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Singing Through the Thunderstorm

A downpour doesn’t need to be a downer.

Gene Kelly was right: splashing through puddles in the middle of a rainstorm is FUN. Particularly if you’re already wet and, say, not trying to protect a priceless painting from water damage. Remarkably, not everyone seems to share this perspective, even when refusing to do so will ruin their day.

You can learn a lot about someone by how they react under adverse conditions. I think the true measure of a person can be seen in how they act and how they treat others when they’re under stress. And I think it’s even more revealing to see how people react when things go awry with travel, which is – let’s be honest – generally a pretty low-stakes activity. Travel emergencies are very rarely life-or-death situations. And anything less than an emergency is really just a slight inconvenience, at worst.

My most recent Gene Kelly moment was in Vietnam this summer. We had disembarked from our riverboat in a tiny town with ramshackle, corrugated metal buildings and crumbling piers. The town is the unlikely home of a Catholic church, a holdover from French colonial times. It’s also home to a small business that makes toffee, rice paper, and snake wine; naturally, this was the more exciting destination for most of us. As we left the church to head toward the candy shop, the dark clouds above us suddenly opened up (as they are wont to do in this part of the world) with a truly impressive thunderstorm. We tried to make a dash for it, but the rain came down harder and harder, and the thunder got louder and louder, so we dodged into a large open shed to take cover. We waited for the storm to pass, but the sheets of rain kept coming down and the narrow street become a shallow rushing river. Finally, with our window of opportunity to visit the candy shop closing (and not being in any danger of getting wetter than we already were), we voted to carry on despite the rain. Wrapped in our plastic ponchos, we made our way down the street through ankle-deep water. Once I decided not to think about what might be in the water, I saw no reason not to enjoy the situation. In fact, I found it impossible to resist splashing through the street/river and (I admit without shame) bursting into a full-throated rendition of “Singing in the Rain.”

And yet, when we arrived at the candy shop, some of our travel companions were not nearly so jolly. A few were downright testy, even as we were given free samples of hot, fresh toffee and popcorn and (for one brave traveler) snake wine. They were clearly unhappy being wet, and nothing was going to shake them out of it.

In all areas of life, but especially in travel, being flexible is incredibly useful. In a rigid state of mind, every tiny aberration from your plans and expectations becomes a full-blown crisis. Give yourself some flexibility, and you’ll find that life is much less stressful and a whole lot more fun.

Adding a dash of perspective helps, too. Part of the reason I’m able to stay flexible and optimistic when I travel is because – and I don’t say this to be overly dramatic – I once had a staring contest with death (and won, in case you weren’t sure). So now, if things go a little wonky with my travel plans, I can take stock of my situation and tell myself, “Well, I’m not in a hospital bed, I’m healthy, I’m doing something I love – so it’s all good!” Keeping my eye on the Big Picture allows me to adjust my attitude accordingly.

I’m not saying we always have to be in a good mood. But how we respond to events and circumstances is our choice. So consider your responses to adverse conditions wisely. Is it worth letting yourself get crabby over wet feet? No, it’s not. Is it worth lashing out at the people around you when your flight gets delayed? Of course not. Is it worth throwing yourself into a fit of anger and despair if you have to change the dates of your vacation? All together now: No! You’ll just spoil your travels for yourself. And what’s the point of that?

You can choose to spend your vacation like a grumpy wet cat or a joyful Gene Kelly. I know who I’d rather be.

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