Travel Calendar

When Travel Plans (and Life) Suddenly Change

Derek Personal Stuff 38 Comments

Travel Calendar

It happens.

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…

Staring at the wall

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.

Adios Mexico

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?

Photo credits: Adios (Heart of Oak) / Stare at Wall (mulmatsherm)
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Comments 38

  1. Emily

    Your three stages are too funny! I have rarely had to take such a last-minute trip, but I can imagine that I would be in a total frenzy. Have fun on your next adventure!

    1. Earl

      Hey Emily! I’m sure you’ll come across those three stages at some point doing your travels 🙂 And after it happens the first time, you’ll be well prepared for when it happens again!

    1. Earl

      Hey John – That would be excellent to cross paths in that part of the world! I’ll be in the Middle East for what I guess will be a few months at least, so I’m sure if you make it over there at some point, I’ll still be around. I plan to use Turkey as a base, so just let me know whenever you’re headed that way.

      Looking forward to it! Let’s keep each other updated and we’ll plan from there… Safe travels in the meantime!

  2. Sabina

    Earl, I am glad to hear this is apparently a positive and happy change rather than some catastrophe, as I thought when I read that you’re in shock! I’m looking forward to reading what’s bringing about your change in plans.

    1. Earl

      Hey Sabina – Sorry for the scare! I guess I might have used some misleading words in this post 🙂 This is definitely a positive change for me as I’ve been waiting for this upcoming trip for almost 6 months now and it’s finally about to happen…

      Thanks so much for following along and I shall be writing some more updates about this sudden change quite soon!

  3. John

    Earl, It seems booking at the last minute is the way to go. I am looking to head off in January but getting horrible prices in return. So instead I put in I was leaving on “October 6” as a tester and it seems you get better deals at the last minute. I think I am just going to wait until December to book the flight. What you think???

    John

    1. Earl

      Hey John – I generally always book my flights last minute and I’ve always been quite lucky with that method. Back in April, I managed to book a flight back to the US from Mexico for only $10 USD just two days before the departure date. Of course, there’s never a guarantee that you’ll get a better deal, but if you have some flexibility in dates and in destinations, you’re bound to find a bargain to somewhere close to where you want to go! The best method is probably to think about how much you’re willing to pay for the flight and then keep checking every week or so. If the price drops to what you think is reasonable, then buy the ticket. If not, hold off a while and keep on tracking the fares until it does drop. Good luck and congratulations on deciding to go ahead with your adventure!

  4. Ozzy

    My greatest joy with traveling comes with leaving and setting off for a new place. A lot times I would wake up and within a few hours I would be off on a week or two week road trip, not sure were I was headed or why. I would just pack a bag and leave. Or I would suddenly realize I had enough money for summer school and in less than a week I would book a flight, find an apartment, find a ride from an airport, pick my classes, get my books, and by the end of the week I would be sitting in a class room drinking a margarita out of a water bottle. Have fun where ever the ride may take you, good luck.

    Ozzy

    1. Earl

      Hey Ozzy – I had a feeling you’d be open to last minute travel! The fact that you just take off without almost any plan at all must be quite liberating and I’m sure those decisions have led to some unique and memorable adventures.

      On a different note, every time I see a comment from you from now on I’m going to picture you sitting in a classroom drinking margaritas!

      1. Ozzy

        Or sake or really anything. But it was ok I always brought enough to share with those around me. Once it got me out of trouble even. I had gotten all my homework done for this one class (it was a long assignment it took about a week or so), so when I went to this party the night before I decided to be responsible I took two back packs, one with booze, one with my homework. The next day I grabbed the wrong bag (thankfully someone put back what was left of rum, I usually leave the bottle for the house) and ended up with rum and shot glasses instead of my homework. After class I showed my professor and explained it all. He simply told me to pour us a shot and all would be forgiven. I even had a prof once who held office hours at a bar.

