Travel rarely goes as planned — here’s how to cope with the mishaps and letdowns.
A magical stroll through Sintra’s sunflower-colored castles.
Hours holding hands while driving through the romantic Portuguese countryside.
An adventurous week spent making memories to last a lifetime.
This is how I imagined Frank and my five-day Portugal dream trip would play out, but umm… no. It couldn’t have been more opposite. I’ve had travel mishaps on pretty much every trip, but this time was unlike any other. We couldn’t catch a break – and my subconscious tendency to mess up also didn’t help. (Does it ever?)
So, that romantic Portugal getaway? Ha. Ha ha. Here’s what five days of screw ups and bad luck in Portugal actually looked like.
First, we arrived to our five-star luxury Vilalara Thalassa Resort on Friday, only to realize I booked us for the wrong night. (Yes, that means I accidentally booked two hotels in entirely different cities for the same Saturday, as one does.)
Then, on our drive from the Algarve to Sintra, while plotting how to fit every castle and palace into a narrow time window, our rental car abruptly sputtered, stopped and left us stranded without cell service in the middle of nowhere Portugal. I just… I can’t on this one. Don’t worry, story coming soon, but in the meantime, just know we survived (our banks accounts from rental car damage – not so much).
Heading from Sintra back to Lisbon we missed our train because of course, but given the prior 48 hours, this was barely a blip on our radar.
And then, as all good travels end, we made our way back to the states after five hours of flight delays only to be greeted with two lovely cases of food poisoning. I mean, nothing screams romance like battling for the bathroom
This dream trip was no dream – trust me, I have the rental car fee to prove it was real. It was a living, breathing nightmare. And despite the fact I was beaten while down, then beaten some more, I loved every minute of it.
While stranded roadside trying to figure out our next move, I was mentally taking notes (and videos, and photos) because I knew this memory would be one that lasted far longer than, say, a nice stroll through Sintra Palace.
While tourist sights are beautiful, true memories aren’t made from dodging crowds to get the perfect Instagram shot (and don’t even get me started on people traveling to specific places JUST to get the perfect shot.
The best memories are made in small, trying moments that scare you, push you and leave you with an “I survived” story to share upon returning home.
Today, social media sets this unrealistic precedent that all travel is perfect. Twirling through flower gardens, dancing on a rooftop – these are just some of the thousands of photographs travelers post to show just how incredibly perfect their vacations were. They set the travel bar so high that followers feel they also need to have that flawless vacation … and if they don’t, well, all’s lost.
But it’s not! It really, really is not. I could obviously go on with stories (like the time I got ripped off by a Moroccan rug seller …), but I won’t bore (or hopefully entertain!) you with stories of screw ups of yesteryear.
Instead, I’ll do my best to help you make the most of your next dream trip turned disaster.
Take a deep breath
Breathe? Come on. Realllll original, I know, but that actually got me through the great rental car catastrophe of 2017. At first I was panicking (we were seriously stranded with zero connectivity, I’m allowed to panic, OK!), but realized that was getting us nowhere. Instead, I took a step back, took a – wait for it – deep breath, and was able to look at the situation much more clearly. In addition to coming up with an action plan, I was also able to do one of the most important things you can do in this epic failure of a situation …
Laughter is my favorite thing to do EVER (which is why I completely embarrassed myself to make a rap tribute video for The Office, but I digress…). It also helps you adapt to a ridiculous situation you didn’t expect to find yourself in, such as my phone call with Hotels.com as I explained I accidentally booked the wrong night – as the hotel manager watched me, trying to keep a straight face. Everyone screws up, but some people take it more seriously than others. Don’t be the serious people. Be the laughers, because either way you’ll have to deal with it – you might as well make it fun.
Set secondary travel goals
There’s nothing wrong with having a “perfect itinerary,” as long as you have an “oops, I screwed up” plan B. In marathon running, they tell you to have your goal time in mind, but always have a secondary goal just in case your body’s not in peak performance mode on race day. Well, guess what? Travel isn’t always – in fact it’s rarely – in peak performance mode, so having a plan B will help you fulfill some of your travel goals, even if it’s not ideal. For example, if you’re visiting Sintra but arrive five hours behind schedule and can’t visit any monuments, move on to plan b: Explore the Portuguese bar scene! Sintra isn’t known for its nightlife, but there is one small, hole-in-the-wall bar that attracts a huge local crowd. We went, drank some cheap local beer and experienced a part of the country we may not have seen otherwise.
Find the silver lining
It could (almost) always be worse. Cliché as it sounds, a little silver lining can go a long way. Another example: We were stuck in the Dusseldorf Airport with a flight delayed five hours. Ouch — thank God for WiFi and Arrested Development on Netflix. While it sucked big time, here was our silver lining: In Europe, if your flight is delayed a certain amount, the EU has a passenger’s bill of rights that entitles you to a partial or full discount. After filling out paperwork, we ended up getting 600 Euro back for our delayed flights. 600 Euro! In this case, it felt like a gold lining (ha ha), but there’s always a way to adjust your mindset and make travel tragedies a bit better.
Share pictures of the chaos
While it may sound like it, I’m not saying travelers should refrain from sharing their best – or dare we say, perfect – travel photos. Heck no! I do it all the time because they’re photos I’m proud of and excited about. But to break this “travel perfection” mindset, you should also share the mishaps, be it in the photo caption or a photo of the chaos itself. The more we show the true side of travel, the more approachable travel is.
There’s a reason this blog is The WanderLOST Way – I get lost, like, a lot. I screw up, um, more than I’d like to admit here, but in reality, that’s OK. 20 years down the road I won’t be telling my kids about the time their dad and I saw artifacts in a museum – we’ll be telling them about the time we were stranded roadside – only to be saved by a cab driver with his own faulty engine and no comprehension of English.
How do you handle travel mishaps or letdowns? Please share below!