Three weeks ago, I attended my close friend’s wedding on a Sunday night in Vancouver. It was a great time, with great people, great food and just a great atmosphere. Once the wedding ended shortly after 1:00am, I then bummed a ride back to the apartment where I was staying and I went to sleep.
My plan was to spend the next four days exploring Vancouver before flying to the town of Santa Rosa, California for a mini-family reunion with some relatives I hadn’t seen in many years. After some time in California, I was set to return to Bucharest.
And then my grandmother passed away.
The night of the wedding, I ended up going to sleep around 2:00am and for some reason, I uncharacteristically awoke around 7:00am. And as soon as I did, I knew that something was wrong.
The light on my phone was flashing, I had seven new text messages and several urgently titled emails and FB messages from family members. I could only think of one thing, and I was right.
Jumping out of bed, I proceeded to spend the next four hours on the phone and laptop coordinating travel plans, re-arranging flights, renting a car, booking a hotel and of course, communicating with my family. I don’t remember much from those hours. All I know is the day passed by in a haze and just like that, the very next morning at 6:00am, I was on a flight to Seattle before changing planes and flying to New York City. Then, I waited for my sister’s flight to arrive, I picked up the rental car and we drove out to a hotel an hour away (thirty minutes had I not gotten lost of course).
The next morning, we drove to the cemetery for the funeral.
It All Happened So Fast
Interestingly, it wasn’t until I was standing there at the graveside service that I finally felt some calm, that I finally managed to clear my head and actually focus on what was happening. I had rushed around so much that I hadn’t even taken any time at all to think about my grandmother or to go through all of the memories I had of her.
Luckily, that all changed right there. During the funeral, and while with family at different times over the following week, we all thought about my grandmother and we all celebrated her 93 years in the way she would have liked, with plenty of story-telling, laughter and food. My grandmother would have actually loved the atmosphere of those gatherings, with all kinds of people showing up, just to spend time together.
(I could easily go on about the great time my family spent together and about my grandmother’s life as well, but I think I’ll keep those memories to myself. The idea of this post is to discuss how I handled the situation and what can be learned from it.)
And before I knew it, the following week I was on a flight back to Europe and back on my original travel schedule. But as I sat there for a long time in seat 25C, I unsurprisingly found myself reflecting on the previous seven days and the unpredictability of life. Here’s what came to mind…
3 Important Things I Realized
1. FACT. Your plans will change.
One day you, too, will probably wake up and learn that your trip to California or Peru must now turn into a trip to NYC or somewhere else you had no plan of visiting right then, and it must happen immediately. That’s just life, simple as that.
It’s not something to be scared of and it’s nothing you can really prepare for. And while such a change of travel plans might lead you to places you didn’t expect to go or even want to go, don’t panic. Again, this is life. Accept it, do what you need to do, let everything settle and then get back on track whenever you can. The world will wait for you.
2. FACT. I should have stopped for a moment.
Barely had I opened my eyes that morning that I heard the news and, as I said, I was already on my phone, calling and texting everyone, running around, trying to make major plan changes, then changing those new plans and making newer ones, over and over again.
What I should have done is follow my own advice. I talk about taking a 20 minute coffee break when arriving in a new destination in order to relax and make better decisions as a result. The same applies here. Upon getting out of bed, I should have put the phone down and kept the laptop closed, and simply taken a seat in a chair. I should have spent some time letting the information sink in, collecting my thoughts and drinking a glass of water. I should have brushed my teeth, meditated for a few minutes or simply stared at the wall.
Instead of rushing into action without a clear head, which wears down the mind and can easily lead to frustration, confusion, bad decisions and even wasted time, it is far better to stop for a moment and get organized.
A calm, clear-thinking person is always a better decision-maker than a person who is freaking out. And when it comes to dealing with difficult situations, trying to avoid rushed and potentially poor decisions should be a goal.
3. FACT. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. People will help you.
I’ll admit, I absolutely dreaded the fact that I had to call two different airlines to change around my flights. When the time came for those calls, I prepared myself for an unpleasant exchange with the airline agents and I had already accepted the fact that I would end up paying massive change fees and be given crappy new flights just because I didn’t have the energy to argue right then.
First up was Delta. I dialed the number, waited for an agent and told them my situation. Then, somehow, within a mere fifteen minutes, I had managed to change my original flight (San Francisco to Bucharest) to a new set of flights (Vancouver to NYC and NYC to Bucharest). The change fee? Zero. The difference in fare? A heavily discounted $200. The quality of the flights? The fastest and best flights available.
I was almost shaking from the shock of such a pleasant, seamless experience with the agent on the phone.
Next up, Alaska Airlines. And sure enough, ten minutes later, I had managed to cancel my Vancouver to Santa Rosa flights and receive a full credit without any fees at all, thanks to some crafty assistance by the phone agent. It was, again, all so smooth.
The point? Don’t be afraid to explain your situation. It’s okay to tell others what you’re going through because, after all, every one of us is human, and we’ve all been through some tough times. Most people want to help and they will help to the greatest extent they can when you need it.
Another point? Don’t be afraid to learn. Learn from your own experiences. Pay attention to how you react or handle whatever comes your way. Reflect on it, figure out what you could have done better and how you can improve.
Every situation we face, especially in relation to travel, has the power to teach us many significant lessons, both great and small.
Have you ever had to make a sudden change of travel plans? Any additional advice to share from your experience?
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Hey! Nice to read such a post and sorry about the loss. I just had to reschedule a trip because all that could go wrong with the preparation did go wrong. The airline (Air China) postponed the flights every week and made it impossible for me to reach a connecting flight. So I also had to cancel that trip – it just wasn’t meant to be. I don’t know the reason yet. Of course, your background is different and the loss of a dear family member or friend is something very saddening and disturbing. Your tips are some real help.
