Travel Adventures with Ali, Part 2: Surviving a travel disaster.
Inevitably, travel plans don't always go as planned. This seems to happen more often to some people (ahem. . me) than others and I like to think it's because some of us are mentally equipped to handle those situations when others might just panic and sit in a corner and cry (oh wait, I definitely did that). Since I've had my fair share of unplanned travel mishaps, and since this last one was a doozey (read part 1), I thought it might be good to share a few tips and lessons I've learned. This most recent "mishap" involved a day stranded alone in Charlotte, NC (about 7 hours of it at the airport), re-routing multiple flights, a rental car, a trip back home, a trip to the passport office, and finally an overnight at Laguardia Airport. . .you guessed it, alone. Basically 3 days of unplanned travel here, there and everywhere, by myself. Tip 1: Try your best to focus on problem solving as opposed to panicking, crying, getting angry, yelling at strangers, etc. Those things may all end up happening anyway, and if you can problem solve while crying (I can), then go for it, but take a deep breath and assess the situation. If it's something that is 100% out of your control like a delayed flight, then just accept it. You can't change the situation but you have complete control over your reaction to it. Yes, it sucks, but instead of dwelling on that, make a plan. Maybe it means you go grab something to eat and drink or do laps around the airport for some exercise. If it affects future flights, talk to customer service and make a plan for what happens next. If it's something where the plan for what happens next is the problem, like my situation was, then take an even deeper breath and start brainstorming. In my case, in the midst of sobbing hysterically, it was a matter of a lot of googling and phone calls which lead to grabbing a rental car, and step by step working through what needed to be done. I kept pushing the thoughts of how crappy the situation was out of my head knowing I needed to come up with some sort of plan, even if I didn't know every detail. I could deal with those thoughts once I knew what my next step was. Tip 2: Ask for help and be kind to those who offer it. Based on my problems there were a handful of people I thought may be able to point me in the right direction so I just started asking them questions (on the phone, via email, in person). A few lead me on wild goose chases, a few had no idea, but eventually one or two actually had info that helped me to figure out what I needed to do next. There were a lot of people who offered unsolicited help after overhearing my situation, who I honestly didn't feel like even engaging with, but they were simply trying to help and I was gracious for it and forced myself to be kind and thankful. When your in a crappy situation the last thing you want to hear is how so and so's brother had something similar happen which was not actually similar at all, BUT if someone is offering you assistance or a story to make you feel better, listen and be thankful. They're trying their best. Which leads to Tip 3: Be gracious. I honestly cannot even recall how many people offered me free food, free drinks, a hug, a place to stay, prayers. . . .the list goes on. My faith in humanity was 100% restored due to this ordeal. So many strangers offered so much kindness when they had no idea what was even going on. I seriously cried a lot, and at random times, and I know I looked like the most pathetic, tired, sad soul which prompted a lot of people to ask if I was OK or if I needed anything. I was truly grateful for all of those people whom I'll never see again but who helped me feel not quite so alone. Tip 4: Keep it in perspective. Re-reading that last sentence you would think someone died. I did feel incredibly upset and alone, and I'm sure a lot of those people thought something truly horrible had happened, and in that moment it was horrible. I had been looking forward to the trip for so long and it felt like a ton of bricks had dropped on me when I realized I might not get to be there for my friends wedding and be a part of all the fun we had planned, BUT I did keep reminding myself that it could be so much worse. No one had died, no large catastrophe had happened that was preventing me from going somewhere, and I was not a starving child in Africa. There are so many people in horrible situations and dealing with horrible things and I was not one of them. My situation sucked A LOT, but I am a strong believer in the whole you are meant to be where you are for a reason thing. I told myself that over and over again. I don't believe we always get to understand those reasons, and honestly, the reason may be I just made a really stupid mistake, but if that's it, then the least I could do with those few days was to try to learn something from it. Life is short, and blowing something out of perspective and acting the world is actually ending, only hurts you. Tip 5: Be smart. I was alone, a young (ish) female and insanely tired so not exactly in prime decision making mode. While all I wanted to do was get drunk and pass out in a corner, the smart part of my brain reminded me that was a poor decision. Especially if you are stranded in an airport alone, just don't be dumb. You are the only person responsible for you so be aware of your surroundings and keep your head on halfway straight. Especially at my overnight in Laguardia, which definitely tops my worst experience ever list, I had to keep it together. I was stuck in a small food court area from 10pm to 5am with about 50 or so other people, one of which kept trying to steal others luggage and another of whom security was aruging about who had to arrest her that time because last time she spit on the guy. I was advised by a very kind man who worked at Auntie Annie's not to fall asleep if I was alone so I bought the biggest coffee ever and forced myself to stay awake. And Tip 6: Make the most of a crappy situation. I ate some pretty good airport food, had A LOT of really good airport drinks, and met a lot of really cool people. Nothing about that many hours in an airport alone is fun, but just do what you have to do. I am the type of person that needs to be around other people so after I got the sobbing in the corner of the airport by myself out of the way, finding something good to eat and some good people to talk to made it not quite so bad. For the wee hours of the night I bought a new book to read. I enjoyed a bunch of junk food I wouldn't normally eat and when I was finally on my way, I upgraded to first class for the hell of it. Like life, travel often doesn't go as planned. But, also like life, if you keep your sh** together and make the most of it, you'll be just fine. If nothing else, it's always fun to have a good story to tell.