How the Flight I Never Took Changed My Life

Riga, Latvia. Excerpts from my journal.

“So here I am, sitting in my dorm room at The Naughty Squirrel Backpackers Hostel in Riga.

Sal and I are booked on flights to London that depart in the morning.

And I don’t know what’s happening, but I think maybe I’ve decided

I’m not actually going to fly to London tomorrow.

Ticket: bought and paid for.

I’m saying “no”… why?

Well……. why not?

Latvia deserves a little more time, I think.

Plus, I have a ride to Lithuania on Friday.”

 I never did get a ride to Lithuania on Friday. But I did wake up and say goodbye to Sal as he packed his bags and took a taxi to the airport for that flight to London.

“And now it’s just me, alone in a four-bunk dorm room in the centre of Old Town Riga.

In Latvia without a plan.

My boarding pass for my checked-in flight to London sits abandoned on a wicker stool by the window.

All Sal’s things are gone.

Sal is gone.

It’s just me. Alone.


I won’t lie. When Sal left, I cried for a good, solid five minutes. I didn’t really know what I was doing, or why I was forfeiting my flight… seemed a whimsical decision at best. I didn’t have a cell phone, I had no friends there, I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do next.

But for some reason, it just felt right.

So I went with it.

As it turns out, it changed my life.

“Who knows where I go next?

When will I leave Latvia?

Maybe I’ll drive to Lithuania on Friday.

Or maybe I catch a flight to Italy instead?

Maybe I go to London, after all, and catch an Air Asia flight back to Kuala Lumpur.

Maybe I go to this party Gatis was talking about in downtown Riga on Friday night.

Maybe I take a train to Estonia.

Maybe I find my way back to Korea.

Or New Zealand.

Who knows.

I don’t.

But it’s just me, now.”

Was I scared? Oh ya. Was I nervous? You bet. But I was oh-so excited too. All of a sudden, the world was mine. I remember talking to my friend Melissa on Skype while staring at a world map in the hostel common room. “Where should I go?” The possibilities seemed endless.

There was one night, as I stood there in the hostel drinking overly sweet cans of fizzy Latvian strawberry cider, when I seriously started pondering my predicament. I was kind of in the middle of nowhere. I kind of had no idea what I was doing there. And I actually had zero plan as to what to do next.

Then I overheard some fellow backpackers chatting about a bus to Lithuania next week. As I sat down and joined them on the beanbag chairs, I realized I kind of liked their plan, and decided to steal it for myself.

The four of us became friends. We went for drinks, stumbled on the Remembrance Day celebration together, chatted about future adventures. The next week, we took a bus to Lithuania together.

To make a long story short, one of these fellow travelers was a French nomad who had spent the last few years working in Australia, only to spend the better part of a year making his way overland from Singapore to Riga. Turns out he and I had taken almost the exact same route across continents, right down to the Transsiberian and hostels in Ulaanbataar. His name was Julien.

If I had known then what I know now, I might have shared some of my strawberry cider with him (probably not). Turns out he and I were going to be spending a lot of time together… and I would eventually find my way to his home in the actual middle of nowhere: Charmoille, Franche-Comté (eastern France).

None of anything that was about to happen would have happened if I had taken that flight to London.

Sometimes the biggest adventure does not involve booking a flight and leaving. Sometimes the biggest adventure involves staying exactly where you are.

You know what I mean? :)