On Getting Stuck in Customs

In Blog by Kay6 Comments

Everyone hates those hectic travel days where nothing seems to go right. As I was leaving the TBEX North America conference early this June, I just happened to have the worst (turned best) span of events happen. It went a little something like this:

photo (19)

The love of my life: Korean food.

In a small, Korean restaurant in the Chinatown district of Toronto, I was eating a delicious bibimbap lunch with Jim from the Tripologist when I realized I had originally accidentally booked my flight for the wrong day. The food instantly turned sour in my mouth, a shame because I am absolutely in love with Korean food (and little did I know this would be the last time I’d eat it before my Brazil escapade). Embarrassingly enough, the flight wasn’t just off by a day, but by almost two weeks…oops. I called United to have them switch the flight, and I actually got lucky because I was awarded exactly $18 in flight credit for my change. Yay for happy coincidences!

But unfortunately, this meant I needed to rush back to the hostel, pack my things, and hit the airport. Once I got to the airport (via public transportation – go me!), I was told at the checkin counter that my flight had been changed to a flight that left almost two hours earlier than planned – yikes. This meant I really had to get moving. I rushed toward the security line, only to realize that I had to pass through customs first, and the long long LONG line that comes with it. Sweat dripping down my face, I approached the line and asked the lady if she could possibly advance me. After all, my flight was going to leave in about 40 minutes, and they were already boarding. She replied with a sympathetic but firm “no.”

I thought I was going to cry. For those of you who have been in a similar situation, you know that the only thing worse than missing your flight is watching it leave while standing there helplessly. I trudged into the line, somber-faced, ready to admit to myself that I’d need to probably take the next flight out to Virginia. Who knows when that would be? Later tonight? Tomorrow? Today was an utter mess. I just wanted to sleep.

And then I looked up as someone spoke to me.

In front of me was none other than TBEX’s keynote speaker himself. It was actually a very funny (and punny) turn of events, because I actually met Trey Ratcliff, the photographic genius behind Stuck in Customs, while actually STUCK IN CUSTOMS! Fancy that, eh?

Anyway, he could obviously tell that I was in some kind of tizzy, so he offered me to accompany him for a glass of wine and some refreshments in Air Canada’s business class lounge. I had pretty much already missed my flight, so why not? I quickly and graciously accepted the offer, hardly believing my luck.

trey ratcliff

The photo I just had to run back upstairs to capture. Well worth it!

Wait. Rewind. Trey Ratcliff, the incredibly famous and talented photographer had just invited ME to hang out with him? Maybe I was going crazy from all of the coffee I’d chugged just hours before. But hey, it was an opportunity I was not going to pass up.

And so we went – after ceasing to be stuck in customs (AKA successfully passing through) we headed up to the business class lounge of Air Canada. It probably looked really funny, actually – sophisticated Trey with his shiny new Google Glass and me, the starving college-student-gone-travel-blogger walking into a high-class airline lounge with men in suits and waiters. (Not to mention free wine – hooray!)

We talked about the obvious things in common – our travel blogging, his photography, and the conference. But he also told me about his amazing journey, meeting people like the founders of Google, Ted from Ted Talks, and my university’s very own David Eagleman. I told him about my goals, my site, and why I decided to pursue travel blogging more professionally. I even shamelessly gave him my business card. He happily accepted it.

At one point, he said to me, “I can tell you have a certain kind of energy. And I tend to enjoy surrounding myself with people like you.” This really stuck with me – it was incredibly encouraging to know someone so accomplished thought somewhat favorably of me after talking to me for just half an hour.

As we discussed a variety of different things – from our mutual experiences in Texas to our favorite travel experiences and our upcoming plans – I realized that Try is actually a super normal and really awesome person. He’s definitely someone I’d be friends with if he went to my college or lived a few doors down. Plus he has a really amazing eye for photos and color. It’s so cool to meet someone you look up to in person – it makes you realize that people are people, regardless of how many followers they have.

During our conversation, I realized that the flight I thought I’d missed had actually been delayed an hour, giving me about 45 minutes to finish my conversation and rush down to the gate before the door shut. We chatted about all things worldly and then wrapped things up. I said my goodbyes, wished him all the best, and off I went down the elevator – only to realize I hadn’t taken a photo.

Anxiously I pushed the button to go back up to the lounge, ran past the receptionists and up to his chair, and tapped him on the shoulder lightly.

“Can I get a photo with you? Sorry, I forgot!” I said, probably tripping over my words, “I just want to remember.”

Of course, he agreed. I guess as a photographer he knows that one should never miss an important photo op.

As I thanked him for everything and we exchanged contact information, he said to me, “So I’ll see you next time, in somewhere exotic, like Spain!”

I smiled goofily and nodded, amazed at the way that the world brings people together. And, somehow, I caught my plane right as the boarding gates were closing. I had just made a new, inspiring friend and realized that sometimes, the worst of times turn out to be nothing but the best.

Thanks a ton to my friend Trey Ratcliff for being awesome and inviting me to the Air Canada business lounge. See you somewhere in this wonderful world one of these days! 😀

Have you ever met someone amazing while in the line at the airport? How did it turn out? Tell me your stories in the comments! 🙂

Did you enjoy this article? If so, sign up for my newsletter and follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for more fun times, photos, and random late-night travel musings.


  1. Kay, this is a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing.
    Trey is indeed a great person. Finally met up with him in Gold Coast, Australia.

    I’ve met a few people while traveling. Donald Sullivan entered the LAX terminal the same time once. I said hello and we had a great conversation. It was like talking to a friend.

    1. Author

      Thank you Kerwin! Trey is awesome. And that is amazing! These kinds of experiences really give you insight about people – and how more often than not, everyone enjoys a good conversation once in a while 🙂

  2. I, like you, feel lucky, as I got to meet Trey too! Right have he finished his amazing speech at TBEX North America (Toronto, Canada), I had left just a little early, feeling inspired by his amazing story and photos, and as I was one of the first people outside the door, he had been wisked away by the microphone guy, who was removing it from his clothing, when I looked up, he was directly in front of me in a room. I decided to just go right on in and say how inspired I was! He was like, “So, what’s your name? and what are you all about” He said he didn’t want superficial answers, but really liked to get to know a person.” So we chatted for maybe 10 minutes, before the hoards of crowds started to spot him and were standing in line behind me to talk to him. I, too, felt special to just talk to him, as he is someone that I admire so much! You got quite lucky to have him all to yourself!

  3. Author

    Wow, Cindy, it’s pretty cool that you ended up running into him like that. It’s great when these things happen, isn’t it? And he’s so friendly too. Definitely someone to look up to! I do indeed feel very lucky 🙂

  4. What a great story Kay. It’s amazing how a chance encounter can change your day, and from the keynote at TBEX Trey seemed like he would be a pretty interesting guy to talk to.

    I used to work for retail and later security at the airport in Edmonton, so I’ve seen a few celebrities come by the airport, but I never really talked to anyone them (was too shy).

Leave a Comment