Travel isn’t always plain sailing and things can quickly go awry, but as the saying goes, it’s not what happens that matters, but how you handle it, writes Erika Ebsworth-Goold.
Travel can be downright taxing. Flight delays, lost luggage, missed connections, and miscommunication are all stressful and can occur at any time. However, navigating challenges on the go can make you more resourceful and save your holiday.
Here are a few simple ways you can prevent snafus from derailing your holiday, no matter where in the world your travels take you.
Channel your inner innovator
Problem-solving skills get put to the test on the road. Case in point: after a recent international flight during which I’d barely slept, I looked forward to a brief rest and clean-up when I reached my Rotterdam hotel at the crack of dawn.
Except I didn’t have a room; one wasn’t booked for me the night before.
After a brief pout, I downed two expressos, left my luggage with the front desk, and considered my options. I purchased a day transit pass at the subway station a block away. From there, I caught a bus to see field after field of gorgeous tulips in full bloom, then took a train to The Hague to see Vermeer’s famous Girl With a Pearl Earring. Neither activity had been on my original itinerary, but by thinking fast and on my feet, I got two bonus experiences I’ll never forget.
Lean on tech
According to the Global System for Mobile Communications Association, more than half of the world’s population now owns a smartphone. That’s a lot of power in your pocket. I’ve used my phone’s calculator app to haggle over the price of chopsticks in X’ian and spices in Istanbul, and to sail around language barriers with ease.
“I lean into tech heavily,” said Cameron Hewitt, long-time writer at Rick Steves’ Europe Inc. and author of The Temporary European: Lessons and Confessions of a Professional Traveller. Hewitt says your smartphone has the power to solve a whole host of problems instantly. “I use it for navigation, information about places, and then certainly when issues come up. People might not realise they have all these tools at their disposal.”
The bottom line, keep that phone charged up and know how to use it.
Embrace the layover
Many travellers might despair when an extended layover sneaks its way into itineraries. But if you’ve got a few hours and a bit of chutzpah, they can turn into holiday gold. A recent return home from Croatia took far longer than I anticipated, thanks to an 11-hour overnight layover in Rome. The fix? I snagged tickets on the airport’s express train, booked an Airbnb, and roamed the Eternal City most of the evening. I feasted on cacio de pepe, strolled past the Coliseum, and even threw my coins into the Trevi Fountain.
Even if you only have a few hours to spare in a city, do the research and see if it’s possible to make a quick museum spin or take a tour. It beats sitting in the airport bar.
Know when to ask for help
Know when you need help, and don’t let your pride get in the way of asking for guidance if you’re lost, can’t get the ticket machine to take your subway pass, or are simply looking for the best sushi in town. Most folks are happy to assist, and those moments create chances for real connection.
“I once asked for directions to a cultural site in Vietnam and got chatting with a lovely gentleman who redirected me to a different spot with so much more history and authenticity,” said Eve Lawrence, country general manager at Intrepid New Zealand. “It was one of the highlights of my holiday. Had I not gotten lost (and asked for help), I would never have found it.”
Laugh and learn
I once attended a work function at a lovely venue in Beijing and opted to wear heels and a pantsuit. Unlike my hotel room’s bathroom, which had a full toilet, the one at my meeting did not. For the next 10 minutes, I cuffed my pants high, balanced as best I could and tried to figure out how to use the squat option. I couldn’t help but cackle - I’ve no idea what the others around me must have thought.
Situations like these, particularly as they cut across cultures, can and will come up during international travel. The good news - I’d brought both toilet paper and my sense of humour - and I’ve got a funny story I can tell forever.
Perfection is rarely possible
We all want every aspect of our trip to be picture-perfect. Expectations for a new city, region or country can run high. But taking your foot off the gas just a bit can leave room for unexpected interactions and more enjoyment.
“The more I travel, the more I try to be loose and flexible, said Hewitt. “You’re more likely to stumble into perfection if you allow some flexibility in your schedule.”
And remember: jams are fun. That’s what Hewitt reminds himself as he channels his wife’s great-great-Aunt Mildred.
“She was a retired schoolteacher who travelled the world solo. When she recounted her adventures, every story was about something that went wrong. But as she wrote in her memoir, “jams are fun”. That’s my family’s shorthand for, “This feels tough right now, but someday we’ll look back at this and have some great memories.”