        Ozzy

  5. Shannon OD

    So happy for you that the Middle East is now on the horizon! I had that exact same fear and anxious response after I accepted the job…a “holy crap what’s going on and there is so much to do my head might explode and I think I am just going to sit here and stare at the wall.” 🙂

    Hope our paths cross! xoxo

    1. Earl

      Thanks Shannon! Glad to know the ‘holy crap what am I doing’ reaction is quite a common one…and I’m also happy to hear that you managed to get your stuff together and make this exciting change in your life happen!

      Hopefully we’ll get a chance to catch up while we’re both in the US…

  6. Andi

    I have totally come to embrace changes in plans, as they always result in something better!!! Enjoy your last couple of days in Mexico. I have to tell you when I 1st saw your post I thought you were implying that you were going to BA and I got super excited and thought we’d be seeing each other soon haha.

    1. Earl

      Hey Andi – From what I gather, you’re all about last minute plan changes! Sometimes I think you decide to take off to a foreign land with only a few minutes notice! Nothing wrong with that of course and it seems that you’re loving all of the traveling you get to do. Sorry about the confusion with Argentina. I’m actually not quite sure why I wrote “Argentina” in the heading!

  7. Hugh

    Great story and enjoy the Middle East. I’ve never been but it’s on my looooong list of destinations to check out.

    My brief last-minute travel change up story. My wife and I got married in May and were all booked up for our honeymoon in Thailand. We had been monitoring the political situation for months and 4 days before we got married (and a week before we were to depart NY for BKK), we bailed on the trip. It wasn’t so much for the safety risk but for the travel hassle and the threat of the airport being shut down. We called an audible and re-routed to Vietnam last minute. We were able to change our flights for a minimum fee and, being low season in VN, we were able to find great hotels and a great itinerary. Visas were no problem, as we did the visa on arrival, which in VN is too easy. At first we were stressed, but looking back on it, it was one heck of an adventure and we got to discover a great country that we otherwise may not have seen. OK that’s not a short story, but I’m done nonetheless!

    1. Earl

      Hey Hugh – That’s an excellent story and is the perfect example of how being open to such last minute changes can bring us unexpected benefits. You could have just canceled your trip altogether and I’ll be honest, when you mentioned that you bailed on the trip, the last thing I expected was for you to have re-routed to Vietnam! Very impressive indeed and I’m thrilled to hear that it all worked out so well.

      And congratulations on the marriage (a little late I know)!

  8. Globetrottergirls

    What an unexpected change of plans, so sudden!! We’re still speechless. At least you get to go to the Middle East finally (and will entertain us with great travel stories from there) but leaving so quickly and getting everything done in time will make your last couple days here quite busy! Hope you can get out of your apartment lease without any problems, and hope to get to see you before you leave!

    1. Earl

      @globetrottergirls – These last couple of days will be quite busy, but it was great having you come along with us to the beach and to see the dolphins today! And hopefully you did enjoy the esquite as well 🙂

  9. Jodi (legal nomads)

    Changes in plans can often invigorate and renew excitement for travel, and in your case a very full 3 days in Mexico! A great post as well, since many of us go through these thoughts in our head but don’t write about them. When people embarking on a trip ask about changes in destination or what to do when plans drastically change, I’ll just point them to your post.

    Safe travels! See you in NY in a few days.

    1. Earl

      Hey Jodi – That’s mighty kind of you 🙂 You’re absolutely right, such a change does renew the excitement for travel as it’s actually quite easy to get into a comfortable routine while abroad, a routine that can slowly pull us away from the aspects of travel that fuel our passion the most. There’s a lot to think about when such a change in direction occurs, so we’re forced to snap out of the comfort and rediscover our love of travel once again!

      Looking forward to catching up with you in person!

  10. Alan

    Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. You’re going to love the middle east! Istanbul + Damascus are two of my favorite cities in the world. Can’t WAIT to read about your travels over the next couple of months.

    1. Earl

      Thanks Alan! I’m sure I’ll be asking some questions and looking for some of your recommendations, especially for Damascus. And of course, I’ll be visiting some of those Indian restaurants you wrote about as well.

      If I head up to Boston on this trip I’ll be sure to let you know!

