One minute we’re happily exploring the markets of Yangon, diving deeper into the history of Turkey or practicing our Spanish in Buenos Aires and then, in a flash, we are forced to change our entire travel plans without warning. We are suddenly required to head in a completely different direction, to turn around and go home or to move onto somewhere we never expected when we first set out on our adventure however long ago.
Often times, that instant change in travel plans involves more than simply putting our original travel itinerary ‘on hold’, and instead, leads us directly towards a major life change as well. We must come to terms with the fact that tomorrow, our life may no longer resemble the life we are living today.
Maybe you’re wondering, “how can a traveler’s life change so quickly?”. Well, as I’ve discovered, either myself or through stories told by other travelers, there are actually several reasons why such a drastic change in travel plans might occur (and I’m going to save the reason why I need to leave Mexico in 3 days until the end).
Here’s a few of those reasons…
Sometimes, in the midst of our journey, a new and rewarding employment opportunity suddenly appears out of nowhere. For example, let’s say that we just arrived in Bali one week ago, intending to spend 6 months in this fascinating destination. But one day we receive an email from a friend offering us an incredible position with an incredible organization. It’s a position we don’t want to turn down and so we now find ourselves having to quickly re-pack our bags, cancel our surfing lessons, prepare to change course and figure out a way to be in California in less than a week (as Shannon of ALittleAdrift.com recently went through – congrats Shannon on the new job!).
Other times, we are forced to change our travel plans due to something that happens back at home. Maybe there’s an illness in the family, your sister just gave birth or your best friend is getting married. We might be in Croatia, and only 2 months into our round-the-world adventure, but we may find ourselves having to return home or to another country in order to be with our friends or family. We might have a week to make this change, but in some instances, we’ll only have a day or two to re-arrange all of our plans.
Maybe an old friend you haven’t seen in 2 years sends you an email out of the blue informing you that they’re in Costa Rica while you’re in Guatemala and the only way to see each other would be to meet up in Honduras…this coming weekend!
Or perhaps you’re just not much of a planner and when you wake up one day, suddenly realizing that nothing is stopping you from flying to the too-good-to-be-true beaches of the Cook Islands (except for a lack of regularly scheduled flights, perhaps), you decide to turn that interesting thought into reality…and quickly.
However the plan unfolds, the end result is always generally the same. You find yourself sitting in a chair, staring at the wall and wondering exactly how you’re going to pull off such last-minute travel planning…
THE PREPARATION PROCESS
As for me, I always seem to be making last-minute travel plans. Whether it was my decision back in 2007 to fly to Buenos Aires within 24 hours after the idea entered my head or the time I had 4 days to get from a tiny Himalayan village to Southampton, UK after accepting a contract on board a cruise ship, I’m now quite familiar with having the direction of my life radically altered in a matter of mere hours. Luckily, at this point, I’m now able to identify the stages that I must pass through in order to ensure a smooth transition into these unexpected travel and life developments.
Stage #1: UNCONTROLLABLE EXCITEMENT
I’m going on a trip! Woo hoo! For me at least, any thought of packing my bags and physically traveling to a different destination creates an all-encompassing excitement, the intensity of which can only be matched by the extreme joy involved with eating a plateful of the perfect Indian curry. Normally, after staring at the wall for a few minutes, I accept the fact that the direction of my life is inevitably about to change and so I jump out of my seat, full of positive energy and ready to see where the new road ahead shall take me. I might even celebrate a little, perhaps with some break-dancing (as I’m known to do), even though I have a tendency to injure myself within seconds of performing the ‘worm’.
Stage #2: SHOCK AND FEAR
Following this initial excitement comes the shock, often in an equally intense form and not only due to the blood pouring out from my chin as a result of my break-dancing accident. After all, I could celebrate all I want, but the travel plans I now need to make aren’t going to take care of themselves. I might only have a few days before I must be on an entirely new continent and so I have to get serious about booking flights, doing laundry, packing my backpack, booking a hotel room, renting a car and figuring out any other logistics that must be dealt with. For example, tying up loose ends in whatever country I may currently be in can be as simple as saying a few goodbyes to people I’ve met or as complicated as breaking the lease on an apartment, selling a car and eating as many esquites as I can stuff into my face at my favorite esquite stall.
Along with the shock often comes a disturbing fear that I won’t be able to accomplish everything in time and therefore might end up in some terrifying, and permanent, state of limbo where unorganized travelers are forced to spend the rest of their days with an expired passport as their only possession. This fear can be quite paralyzing and I often waste one full day dwelling on the possibility of failure before I realize that I just wasted one full day dwelling on the possibility of failure, which naturally, didn’t lead me any closer to booking my flight and organizing my last-minute travel plans.
Stage #3: REALITY
Yesterday evening I found out that I need to be back in the US (Florida) by this upcoming weekend. While that might not seem like the biggest of travel plan changes, there’s a lot more to the story…
As a result of this trip to Florida (which is for a doctor’s appointment), it appears that I will finally have the opportunity to move forward with my plans to explore the Middle East. Therefore, more than just booking a flight to Florida, I also need to say goodbye to Mexico (again!), book a flight from Florida to NYC, find out when my family and friends will be free to see me during September, obtain visas for certain countries and book a flight to the Middle East. And as summer is quickly coming to an end, my goal is to be in Turkey by the end of the month.
I know this doesn’t exactly sound like a terrible ‘change in plans’ but considering that I’ve been living in Mexico for the past 14 months and that my Middle East trip has been delayed for so long that I began thinking it wasn’t going to take place at all this year, this sudden development has required a major adjustment and shift in focus. And I only have 3 days to get my act together.
MY TO-DO LIST
The most efficient method for tackling what may appear to be an intimidating To-Do List associated with such a life change, is to pick one major task from the list and accomplish it as quickly as possible. Last night I chose to book my flight to Florida. Done. I’m leaving Mexico this Friday at 12:30pm.
Once such a major task is complete, and the flight confirmation arrives in your email inbox, the reality of the situation undoubtedly sinks in even deeper. As a result, I had no choice but to start knocking the other items off of my To-Do List immediately. The pressure is on and time is ticking away.
I’ve now spent today planning my trip to NYC, learning which Middle Eastern countries require me to obtain a visa ahead of time, where those countries’ consulates are located in NYC and when those consulates are open, as well as my flight options to Turkey if I choose to use my frequent flyer miles.
So, yeah, things are now rolling along and I feel quite good. Once today is over, I’ll be able to spend tomorrow and Thursday enjoying my last couple of days in Mexico as much as I possibly can. Extra time on the beach and a double order of tostadas at every meal will play a role for sure!
There’s still plenty of unknowns for the near-future, but truthfully, I wouldn’t want it any other way. While it is admittedly a little nerve-racking to think that today I’m living comfortably in Mexico and in three weeks I might be in Turkey, living a completely different kind of lifestyle, surrounded by a completely different language, history and customs, it has always been my goal to live a life that allows for and welcomes such last minute changes in direction. I’ve always felt that the more open we are to these sudden changes, the more opportunities that will come our way, each with the potential to enhance our lives and help us achieve our goals.
How do you handle a sudden change in travel plans? Have you ever chosen to abandon your itinerary due to an unexpected situation?