Traveling Solo to France with a Baby: Lessons About Grace When Plans Go Awry
I’m speeding along a unknown freeway at 75 mph because I’m already very late and don’t want to get any later. Darkness is falling. The baby’s crying in the back because she’s tired of riding hours in the car.
When I crossed the border, my phone didn’t connect properly to the foreign mobile network – and now I’m driving without data, that is, I’m screwed because I was totally relying on Google Maps to get to my destination.
This was me this last weekend, driving north into France. My first solo road trip with our 16 month old, to meet up with one of my best friends, who has been living in Nice. We chose a halfway meeting point, and I was supposed to arrive first to meet our Airbnb host.
We live near the French border and often cross over to hike and buy Dijon mustard and stinky cheese, and I’ve never had trouble connecting to the network. So losing data was unexpected.
Of all the problems I had anticipated, with particular focus on packing for the baby and getting everybody out the door on a Friday afternoon, this was not one of them.
I knew I had to solve the problems in front of me in order of importance.
First, arrive at Sète, a port city in southern France. Then worry about how to get to the apartment.
Then worry about apologies and how to make it right with the owner – who had arranged for a neighbor to let us in (and who likely had better plans on a Friday night than waiting around for us).
The fretful thoughts crept in anyway, though. A hotel would have been a better idea, I thought. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about arriving exactly on time. This is why Airbnb is a pain. They’re so annoyed with me. “Inconsiderate Americans!” they’re probably thinking. She’s going to leave me a bad review. Ugh.
Eventually I found my way by pulling into a McDonald’s in Sète, a travel hack I’ve discovered on previous misadventures: Free wifi that you can access without even leaving the car. (Hot tip #2: a French person will have no idea what you are saying unless you pronounce McDonald's as MAC-Donald's.)
I reconnected to Google Maps, and made step by step screenshots to find my way to the apartment which was still another 15 minutes away, across bridges, canals, and winding around one-way streets, and even through a tiny passage way under a railroad that I thought was going to rip the roof off the car.
An hour late. The neighbor was met. Baby was fed, bathed and put to bed. Friend arrived. Relaxed weekend in a lovely apartment next to the water was commenced.
We had a wonderful time, despite the rough start.
Yesterday, I had to write the owner again because I discovered we’d somehow brought a hand towel home with us.
I was dismayed. The same thing had happened years ago with a washcloth from an Airbnb in Oregon, and the owner had made a huge deal of it.
“Shall I send it by mail, or send money to replace it?” I asked the owner of the Sète apartment.
“It is a small thing,” she wrote back. “Keep it.”
“Thank you,” I replied gratefully. “And I’m sorry again about the problems we caused arriving so late on Friday.”
“C’est oublié,” she wrote.
When I translated it (I don’t speak French), I saw these words:
They washed over me like a balm. Grace for my mistakes.
I was reminded of how much more often I should extend this same generosity to others. And myself.
It brought up a moment a few months ago when I was talking to my sister about someone who owed her a debt in some way.
“Well, don’t you think they should pay you back for that?” I said to her. I felt protective. I wanted to make sure nobody took advantage of her, that she got her due.
“Oh, it’s okay,” she said. “We don’t need it. We’ve been blessed in so many ways.”
My sister and her husband are raising three adopted kids who had a hard start in life. It’s challenging. They work hard. They live frugally, not luxuriously.
Yet they often view themselves as being people who have been blessed with a lot, and look for ways to keep giving.
It is a small thing. Don’t worry.
It is forgotten.
It’s okay. We don’t need it.
We’ve been blessed in so many ways.
A reminder that there’s enough for everybody, including ourselves.