When things don’t go according to plan

By on in Tips |

My experience is that travel is awe-inspiring, eye-opening, mind-bending, and never ceases to amaze. I hope to never stop. It is, on occasion, hair-raising, challenging, disorienting, and downright scary.

So what does one do when things don’t go according to plan? When you miss your flight (or your traveling companion does- looking at you, Juliet 😉)? When you’re supposed to be met by someone at the airport in a far-away place, but no one shows up? When you’re on a bicycle trip and don’t follow directions and immediately get lost and can’t find a single person who speaks a common language (I’m looking in the mirror on this one)? When you can’t locate your hotel at midnight? Can’t find the correct train to a town high in the mountains? Think you can’t go further on that long hike at altitude?

What I try to do is take a deep breath to calm the fear, irritation, frustration, and negative thinking in order to consider the alternatives. For example, Juliet and I were flying separately to Heathrow where we expected to meet up for our next flight to Entebbe, Uganda. I found out by text when I arrived in London that she had missed her flight. Fortunately, there was a long layover there (tip: don’t skimp on lay-over time with connecting flights), and after apparently cursing quite loudly at SFO, she set to work to find an alternative. It cost her time and money and lots of conversation with various agents, but she made it work (and learned an important lesson!).

One has to be creative, determined, and sometimes, willing to take a risk. On another trip, we arrived at the tiny international airport in Lusaka, Zambia. It was midnight. Ours was the only plane arriving at that hour. We looked for someone holding a sign with our names. We waited and waited, and then everyone but one was gone. There were no airport personnel to help. I approached the man holding the sign which had someone else’s name on it. It turned out his people hadn’t arrived. Except for his sign, there were no obvious indicators that he was affiliated with tourism and his vehicle was likewise unmarked. But what could I do? I took a chance on him and he saved us from a night sleeping on the airport floor.

I tried not to panic when I realized how lost I was in the hills of Tuscany on that bike trip. I stopped at a farmhouse where four old men were playing cards in the gravel driveway. I tried to communicate but I spoke no Italian and they spoke no English, so I rode off to another farmhouse where I encountered a man getting into his car. Although we were unable to communicate in words, gestures did the trick (and fortunately, I had the phone number of the guide and the man had a phone). When the guide showed up, I learned that the rest of the group was an hour away. The guide was none too happy. Lesson learned: stay with the group!

You can be sure that unexpected situations will come up when you’re traveling, and part of the experience (dare I say fun?), is being able to manage them in a calm, thoughtful and confident way.

Please share your stories about how you handle challenging travel situations!