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Abandoning Ship (or Not)

If you’re going to abandon ship… be prepared.

I recently wrote about the importance of traveling with a positive attitude and embracing the things that go awry in your travels. But sometimes going with the flow just isn’t a good option. When you’re on the road, this can force you into a quick game-time decision: do you stay the course, or do you jump ship and get yourself into a different boat?

This is rarely an easy decision, especially since changing travel plans mid-stream usually involves forking over more money. It’s an easy decision, of course, when your safety or wellbeing is at stake. If you feel unsafe in any situation, get out. And trust your gut here; if you have a weird or uncomfortable feeling, follow it out the door. Likewise, if you’re sick, get medical attention (even at the expense of, say, a missed train), and if you’re really sick, go home (even at the expense of an airline change fee).

Aside from those no-brainers, deciding whether to go with the flow or change the flow requires a balancing of considerations: How unhappy or uncomfortable are you? How easy is it to make the change? How happy will the change make you?

I don’t actually encourage a lot of on-the-fly changes to travel plans, in part because they are often much more difficult than you think they will be and/or they cause cascading difficulties with other arrangements, and in part (not to sound like a broken record here) because some of those temporary discomforts and glitches can lead to some of your best travel experiences. The glitches might force you to get more creative (and more positive!), but that’s a good thing, remember?

While I was in Ecuador, I made one against-the-flow decision. My last three nights in Quito, I was booked at a hotel near the center of the colonial city. The public areas of the hotel were truly lovely and full of character. The bathroom…not so much. My immediate reaction after arriving was (1) this hotel will not be part of Mockingbird’s tour itineraries, but (2) it’s fine for me for three nights. But by the next morning, I wasn’t just wavering, I was seriously wobbling. Was that scrabbling sound I heard overhead during the night rats in the attic? Could I rely on the management to call me a reputable taxi when it was time to head to the airport? When was the last time they gave the shower a good scrubbing with bleach? The large silverfish (Google it if you don’t know what that is) in the bathroom was the final straw. Five minutes on my laptop, and I had a new reservation at a nearby hotel; fifteen minutes later I was making my very polite excuses to the owner as I fled. I lost money on my change in accommodations, but it was easy to make it happen, there was no collateral damage to my itinerary, and the increase in my happiness and peace of mind outweighed the dollars lost.

If you do decide to change your plans on the road, here are a few points to keep in mind:

  • Start by going straight to the source – call the hotel, the airline, the tour company. Better yet, call the travel agents who booked the trip for you (ahem) and let them take care of everything.

  • Train tickets (in Europe, at least) are generally easy to change at the station and the change fees are reasonable.

  • Hotels will usually charge you at least one night’s stay if you leave early or cancel without enough notice, and if you prepaid for the whole stay, good luck getting any of your money back.

  • Airline tickets are the hardest (and costliest) element to change, and I wouldn’t attempt to change them absent illness or war or some other emergency. Changing plane tickets is even more difficult if you purchased your tickets through a third-party website (Expedia, et al.) instead of directly through the airline. If the reason for your change is something like the recent Paris attacks, the airlines may be more lenient in allowing changes.

Whatever you do, keep that positive attitude flowing and don’t second-guess yourself. Once you’ve made a decision to suck it up or change your plans, move on and enjoy the rest of the ride.

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