How to Handle a Travel Disaster

There’s this startlingly accurate Paul Theroux quote that says “travel is glamorous only in retrospect.” Travel is sometimes messier and more stressful than many of us would like to admit. It means putting yourself in situations that are often completely unfamiliar. You’re bound to encounter a few mishaps here and there as you adjust to new people, new places, and new tasks. What do you do when your travel plans go awry? I’ve seen more than my share of travel disasters and these are my top tips for managing them.

Prepare for the Worst, Believe in the Best

Almost all of my travel disaster experiences can be traced backed to poor preparation on my part. That time Brent and I arrived at the wrong airport in Bangkok? We probably should have double checked the airport code before heading out. That time we realized we’d just paid the equivalent of $40 for a five-minute taxi ride when we first arrived in Indonesia? We probably should have reconfirmed the exchange rate before making any purchases.

Over the years, my numerous travel misadventures have taught me to over-prepare. I regularly arrive at airports more than 3 hours early to allow for any potential hold-ups or problems en route; I have back-ups maps in case the GPS stops working in my rental car; I make sure someone always knows where I am when I’m traveling alone.

Although I try to be ready (both practically and emotionally) for things to go wrong, I do my best not to let fear or paranoia creep into my planning process. Without getting overly philosophical, I think that you attract whatever you put out into the universe. If you’re always expecting a disaster, you’re probably going to get one.

Take a Breath

I don’t need to tell you that no amount of careful preparation can guarantee you won’t still encounter problems on the road. There wasn’t much Brent and I could have done to prevent him from breaking his foot in Puerto Rico, or to avoid getting trapped on Boracay when Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines.

It’s simple advice, but one of the most important things I force myself to do when something goes wrong is to stop and take a breath. It only takes a moment. When I’m facing a challenge my instinct is to rush into action, but I know I make better choices and move towards a solution more quickly when I pause (even for just a moment) before deciding on my next move.

Let It Go

I find the aftermath of a misadventure is often much more significant than the misadventure itself. It’s so easy to let the anxiety and negative feelings resulting from getting totally lost or missing a connecting flight to linger for the rest of your trip. Most of the time, my advice is to stop running “what-ifs” over in your mind and move on as quickly as possible; but there are other situations when it’s better to admit that it’s time to call it quits.

After a run-in with squatters at our house sit in Spain, Brent and I cut a subsequent trip to Morocco from a week down to just a day-trip. We were feeling far too vulnerable to take on a new country. It’s sad that this particular disaster caused us to miss out on something we’d been looking forward to, but it would have been a terrible idea to push ourselves into a new challenge when we were already feeling defeated and overwhelmed. Although it was disappointing, I know we made the right decision to change our plans.

Whether it means letting go of what went wrong, or taking a break until you feel ready for more adventure, let your instincts guide how to best get over the mishap and get back to rocking your trip.

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9 thoughts on “How to Handle a Travel Disaster”

  1. Great post! Recently I found myself in a total travel disaster, you wouldn’t even believe it! I went backpacking in Cuba over the winter holidays and the following happened: the airline lost my luggage and never delivered it to my destination leaving me at 35 degrees only with my winter clothes, I got denied boarding in Canada because the airline overbooked so I had to wait over 10 hours for the next available flight, in Cuba I got stunk by a wasp and got a really bad allergic reaction that sent me straight to hospital… but I’ve met wonderful people in Cuba that helped me to let go and enjoy my so dreamed holiday in the other side of the world. 🙂

  2. Noting better than being just positive and let go so you can enjoy the remaining of your vacation. In most situations, being frustrated won’t really help you. I love this post. thank you for sharing.

  3. “Travel is glamorous only in retrospect.” I have to remember that one; so true. Taxis just one of those things we all have to learn the hard way. And never forget the back-up biscuits in case of food disasters!

  4. Nice Blog !
    I read your blog completely and it is too good, travel disaster is a major problems with most of travelers, because when they are traveling different places they are facing some challenges like different people, their culture, atmosphere, some times locations are not favorable with them.
    Your tips and ideas are very helpful for them and they can plan before starting their trip.
    Thanks for sharing ! 🙂

  5. Exactly. There are so many small mishaps when traveling that if you let each one get you down you’d hate traveling. And I think there are some people who do hate traveling because they can’t move beyond the inevitable mishaps. Like you, I over prepare. It makes me feel comfortable and when things do go wrong I have a small but useful frame of reference for solving the problem.

  6. Sometimes the greatest thing anyone can do when travel disaster strikes is to make the most of it. Nobody wants to spend their holiday stressing about things that most of the time, we can’t even control, so rolling with the punches is the next best step. There’s a great reason there exists a saying, “When in Rome”

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