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I spend many hours planning a trip and months anticipating the fulfillment of those plans. That’s part of the fun of traveling.
And yet, invariably, I encounter snags during the trip, when travel plans go awry. I’ve learned that when the unexpected happens, staying open and going with the flow helps me to find the good in the situation. New opportunities usually arrive. And at the very least, I learn from the experience.
These five lessons learned during recent trips offer great examples of well laid plans going awry and the take aways from each experience.
Using a smart phone equipped with GPS is a popular way of getting around in unfamiliar places. Most of the time, GPS is reliable and accurate, taking me where I want to go without a problem.
What happens though when GPS fails? Then the journey gets interesting, or at least it did in 2017 while traveling by car in Scotland.
My sister Debbie bravely volunteered to drive our girls’ group around that gorgeous country. Remember that compared to the US, traffic flows on the opposite side of the road in Scotland and the steering wheel is on the right, rather than the left. Debbie expertly drove us all over the country, relying on the car’s built in GPS system to guide us to where we wanted to go.
Are We Lost?
Except….one day it didn’t. Driving from the Sterling area northward into the Highlands, with the Isle of Skye as our ultimate destination, we suddenly realized we were approaching the Firth of Forth. The iconic Forth Bridge appeared, paralleled by the newly built but not yet open Queensferry Crossing.
We knew then we were headed the wrong way. And this time, my sister was not at fault. (See Wrong Way Sister for more about my sister’s challenges with directions.) However, the magic began as we crossed the Firth of Forth and entered the Kingdom of Fife.
Both bridges and Fife were on my “must see” list for Scotland. And yet, I didn’t expect to see them this trip. As the rest of us appreciated the views of the bridges and the forth, Debbie startled us by exclaiming, “What is that?”
Looking toward the front of the car, expecting to see a bus careening toward us, my mouth dropped open in surprise at the sight ahead. Two large, gleaming horse heads towered over the trees. We “accidentally” stumbled upon the amazing Kelpies, 30 meter tall sculptures of Scotland’s mythical shape shifting water spirits. We were enchanted. And I got to check another item off my list.
Sometimes the GPS fails. Sometimes we get lost. And yet, that’s okay. Getting off track might lead to a new adventure or unexpected experiences. We never figured out why the GPS failed that day. It worked perfectly the remainder of our time in Scotland. I am grateful though for the detour. I’ll never forget the wonder of seeing those majestic Kelpies.
We All Fall Down
Or maybe I should say, two of us fell down. On the girls’ trip through the UK, in 2017, we almost didn’t make it out of the US.
At the Atlanta airport, the stuff of nightmares happened. Riding the escalators down a level, my sisters exited, pulling their carry ons behind them. My niece Ashley followed a few steps behind my mother and me. Like many people, I get a bit nervous as the escalator stairs disappear at the end, knowing I need to time my step off correctly. As I pulled my carry on closer to me and prepared to disembark, I saw my mother falling.
In slow motion, it seemed, Mom’s legs folded and she sunk toward the steps. Panicking, I reached over to pull her up. That was a mistake. Her carry on toppled, knocking my legs out from under me and down we both went, on the moving escalator.
Do you know that 17,000 people receive serious injuries each year, while on escalators and elevators? And 30 people die? I didn’t know the stats, as Mom and I fell. However, I knew that clothing and hair getting caught in escalators are the main causes of injury or death.
We Get Back Up
Instinctively, I stuck my legs into the air and curled my upper torso upward, trying to keep pant legs and my long hair from getting snagged. Mom’s snacks from her purse bounced by me. It felt important at the time to grab the container of hummus. My niece and the man behind her bounded up the escalator stairs, searching for an emergency OFF button. They never found one.
Somehow, I flipped over onto my hands and knees and crawled off the escalator. Debbie helped our mother up. We felt shaken, and received scratches and bruises, however we didn’t sustain any serious injuries. Well, my carry on was a goner. The fabric suitcase did get caught and it tore. However, tape held it together until I returned home.
I still shudder when I think about that experience.
Ironically, the trip ended with another fall, this time on the London Tube. It was my fault. I stood near a pole with my suitcase. Thankfully, my mother found a seat. When the announcement comes to hold on because the tube is departing, they mean HOLD ON. I fiddled with my carry on a moment too long. The sudden movement threw me off balance and I smashed into the closest wall, cracking ribs. Thankfully a man caught me and halted my journey onward to the floor. It took three months for my ribs to heal.
Never let your mother step onto an escalator pulling a carry on! If someone falls, get yourself off the escalator and then turn to help the other person. Also, practice awareness on escalators and subways. Keep luggage secured. Lack of attention may result in pain and injury. And that’s not a fun way to start or end a trip.
We Can’t Control What We Can’t Control
Weather played a significant role in several of my travel plans that shifted.
Tornadoes on the ground in Charlotte, North Carolina diverted the plane my grandson, daughter and I traveled on, during the first leg of our journey to Italy. We stayed in Chattanooga, Tennessee until the all clear sounded in Charlotte. However, we missed our connecting flight to Rome. Thousands of people missed their connecting flights.
