Don’t forget what you don’t see: The incomplete story of Instagram photos

July was a big travel month for Tim and me. I flew to Australia by myself, stayed on a boat in the Great Barrier Reef, and then went to Sydney to await Tim’s arrival later for a business trip. We stayed a week in Fiji afterward before heading home. In total, I was gone about 3 weeks.

My instagram account had never been more beautiful, filled with professional-grade photos of colorful fish and koalas and the iconic Opera House. I checked into amazing restaurants on Foursquare and drank pina coladas by the ocean. But the truth is, the trip started off on a really rough note.

My flight to Australia was actually 4 flights. Yes, there are plenty of direct, nonstop flights between SFO and SYD. But I used my Alaska Airlines miles to get there, and the routes were most inconvenient. I was flying SJC-SEA-YYV-SYD. Then, once I arrived in Sydney, I was taking a different airline up to Cairns for my Great Barrier Reef excursion. When Tim dropped me off at the airport, as I was waiting to check my bag at the Alaska counter, the fire alarm went off and the whole airport had to evacuate. It was a false alarm, thank God, but I think it may have been a bad omen. As I sat at my gate waiting to board, I got an email saying I’d been upgraded. Fantastic! I have MVP status on Alaska, so this is not unusual, but this time it was a first class upgrade. (I was already upgraded to their premium seats.) It was a short flight, but I was happy about the chance to start my trip off on a sweet note. When the first class passengers were called to board, I scanned my ticket. But the gate agent said I needed to see the folks at the counter. I waited in line so long that by the time I was helped at the counter, the whole plane had boarded. And it turns out, the computer system had an “error” and that first class seat was given away already. (They gave it to the guy in front of me in line, btw. I heard them assign it to him and say that he was getting an upgrade. So yeah, that seat was NOT BOOKED until one second ago.) I was cranky and demanded reparation and later got an email offering me a $75 credit. Whatever, it’s something, I’ll move on.

The layover in Seattle was uneventful, and I boarded our little plane to YYV. My layover in Vancouver was amazing: I went to a really nice lounge, had really fantastic wine, and showered before the long-haul flight. I was in Qantas Premium Economy, which is a really nice experience for the price, and the flight was so easy and fantastic — and I actually slept WELL. It was all-around great. And then, when we landed, I heard “Passenger Delzell, please see a gate agent.”

As I exited the plane, I asked someone why they were calling my name. Turns out, my bags had been left in Vancouver due to their customs process and it was arriving in an hour on an Air Canada flight. No big deal, as my next flight was still 6+ hours away. So, per instruction, I went to the Qantas baggage counter to let them know I was waiting for my bag. Well, the agent there saw it wasn’t arriving until later that afternoon. I was already going to be on my way to Cairns by then, so she took my hotel info and was going to have it sent there for me.

I had a premonition that my bag could get lost since I had such a wonky flight route, so thankfully I packed spare clothes and all my toiletries in my carry-on. I showered at SYD and relaxed in a lounge that had a free massage chair (!!!). I flew to Cairns and relaxed in my hotel room.

Hours went by and still no suitcase. I found a phone number on the luggage info I was given, so I tried to call. My foreign cell phone wasn’t able to dial the type of number, so I had to use the hotel phone. ($$$$$.) I then spent hours on the phone trying to figure out where my bags were. Turns out, they were STILL in Canada. It went from being one hour away, to a few hours away, to no reunion in sight. I was pissed, and the customer service rep took all my contact info and promised to keep me in the loop.

Okay, so I was without my luggage. I had planned ahead and had my toiletries and my credit cards, so I was fine for the next day or two. But here’s the problem: I had one more day in Cairns before I boarded a live-aboard boat. I was out of clothes, so I washed the two outfits I had with me using the hotel’s free body wash, and I hung it to dry and slept totally in the nude, praying my clothes would be dry enough to wear in the morning. I had no confidence that I would be receiving my suitcase anytime soon, so I decided to go out that day and buy a swimsuit ($160), sunscreen, a new shirt, a bra, and underwear. I tried to enjoy my limited time in Cairns, but it was tough. I felt stressed, upset, and increasingly worried my luggage would never make it to me. And then, as I was walking through the lovely Botanic Gardens, I got a call from an unknown number. It was the same customer service rep, with a flight number that my luggage was on (it was already in Sydney — this was a flight headed to Cairns!). It was supposed to arrive that afternoon, and of course it didn’t get there until after midnight. I cried tears of joy when it arrived and spent a few minutes just looking at my belongings, picking them up and being so happy to see these items as though they were relics from my past. (It was Marie Kondo-esque, how much I held my items and spent mental energy on treasuring them.)

Starting off my trip that way was stressful and I don’t recommend it. But I share this now because social media doesn’t tell the story of how I lost two days of my vacation to phone calls and hand-washing my clothing. The disastrous bits of the trip were more than compensated — with natural beauty, fun catchups with Aussie friends, culture, food, and later, an upgrade to a gorgeous suite in Fiji — and overall the trip was one of my most favorites in memory. But all those Instagrammable moments came with a price, and that price was wearing clothes that smelled like cheap hotel soap and hanging up my underwear in the shower while I slept. (Oh, and by the way, the only shoes I had this whole time: a very bold statement sneaker that did NOT go with the rest of my clothing. I still am a little afraid to wear them after the scarring experience of having to wear them with the wrong outfits in Cairns. Why didn’t I pack a pair of flip flips in my carry-on??)

So while the photos I posted were taken in times of happiness, the trip wasn’t solely defined by underwater wildlife encounters and tropical sunsets. Life’s not perfect. Sometimes you’re caught without a pair of underwear to spare and you gotta deal. Remember that as Christmas approaches and people share what amazing gifts they got, or destinations they visited, or the inevitable dozen engagements that will be announced in the next week. There are times of excitement and blessing, but there’s also times of having to wear your really weird high top sneakers with your dress, and just because it wasn’t posted online doesn’t mean a lot of people didn’t see you wearing them.