• Image about Barcelona

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, how much can a receipt say about a trip? In beautiful Barcelona, plenty.

It’s creeping toward 1 p.m. in Barcelona, and I’m in a mood. I am tired, rained upon and frustrated from an hourlong luggage hunt, because I am a typical American whose grasp of the Spanish language is mostly encompassed in the laminated phrase guide resting in my jacket pocket.

My wife and I are having our first squabble on Spanish soil, standing near a luggage carousel at Barcelona’s international airport while waiting for our two daughters to exit the restroom. The lone security guard doesn’t even bother to eavesdrop — it’s one of those petty arguments that reside at the intersection of mundane and pathetic.

True, I should’ve taken a moment to try to figure out what the airport greeter was saying to me in Spanish when we walked off the plane. But when she indicated that she spoke no English, I moved on with the flow of my fellow passengers and figured it wasn’t important. Turns out, it was. That little screwup set us back by at least an hour, forced us to go through security twice and required several pantomime-ish conversations with friendly security officials who surely thought we were four idiots abroad.

Whatever. I finally did get us to the right luggage carousel, didn’t I? Did it really matter that it was only about 100 yards from where we initially stepped off the plane one terribly long hour ago? According to my wife, yes.

I bite my tongue (eventually), and things start looking up as we brave the drizzle outside to catch a cab into the city. We’re in a beautiful, cosmopolitan city, and I can’t screw up standing in line, can I? (According to my wife, probably yes.)
  • Image about Barcelona
Drying laundry is a very familiar sight above the alleys of Barcelona.
Michael Melford/National Geographic Stock

The four of us pile into a cab that I am positive was built for a species of underfed supermodels — an impression cemented when my youngest daughter decrees that the vehicle is “cute.” But we manage to squish in, luggage and all, and I finally start to exhale.

As we drive off I feel flush with a ­beginning-of-a-trip pocket full of euros, and I remember the golden rule of business travel: Get a receipt. A recibo. For everything. Because nothing says you were there better than a scrap of paper that chronicles a cold, hard exchange of money for merchandise. Every receipt has a story to tell, and my job is simply to translate.

I may not be the best at navigating Spanish airports, but this I can do. Heck, the world’s oldest receipt has lasted for 5,000 years — mine only have to survive my boss’ scrutiny.