Back at the beginning of August during our initial Remote Year orientation in Lisbon, our program leaders introduced a philosophy the company has termed “Level 3 Fun” that is totally in the spirit of Unraveled Travels. The concept classifies “fun” into three different levels:
Level 1 Fun
Everyday activities you find simple pleasure in. Level 1 Fun is Sunday morning coffee and crossword puzzles. Happy hour with friends. Enjoying a beautiful sunset view from our the rooftop of our accommodations in Lisbon.
Level 2 Fun
Special events you plan, knowing that you’ll enjoy them. Level 2 Fun is a weekend trip out of town. A Halloween costume party. Watching the sunrise over the beach after a night of dancing at the K Urban Beach club on the banks of the Tajo River.
Level 3 Fun
Comes at you from left field and is often disguised in the form of potential stress and challenges. It takes a positive mindset to find the fun in a Level 3 event. Level 3 Fun is getting lost and stumbling upon an unexpected gem instead of your intended destination. Missing your train, but along the way meeting a stranger who becomes a friend. Arriving at the Lisbon airport the day the Portuguese equivalent of the TSA goes on strike, standing in lines for nearly 8 hours, and in the process discovering just how tight your Remote Year crew is.
We Walked the Line…For HOURS
On Saturday, August 27, the day we were scheduled to travel from Lisbon to Casablanca, we awoke to the news that the union representing the security workers at all Portuguese airports had gone on strike. Remote Year leadership immediately went into action, shifting our pick-up times from our accommodations to a half hour earlier. Our day looked like this:
- 12:30pm: Load up the bus at our accommodations
- 1pm: Arrive at the airport. Unfortunately, Royal Maroc, our airline, didn’t even open their ticket counter until 2pm, so even though we got there early, we could do nothing but wait. Oh well, at least our group of 68 were the first passengers to check in.
- 2-7:30pm: Begin check-in process, make excess baggage arrangements (anyone whose checked luggage was over 23kg had to proceed to an additional counter to pay for their overweight bag), join the hordes of people waiting in line to go through security, celebrate surviving standing in the security line by standing in line for beer at the cafe/bar by our gate.
- 7:30pm: Board plane and wait onboard for all remaining passengers get get through security and board
- 8:20pm: Take off for Morocco
- 10pm: Arrive in Casablanca, clear customs and meet up with our prearranged transportation to Rabat
- Midnight: Arrive at our coworking space in Rabat and chow down on Domino’s pizza while we gather and await further transportation to our accommodations
- 3am: My roommate Janet and I finally arrive at our apartment and fall into bed
I’ve never seen anything like the scene at LIS. More than 20,000,000 passengers fly through that airport each year, which averages out to more than 50,000+ people in a day. Just imagine cramming the city of Hoboken, NJ, into two terminals on an unseasonably hot summer day. We were hot, tired and maybe a little hungover from one last Lisbon hurrah the night before. Amazingly, though, our crew was in good spirits. We were buoyed by the novelty that we were headed to Africa, and the craziness around us led to inside jokes, witty banter, and great team bonding. At one point, a team of police barricaded a section of the line, blocking the throng of frustrated passengers from pressing forward and trampling everyone queuing up for what was the usual entrance to the security area. The photo at the top of this post (taken by my fellow Remote, Aaron Suarez) shows the crowds; we had already been waiting for an hour before reaching the beginning of the security area. Once we made it into the actual security, the line snaked around like a maze for another couple of hours. Every once in a while, airport staff would disperse bottled water to anyone they could reach from outside the huddled mass.
I endured the security line with Brian (by this time, I didn’t have to check Facebook to know his name). Somehow we got separated from the rest of our RY friends and slipped so far ahead of everyone else that we couldn’t see anyone from our group for hours. My phone had lost data access and his phone’s battery had died, so we had essentially lost all communication with the rest of the group. For the first hour we had basically the same conversation over and over about how crazy the situation was and wondered if maybe everyone else had decided to give up and reschedule our flight for another day but had no way of letting us know without internet access. Getting bored of finding new ways to say, “This is *expletive* nuts,” we then ventured to new topics, taking turns posing each other questions:
- Do you have a side project you’re working on during Remote Year?
- What’s your biggest pet peeve?
- What have you been reading lately?
- What’s the worst professional mistake you’ve ever made and do you regret it?
- Do you have any RY crushes?
- What’s your opinion about snails?
Our conversation was such an enjoyable diversion that it made the stressful, uncomfortable, interminable line actually fun. Yes, I said the F word. Finally, Brian and I cleared security, fist bumped each other and rushed toward our gate, where we found Anu, who had somehow made it through a half hour earlier than even Brian and me. As our scout, Anu was able to scope out the scene at the gate and filled us in on what conversations were being held on Slack (an online communication tool Remote Year uses, kinda like a combination of email, text messaging and bulletin board) and what updates were coming in from the Remote Year HQ. The gate agents were warning that we needed to board right then or else threatened that the plane would leave without us. (A RyanAir flight to Dublin that day did just that, stranding 140 passengers still stuck in the security line in Lisbon for several days.)
Our loyalty was strong, and we refused to board until our whole group made it through, which was at least 45 minutes after Brian and I had arrived at the gate. Behind the scenes, the RY travel team had been communicating with the airport and airline to secure our spot on the plane. I can’t tell you how comforting it was to know that our travel logistics were being attended to by Remote Year. Our fearless program leader in charge of our travel days, Claire, was staying at the back of the pack to ensure our whole group made it through. In the boarding area, we were blasting “Africa” by Toto on repeat and drinking our final bottles of Sagres and Super Bock (Portugal’s iconic beer brands) before leaving the land of cheap and plenty alcohol for mostly dry Morocco. Every time a new cluster of Remotes made it through to our gate, we’d update Claire via Slack to keep her apprised our headcount. By the time Claire herself came running down the terminal hallway, our group of 60+ burst into cheers, hugs and high fives and queued up to board the flight. It felt like winning our own version of The Amazing Race. We joked with Orna, our RY program leader in charge of programming and events, that the whole strike was a team-building event she had arranged to bring us together. I mean, check out how cheerful we were as we made our way to customs in Casablanca as captured by Aaron:
The day could have been miserable, but with a Level 3 Fun mindset, we not only survived, we came out the other side a stronger, closer community. I can say without irony that this day will probably end up being one of my most favorite memories from the year. It was Unraveled Travels, Level 3 Fun at its best.