastal winding ride to the Bansal ferry terminal.

Lombok is lovely but the Bansal Ferry terminal sucks. It’s filled with hawkers who go around in groups, ready to part you with your money. They’ll quote a price for a taxi which they’ll renege on; some will grab your bags, carry them a short distance and will only return them when you’ve tipped them. Others claim to sell boat tickets which they simply get from the nearby official booth just a few yards away and mark up handsomely. The only good thing about the Bansal Ferry Terminal is that it is a gateway to the three Gilis, little island paradises surrounded by turquoise seas and coral reefs of turtles, dotted with quaint shops and cafes and lined with sandy lanes where motorised transport is banned.

Gili Meno

Soon we were on the pier as the ferry to Gili Trewangan arrived. Chaos broke out. Groups of embarking and disembarking passengers got in each others ways. Backpacks were being transferred on to the boat at the same time as others were being removed. It was hard to see what was going on. The melee subsided and soon we were on waves and berthed at the furthest Gili island, Gili Trewangan. We sat at a cafe at the dock and ordered americanos looking over the sea towards the misty peaks of Lombok. It was an idyllic view except for the banner above us that said, “Irish pub crawl every day at 7pm”.

The cafe by the jetty at Gili Trewangan

The Lost Phone Dance

This was paradise but it didn’t last for long. I had lost my phone. I checked my backpack, my rucksack and all the compartments, and then did My Lost Phone Dance. It involves a lot of manic patting on different parts of the body (where there’s a pocket) and where a mobile phone might be hiding. (It’s a little bit like the Bavarian folk dance the schuhplattler where groups of men slap themselves on the knees, the thighs and the soles of their shoes.)

My Phone Lost Dance goes something like this:

  • Stand up with panicked expression. The more public the place the better.
  • Pat right front trouser pocket twice with left hand
  • Pat left front trouser pocket twice with right hand
  • Pat right back trouser pocket twice with right hand
  • Pat left back trouser pocket twice with left hand
  • Pat left chest pocket twice with right hand
  • Look confused as if in a state of denial
  • Go back to first step as if the phone might still be on you.

Life-boss is usually quite cool, calm and collected in times of crisis. She interrupted my dance in the middle of the cafe just before someone was going to throw some coins at me. She called my phone to see if she could hear a ring tone. I climbed under the table and rested my ear on my rucksack hoping to feel a faint vibration on my ear or hear a ringtone. No sign. This just further compounded the belief of onlookers that I was at best a loon or really bad at the macarena and hiding under the table in embarrassment.

Life-boss got out her iPad and logged in to the ‘Find my phone’ portal. No use. I had left my phone on airplane mode because of the risk of dialing internationally while roaming and needing a small mortgage to pay it off on my return. Life-boss then said calmly, “you’ve probably left it on the boat. Look, it hasn’t left the jetty yet, why don’t you go and have a look?”

The seat next to Life-boss where I last saw my phone. My phone cover is the same colour as the seat. That’s my excuse.

I ran down to the open-air waiting room by the jetty where a young lad with no sign of officialdom except a walkie-talkie sat spooning rice in to his mouth from a plastic plate. I explained the situation. He asked to see my ticket. I had already lost it.

I started to do the Lost Ticket Dance (it’s similar to the Lost Phone Dance, but you have to go in your pockets. We’ll leave this for now). The boat was pulling out to sea.

‘No matter,’ he said and pressed a button on his walkie talkie and spoke in Sasak to the captain of the ferry. We stared at the ferry pulling away in to the darker blue of the deeper sea.

The captain of the ferry who had to make a u turn for a silly tourist who speaks a little French. Moi.

Then, very slowly the boat turned around and came back to the jetty. As it neared I could make out, on the bow, a deck-hand who looked like he was waving at us. Soon I realised he had a small object in his hand, waving it as if he was holding a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. He made a gesture as if to throw the phone to me. Luckily he didn’t, my form told me the chances are I’d drop it.

So that’s how the bad travel day ended, with a happy ending and I went back to the cafe, very very sheepishly, avoiding eye-contact and was happy to be on those sandy lanes to the hotel.

Happy travels everyone and hope you don’t do what I did.

The sandy lanes of Gili Trewangan, just before dusk.


  1. Some travel adventures are best skipped. Good that you had a happy ending.
    I recently also did the lost phone dance, with much the same steps as you noted. I was at a pub when, while getting ready to leave found the pocket that normally contains the phone to be empty. [Cue dance music…] Eventually I found it, still on the chair I sat in. The chair had a closed back, so the phone never made it to the floor. Phew.


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