The resulting storm of emotions inside the airport rivaled the storms outside. We witnessed crying, angry words, displays of temper and glum resignation. Rather than join the masses, we chose to stay calm and hopeful and open to opportunities. On a night when very few people flew out of Charlotte, we ended up on a plane to London. And from there, we journeyed on to Rome. We missed our welcome dinner however we arrived in time for the start of our tour. I believe miracles happened that night in Charlotte. Read the whole incredible story HERE.
Weather Delay Allows A Problem to Surface
Last year, Debbie and I found ourselves stuck in an airplane out on the tarmac at JFK Airport in New York City, awaiting departure for Edinburgh. Thunderstorms kept us grounded for five hours. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Shortly before we were cleared for takeoff, a horrible clanging noise filled the cabin. One terrified woman stood up and demanded to get off the plane.
It turned out a mechanical problem surfaced, as we waited for the weather to clear. Imagine if that problem had occurred, out over the Atlantic? Grounded as we were, mechanics ably corrected the issue and at last we took off, in the middle of the night. We arrived late in Edinburgh, and yet thankfully, we arrived safely.
Allergies in Italy
And one non-weather related incident happened in Italy, during the trip with my daughter Elissa and grandson Dayan. We discovered that Dayan is allergic to the flowering vine, jasmine. In late May and early June, jasmine is everywhere in Italy, vining over stone walls, archways and buildings. This situation, totally out of our control, necessitated new strategies. We kept hotel windows closed at night, avoided the vine as much as possible in villages and accepted that Dayan might sneeze…often.
We really can’t control much of anything, and certainly not the weather or mechanical problems or allergic reactions to flowering plants. Staying open to possibilities and in the flow of life, and disconnecting from outcomes, frees us to accept what is and move forward. Believing there is a reason for everything, even if I can’t see what the reason is, allows trust to grow.
In spite of well researched plans, disappointments may occur. On the girls’ trip to the UK, everyone picked places to see and things to do. We found it very doable to please five different people by giving everyone a say in what we did.
In Dublin, Ireland, my mother chose Trinity College Library for us to visit. Built in 1592, the library houses the Brian Boru harp, Ireland’s national symbol, and the Book of Kells, considered one of the country’s national treasures. This ancient manuscript, created in 800 AD, contains the four gospels of the New Testament.
We arrived at the library a few minutes after it closed! Unfortunately, we flew out of Ireland the next day, Scotland bound.
In Edinburgh, we couldn’t get into Real Mary King’s Close or into a crowded Elephant House cafe. And in London, a sign on the door of the dungeons beneath the Tower of London proclaimed them closed for maintenance.
We pre-selected certain activities but in the case of the Dublin library, we didn’t prioritize it that day. Mary King’s Close was a spur of the moment attempt and we had no control over the busyness of the Elephant House or the dungeons’ maintenance work. However, the library should have been first on our activity list for the day, not toward the end of it.
I like spontaneity while traveling. Yet there is a place for order, especially when scheduling tours or group activities. We learned to do both: arrive on time for events and wander freely when the desire to explore called. And when met with a “no” we always found other places to go and things to see.
This is an important personal realization I’ve had, as I travel. Don’t let opportunities slip away. It’s one thing to miss getting into a building because it is closed or too crowded. It’s another to walk away by choice and then regret the decision.
Sometimes, my reasons for missing an experience are physical. My back hurt from lugging a huge suitcase around, the day my cousins climbed to the top of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. I stayed behind and rested at the bed and breakfast. Five months later, one of those dear cousins passed away. I missed the opportunity to experience Arthur’s Seat with her.
I chose to stay on the ground in Italy too, while my daughter and grandson climbed the bell towers in the little villages we visited. Sure, I might have huffed and puffed my way to the top. Now, I think about the magnificent views I missed.
The three of us were too tired to walk to Trevi Fountain in Rome, having arrived so late the night before. My coin for the fountain remained in my pocket. And we stayed out of a gondola in Venice, because those rides are mostly sought out by romantic couples. Who cares? We did, while in Venice. Now, I wished I’d gone for a gondola ride alone, if no one else wanted to go.
I’ve visited Edinburgh three times and still have not experienced the Royal Military Tattoo, where bands of pipers and drummers perform in their tartans at the castle. Why haven’t I?
And…I never, ever take enough photos as I travel.
This lesson is a big one for me, as I desire to live a life without regrets. If I want to DO something, then DO it. On my most recent trip to Edinburgh last July, I visited Dean Village, the Botanical Gardens and Calton Hill, all places I’ve wanted to see that I’ve missed before.
We don’t always get second or third chances. I’m learning to step up and do what I want to do, in all areas of my life. I want to write. So, I’m writing. I want to travel. So, I’m traveling. I want to visit the Edinburgh Christmas Market. So, I will make that happen.
I’m telling myself, don’t wait. If it is important, find a way to do all that I desire to do. Be ready, when opportunities arrive. And capture those magical moments with photos….lots of them.
Life is a journey…and for me, journeying through travel is life. I acknowledge and accept my gypsy soul and my wild heart. It is time to release the wildness and go where my heart will take me. And to take along the many lessons I’m learning as I travel.
Have you had travel plans go awry? Share your stories in the comments below!
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