How I Outsmarted a Train Station in Barcelona, Spain (But It’s Useful Info, Anywhere)


***Please note:  While Colleen Kelly Mellor completes her book Patient Witness, documenting her lifetime experience with the health care industry (it’s ‘wicked interesting’ as they say in Rhode Island), she’ll post to biddybytes on Mondays, only…..


Believe me:  Sometime in the future, you will thank me for this advice (I know cuz I thank that random stranger in Barcelona all the time).  This is info. you can use in other instances, as well…

“Think Outside the Box” Works Really Well When Traveling

Stitched Panorama

The kids and I entered the crammed station, in Barcelona, Spain.  They were ages 16 and 6 which pretty much insured I had no help:  One was too annoyed at being with her parent, 24/7; the other just wanted her “My Little Pony.”

We were coming off a 6-week, self-directed (I called all the shots) tour of Europe where we rode the trains, Eurail-fashion; I drove through France, from North to South, while marveling at the fact the countryside seemed as rural as it must have been during WW II (I’d seen those wartime flicks.)  We took buses and cabs for short hauls.

I’d done well, managing to get us, almost seamlessly–except for the groping incident in Rome– through Italy, Austria, Switzerland, and France.

But, in Spain, I met my Waterloo (I know it’s not geographically in Spain), for we needed to get from Barcelona to Madrid for our flight home, and it didn’t look possible.  

I noted young people, hunkered down in the train station, sleeping on bedrolls and backpacks on the floor. Some were lying against columns or were propped up against walls. All waited for the Ever-Whimsical Ticket Folk who either took a longer-than-usual break or didn’t show up at all. One young man told me he’d been waiting in queues since the day before. I determined I didn’t have that much time to waste.

With that, I went out the front doors of the station, found a native Barcelonan (accurate word?), and chatted him up.  I asked how else a person might buy train tickets to Madrid, since it was the time before the internet.

He told me to take a bus to any neighboring town that had a train station. There, I could easily purchase tickets. His advice was simple but brilliant:  No lines…No waiting…No problem.

So, “thinking outside the box.” We hear that annoying phrase so often, but I can’t say enough about how it worked for us—time and again, in foreign territory, when I was up against it.

Now, here comes the segue (you know I’ve got one):  Clark Howard, the CNN Money Man who advises consumers How Not To Get Ripped-Off, just appeared with especially-timely advice.  It seems he, too, got stuck in an airplane terminal, recently, like the time I described in my post relating our all-night layover in Ronald Reagan Airport. Here’s what he did, and he advises it for all:

Using his cell phone, he booked an alternative flight out, from a neighboring city, 50 miles away. The total he paid for car rental and taxes was about $100.00. That sure beat what he was staring at—stuck in the airport for 2 days, trying to sleep, upright, in those metal chairs.

Word of caution:  If flights are canceled due to weather, passengers absorb the cost of all, but making other plans still beats the alternative.   

If you can’t get flight out, nearby and quickly, politely ask airline rep. to help you get a room.  You’ll need to do the calling, but ask airline personnel if they have vouchers for reduced rates.

Clark Howard makes a valid point:  That person at the desk has complete control over your situation, so “Be smart:  Show them respect and treat them with every courtesy.”  “Be super-gracious; never rude…Tell them you know it’s not their fault.”

Why?  Everyone else is disrespecting them. You’ll stand out as the exception…

In other words, Think outside the box and be gracious in high-stress, travel situations. Then the controllers of your situation will want to help you.  I didn’t always do that.  What happened when I didn’t?  I got assigned later flights than I wanted and to the back seats on the 747 (you know, the ones next to the lavs.where the seats don’t recline. )….

P.S.This kind of thinking works in many instances, as when you try to buy/return merchandise at a retail store. If the women’s department lines are jammed, go to the men’s section where you’ll find bored clerks anxious to help…If a lazy one says, “Oh, I’m sorry…I can’t take that here,” tell them you’re in a terrible rush and can’t wait. They’ll do it–They don’t want to risk customer annoyance.

P.P.S. When you think of this advice at some point in future, give credit to that random stranger I met outside the Barcelona Train Station…Then, pay it forward and share your wisdom with others….

P.P.S. Do you have good advice for how you deal with these difficult travel situations?  Please share…


About admin

A lifetime teacher and realtor who's now a published writer, Colleen Kelly Mellor is a humorist first, ever aware of the thread that connects us all. Her works have appeared in the WSJ, Providence Journal, and CNN and NY Times-acclaimed medical blog,, to name a few. All material on this blog is exclusive property of the author and cannot be reproduced without this author's express written consent.
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