So you did it, you’re going on an adventure. Maybe you’re the type that has an itinerary of every flight, every room and every activity planned down to the second. Or maybe you just have a one way ticket and are about to wing it–to the dismay of your family and friends (me). Either way, something will inevitably go wrong and you are going to handle it. How well? To be determined. By some miracle, I have managed to not miss a single flight or train in my life*knock on wood*. One of the biggest lessons I learned from travel is how to calm down, accept things that I am not in control of, and objectively look at the options to solve the problem at hand on the spot. I now consider myself an excellent problem solver largely due to dealing with various scenarios while traveling. Between delayed flights and tight layovers, absurd budget airline rules, language barriers, and let’s be honest–alcohol–the chances of at least one logistical mishap are very high. And that’s okay. It’s a part of the experience and it’s also a part of life. In fact, I encountered my first near-disaster right out the gate.
On my way to Barcelona the first time, I had a 2 hour layover (sufficient right?) at London Heathrow. I landed in London and the security line was intense. I was mildly stressed about the hour and a half it took to get through the downstairs line, but still had hope it would be okay. When I went up the escalator and realized there was a whole 2nd floor with another line just as long, I started to panic. It was my first time traveling alone, and I simply was not about to miss my flight to Spain. Sometimes you just gotta hustle and ask for what you want. I went up to a woman working in the line and explained the situation. She took me to the front, but of course, there was some kind of issue with the person in front of me and it took them about five extra minutes to deal with her. My flight was set to leave at 1:10, and by the time I cleared security it was 1:08–so there was no chance I could find my gate and make it at that point. I was pretty upset and defeated standing in front of the flight information screen when I saw that my flight was delayed 30 minutes–just enough. My eyes lit up and I did a little hop of joy. That is the best feeling. Those are the moments you think, alright universe, good one, you got me. You’re funny, I get it. But sometimes things don’t work out, and this is what you have to do.
The most important thing is to stay calm. Screaming at your friend, the lady behind the desk, or just being dramatic in general will not help you. You are not the first person to experience a travel road bump and you will not be the last. If you waste all your time being worked up, you won’t see the next best move sitting in front of you.
Stay positive. After you’ve taken a few deep breaths, ask yourself ,”Alright, what can I do?”. If there is something you can do, do that. If the answer is absolutely nothing, you can still control your outlook. For example, due to an unfortunate series of events, I lost my wallet complete with all of my cards and passport in the forest of Munich while camping outside of Oktoberfest. And in case you aren’t aware, losing your passport is really bad. When it was still not turned into the lost and found the next morning, I had to make a choice: Wallow in self pity and miss Oktoberfest or go anyways and make the best of it. I luckily had a friend to spot my steins–but at the end of the day, if you can be positive enough to not let something ruin your overall experience, you’ll be better off. I ended up taking a bus home from Germany to Barcelona and going to the US embassy in Spain to get an emergency passport. Ideal? No. End of the world? Also no.
Sometimes it comes down to the last few seconds to squeeze on a train or make a flight before the gate closes and a sense of urgency is necessary. I once was trying to catch a train from Rome to Naples. One was leaving at 12pm (in literally 2 minutes) and one was leaving at 8pm. I took a chance and frantically bought my 12pm ticket at the kiosk machine, praying it would print quickly. Then ran all the way through the platform with my massive backpack and jumped through the door out of breath and sweaty with seconds to spare. So if it’s time to run, run.
Employ the best of your problem solving skills. A friend and I had purchased a $90 train ticket from Milan to Nice that left at 2pm. We were in Lake Como that morning, and had to catch a train and then switch to another train before arriving in in Milan. The train doors shut, we had taken off our backpacks and appeared to be ready to leave Como when the lights on the train suddenly went out and there was an audible “power down”. The train just straight up took a nap. About 20 minutes later it woke up and we set off, but we needed that 20 minutes in order to catch the second train–the train that would get us to Milan in time for the third train. So we had to problem solve. We talked it over and concluded it was pretty unlikely that we would make it if we stayed on. We made a last minute decision to get off and try to catch a cab instead. We were pacing around at an empty random train station outside of Milan trying to figure out how to get a cab and having little luck. We asked a guy for help and he ended up calling it for us and talking to the driver in Italian (real life saver). We were exactly 30 minutes away from the Milan train station at 1:30 when we got in the cab. Remember we needed to get to our 2pm train in Milan–that is cutting it close. He didn’t speak much English, but we explained our dilemma as best we could. He agreed to speed as we had jumpy anxiety legs the whole way. We pulled up at 1:58, grabbed our bags and sprinted through the station. We boarded the train at the very last second (sensing a theme here?). High five to us for making that executive decision to abandon the train and take matters into our own hands. Checkmate.
We arrived to the airport in Santorini two hours before our flight. We got food, opened our books and got comfy. When our flight gate wasn’t announced 30 minutes before takeoff and wasn’t up on the screen at all, we did a lap looking for a sign for Milan. This airport is tiny, so you can see all of gates within a few hundred feet. No word for Milan whatsoever. They were still boarding a flight to Rome, so we figured they had to finish that before ours. We had received a warning email that the airport workers might be boycotting so we were mentally prepared for things to be abnormal. We couldn’t find any information on our flight, so we went back upstairs to hang in the lounge when we heard. “Last call for Milan” over the loudspeaker. We looked at each other wide-eyed in disbelief, jumped up, and ran back down. We were the last people to make it to the shuttle to our plane. How they could forget to put it on the screen or how we missed that memo I will never know. But lesson learned: look alive.
Laugh at yourself
If all else fails, throw your hands in the air and find the humor in it. Because usually it is funny–that’s why I can look back on those times fondly. Because the things that go wrong are just as important as everything that goes right. How boring would it be if you never had to run through an airport hungover, or through the tiny streets of Croatia looking for your bus ticket with concerned old people stopping to stare at you. Relax. For some reason, when you look back on those hectic moments–the moments when your life almost fell apart and you were on the verge of a breakdown–you look back with a smile.