Rule #14: The Detour Can Be the Adventure

Rule #14 featured copy

Hopefully by now, readers have taken our advice to heart and realized that there will always, always be something that will go wrong on any trip. Usually, all you can do about it is laugh. But sometimes, if you are willing to embrace it, the disaster can turn into the best part of your trip.

Like most of the rest of life, in travel attitude is everything. A local festival that closes all your “must see” destinations for the day can be the thing that ruins your vacation or the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that gave you your most memorable insights into local culture. We have fondly remembered our brushes with real life, like the time our arrival in the Spanish village of Grazalema was severely delayed because we had to wait for a huge passing herd of goats to get out of the road, and then heard others complaining bitterly about similar experiences that “threw off their whole schedule for the day.”

Saint's Day Celebration in Cadiz

Saint’s Day Celebration in Cadiz that shut down all its streets — and made our whole trip.

During a trip to Corfu, Greece, we climbed to the top of the island fort to see the old lighthouse only to be surprised by a sudden thunderstorm that left us soaking wet and running for shelter. We spent nearly an hour huddled in an underground tunnel with some lovely new friends from Denmark and Switzerland, waiting out the rain. But nobody complained, and we laughed and talked about our trips, exchanging advice and travel tips until the rain stopped.

Under the bridge--soaking wet

Underground–soaking wet.
(And look behind us! Even Swiss tourists wear socks with sandals!)

Our ill-fated attempt to drive to the volcano near Antigua, Guatemala resulted in us getting completely and hilariously lost in a tiny mountain village, and then trying to drive across “roads” which were really more “chasms filled with giant boulders” before we finally gave up. Those roads were clearly intended for horses and were emphatically not for cars. We never saw the volcano, but that day is one of my favorite memories of our time in Antigua, and we saw a side of rural Guatemalan life that most tourists never see. (And we didn’t even crack our car’s oil pan.)

Guatemala 183--crop

This village is not on the way to Volcan Pacaya

And there’s our infamous trip to Yangshuo, China, home of some of the most beautiful scenery on the earth. We had planned on renting bikes and spending the whole week exploring the incredible countryside surrounding the beautiful Li River by bicycle, but two-year-old Leafy Isaac had other plans. He absolutely refused (with much screaming and flailing) to sit in the rickety bamboo bicycle seat, and our plans were suddenly ruined. We ended up spending hours sitting on the porch of our hotel playing chess and Connect Four by the fire and talking with other travelers–and ended up having one of the best vacations ever. We made new friends, did a lot of walking through knee-deep mud, saw a lot of water buffalo and loved every second of that trip’s enforced slow pace.

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It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you are “stuck” somewhere with this view.

So when you can, try and see the positive side of any bad travel situation. Even the most impossibly frustrating scenarios can yield memorable, even hilarious experiences.

I recently spent 15 hours in the airport without setting foot on a plane after being caught in the fallout of the Aurora radar control disaster. Sitting in our tiny local airport I watched other passengers scramble frantically to rebook, and re-rebook, flights as their connections disappeared and scores of flights were cancelled. When our flight was finally cancelled as well, I agreed to take a shuttle to another nearby airport where I might be able to get a flight.

When the shuttle arrived it was, in fact, a stretch Humvee limo. As eleven of us piled in to the mirror-ceilinged, disco-ball-containing party mobile, I was laughing to myself at the incongruous picture we made for those watching us, but the trip was only going to get weirder. As our comically diverse cast of characters made our way to the airport, a camaraderie developed and deeply strange alliances were forged. Bedazzled Snakeskin Jacket Grandma joked with Texan On His Way to a Bachelor Party while Iowa Party Girl Pretending She’s From Somewhere More Sophisticated flirted with Our Self Appointed Leader GI Joe. College Student Missing Her Own Graduation and Hoodie Wearing Bearded Single Father peppered Travel Writer in Uncomfortable Vintage Shoes (me) with questions about their rights should their connecting flights be cancelled as well. (Spoiler alert–they were. Everything was. All day.) Stereotypical Computer Geek stayed absolutely, ominously silent throughout the entire trip, while Middle Aged Businessman in Golf Shirt tried to fit in despite his obvious discomfort.

Mentally composing a David Sedaris-style story in my head while surreptitiously writing down notes about my fellow travelers, I could have been fuming about my ruined trip (which only got worse, by the way), but then I would have missed out on the delightful and bizarre experience of that day and at least three good articles’ worth of stories. And all that was before Party Girl started passing around the bottle of Captain Morgan she bought in the gas station . . . or an Iowa police chief offered me a ride to my hotel from the Denver airport . . . or the other passengers’ rowdy game of hackisac in the middle of the airport terminal . . .

The point is, almost every situation can be salvaged and many will become your new favorite travel stories if you let them. Get ready to make the best of the inevitable travel disasters and they might even become the stuff of family legend.

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