Intrepid in an Earthquake, but Rattled by Locking Luggage

Paige Brown, chief of Dashbell, a web-based booking site for independent hotels, on the Sydney Bridge Climb in Australia.

MUCH of my career has been spent flying, mostly internationally. Now I’m an entrepreneur and a founder and chief executive of the technology company Dashbell, which offers a web-based booking solution for independent hotels. My travel schedule can get more than a little crazy since I may not be spending more than a few days in one place. I might be in Germany for a meeting and then have to fly to some other European country or South American spot for another meeting all in the same week.

Fortunately, I love what I do, and I love to fly. I am getting to the point where I can just fall asleep on flights. When I was younger, I had a few bad experiences flying, mostly because of turbulence. It took me more than five years to feel truly comfortable on a plane, but now I’m good to go, and most of my flights are just smooth sailing — I mean, flying.

Most of my problems occur on the ground.

When I was working on my first start-up, Tripeezy, I was in Chile during the 2010 8.8-magnitude earthquake. I was on a bus headed to Pucón to meet some contractors, and when the earthquake started, we were about 50 miles from the epicenter.

The bus was a double-decker, and the whole thing was rocking back and forth. I had never been in an earthquake, so I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. I looked out the window and I saw a light pole teetering, and then people started crying. I speak Spanish, and all I kept hearing people say was “terremoto,” which translates to earthquake. I think some people on the bus may have remembered the 1960 Valdivia earthquake, right off the coast of Chile. It was the largest in the 20th century, a 9.5.

I had no idea what to do or what not to do, and all I had with me was a little backpack with one night’s worth of clothing. I wasn’t able to go back to Santiago, where I’d been staying, and I wound up taking a 28-hour bus ride to Buenos Aires so I could get back to the United States. The earthquake stirred up the insects, and I was covered in bites and calamine lotion.

But here’s what was amazing. It really didn’t matter. Seeing how good people can be to one another in a time of crisis was amazing. And while it was scary, it gave me great insights into the culture of Chile.

I consider myself a good traveler, so this is kind of ridiculous: I live out of my suitcase, and I was really excited when I bought a brand new carry-on, which featured a special lock with a code that I had set — my everyday PIN. I had to go to Florence, Italy, to speak at a conference, and I left the bag in my hotel room, locked with my code. My wallet, computer and passport were in the new bag.

When I got back to the hotel after my speaking engagement, I tried to open the bag to get my stuff. It wouldn’t open, and I started to panic since I had to leave for Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the next morning, and I needed my passport. It was comical because I was getting myself really worked up trying different combinations that I knew weren’t even remotely right.

I then remembered a YouTube video showing how to open a locked suitcase with just a pen. I found a pen and exerted pressure against the zipper, and the teeth separated. I got my hand into the bag and got my passport out. These guys at a shop around the corner from the hotel in Florence fixed the bag free. It was under warranty, but it’s fair to say I’m not that crazy about locked suitcases anymore.

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