  11. soultravelers3

    So true, the travel lifestyle often means being willing to change on a dime and reinvent the wheel if necessary, even if one is doing it as a family with a young child.

    In our 5 years of non-stop world travel, we’ve had to make many fast changes & they do always seem to have all those kinds of complications that you talk about. I always tell my daughter, that we always have to be ready with plan b, c, d and however many we need to make it work. 😉

    I love the adrenalin flow of it all, albeit I didn’t care too much for the pain that sometimes comes with it like when I ended up with surgery and a paralyzed right arm for 11 months while traveling.

    Good luck with your plans! We must have the same middle east karma as our trip there has been delayed or canceled several times.

    1. Earl

      @soultravelers3 – With 5 years of travel already behind you, there’s no doubt that you would have come across such changes in plans on several occasions! I like how you mention having a plan b, c, d and beyond as to me, that is a clear understanding of the need to be open to whatever unexpected changes may come our way. Sorry to hear about your Middle East karma, but don’t give up. I’m now a good example of how that karma can eventually change!

  12. Migrationology

    I have to agree with you that the 2 most exciting things in life are thinking about a new destination, and a place of perfect Indian curry!

    I remember living in DR Congo when I was a kid and we always had to keep our bags packed in case a bad situation unfolded rapidly. We eventually ended up moving to Kenya in a small 4 seater plane.

    Good luck with all of your unexpecting plans. Can’t wait to hear about your stories from the Middle East. Hope you are doing well man.

    1. Earl

      Hey Mark – Amen to the perfect Indian curry! I’m quite certain Indian food will be my first meal once back in the US.

      And that’s quite an amazing example you provide of being forced to change your life around in a short period of time. When a traveler’s travel plans change, it’s one thing, but to be forced to pick up your entire life and move to a different country for safety and security reasons, that’s another story. I guess when there’s no other option you don’t have time to dwell, you just take the necessary steps in order to survive.

      Thanks for sharing that Mark.

      And have you thought of traveling to the Middle East yourself?

  13. Bessie

    So excited your plans to the Middle East are finally getting closer! Looking forward to the news of flights there.

    It’s so true that we change plans so often with our lifestyle, though I must say Kyle and I are much less exciting, and usually decide a few weeks in advance if we’re gonna fly somewhere. Maybe because we’re old and married… 😉 We’re lucky readers you take the time to update us on your excitement. Enjoy saying goodbye to Mexico & seeing fam!

    1. Earl

      Hey Bessie – I’m quite sure that deciding to travel ‘a few weeks in advance’ would still qualify you both as exciting people! Many people plan months or even years in advance for a trip, so anything less than a month seems quite last-minute to me. And get rid of that ‘old’ label as well! That word should never be used. 🙂

  14. Audrey

    Many times these drastic travel and life changes happen for a reason. And, somehow it all gets done!

    I’m not sure if you’d like to reduce your time in NYC, bou can probably get a few of your visas in Turkey as opposed to getting them in NYC. We met quiet a few people who did this a few years ago for Middle East and Central Asian visas. Good luck!

    1. Earl

      Hey Audrey – I’ve been looking into getting some visas in Turkey and it seems that all I need to get in NYC is the visa for Syria. Syria now requires all US citizens to obtain a visa from an embassy or consulate in the US (visas won’t be issued at the border any more) after a military ‘incident’ a few months back. So that definitely makes things a bit easier!

      And agree, as soon as I’m on the plane to Turkey, I’ll sit back and wonder how on earth I managed to accomplish everything! But I have no doubt that I will make it happen…

  15. Maria Staal

    Great to read that your long expected trip to the Middle East finally goes ahead.
    Good luck with your to-do list and doctors appointment. And I wish you a great last few days in Mexico!

  16. Moon Hussain

    Earl, hope everything’s alright! Enjoy your trip to FL and you have so many more adventures coming up (it seems). I’ve heard so many good things about Turkey, would love to check it out!

    1. Earl

      Thanks so much for your continued support Moon! I can’t wait to explore some more of Turkey as well as it’s been on my ‘list’ for years.

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