A similar thing happened to me about a year ago. Three weeks before I was to leave the States to teach English in Thailand, my grandfather was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. This trip was similar to your vacation for three months to Asia that never ended. That is what I hoped would come of my year in Thailand. I chewed on the decision for at least a week before I decided to stay to care for him in the last months of his life. I had to cancel my plane ticket to Thailand. When I called the airline, I unabashedly sobbed my story into the phone. I’m not sure if that worked for or against me, but they ended up returning half of my money which is more generous than I expected. I cherish the last moments I had with him, but I have yet to make it abroad.
Derek, I’m so sorry to hear about your grandma. Where are you now and what comes next for you?
I am so sorry to hear about your grandmother. From you wrote I can tell that she must have been a wonderful lady. I will keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.
First of all, I’m really sorry to hear about your grandmother. It’s always hard to lose someone, even if it is somewhat expected. You are NEVER prepared to this and it creates ripples of impact on your plans (whether you are travelling or not) . Stress increases and the important is not to freak out!
Interestingly enough, my last post speaks about travel plans, how they are important but also how they should be flexible enough for a better travel experience. I haven’t addressed this particular situation however because I’ve never been through it!
My sincere condolences mate.
I am sorry to hear of your grandma’s passing. You kept cool while embracing your feelings which is remarkable. Life does intervene from time to time. I recall getting sick and totally missing MP in Cusco, Peru, and as we saw from your story, if you can be at peace with your change of plans, you can plan from a place of clarity, calmness and effectiveness. Thanks for this share.
So sorry to hear about your grandmother. My grandmother passed away earlier this year, 94 years old. 3 wonderful tips you provided. Be flexible is always preferred. I really like taking a few minutes before reacting.
Best to you.
I’m so sorry to hear about the passing away of your grandmother. Judging by the comments above, we all have a special relationship with our nans.
My grandmother passed away at the age of 94. She was perfectly healthy and it was her time. I was enormously upset because my then boyfriend, and later husband, were due to visit her and two weeks before we left, she passed away.
She had outlived two husbands, two world wars and 1 child who died in his 30’s. She had a few businesses (which paid for my university) and passed away peacefully, in her own home. More than 5,000 people came out to celebrate her life. I was proud to be her only grand-daughter!
My additional advice? A sense of calmness and the time to reflect, and think things through. She would have wanted that.
Firstly, I’m sorry for your loss. Although, in a horrid way, you always know you’re going to get the sad news about a grandparent one day, you can never prepare yourself for it.
Secondly, thank you for writing this article, as it’s full of great advice!
Thirdly, point number 2 (I should have stopped for a moment) is a really good, sound piece of advice. I’m so guilty of acting first and thinking later in a myriad of situations, and this is a little tip I can fully endorse.
All the best for the future, Earl!
Great tips! Having just been on a spontaneous 5 month trip it’s hard to hack when your plans are forced to change by situations outside of your control. Stopping and having 20 minutes to think is great advice – the same as you should never respond to an emotional message straight away. Take time to think about a rational response.
Sorry for your loss.
So sorry to hear about your grandma. Yet, reading that she lived her life to the fullest, and you got to spend quality time with her, is something to smile about.
Problems are as big as we make them. As long as we accept the fact that some things are out of our control and plans need to change, we can navigate the system from within and make the best out of a situation. Most of the time reality is not as dire as it looks. Most of the time it’s our assumptions that create negative energy. Step back, tone down the feelings, explain the facts and things can only get better. I need to remind myself this more often… As always, thanks for the post. Love your blog and am anxiously anticipating a new “live from…”
@Sugar Plum Fairy – Thanks for that and your line, “Problems are as big as we make them” is exactly what I believe as well. It’s like they say, 99% of what we worry about in life, will never happen. Yet we create all of this negative energy and needless worry nonetheless. A few steps back, a few deep breaths and a moment to just think thinks through can make a major difference.
Sorry about your loss, Derek.
There is some great advice here about staying calm and dealing with changes.
Thank you for sharing.
thanks for sharing your thoughts. Moved me to tears for various reasons. My grandpa passed away lately and my grandma was not happy, that I moved to New Zealand a couple of weeks ago – for quiet a while (6 month or so). It’s difficult to accept that the life of a beloved person is gonna end sometime in the future. We (the young generation) might be en route somewhere, but I do hope that we will make the best decissions that we can make when it happens and that people indeed will help. Guess that’s why I still love travelling. You support that idea with your post and that’s helpful, because yes sometimes we feel very lonely and we need to learn to ask for help.
All the best
Sorry about your loss man. I was wondering why you rarely write articles on here anymore.
I have been reading your blog for a year and a half now and you have even given me travel advice before. I remember in one of your articles you mentioned that your grandmother said “My grandson Earl has girls waiting for him at every port” or something similar to that. But I think you said that she said that while you were in front of a girl – I can’t remember the specifics but the story went something like that. Is this the same Grandmother?
Sorry again man, I hope you’re holding up OK.
Hey Kyle – That’s actually a different grandmother and I’ll be seeing that one in a couple of weeks. And yes, I have reduced the writing on the blog to about 3-4 per month as that is a more reasonable pace than what I was trying to keep up before.
Sorry for your loss, and you are correct we must pause and process everything, but sometime that is easier said than done.
Sorry about your loss. Great advice, especially taking a moment to process everything. So crucial.
I am very sorry to hear about your loss, but so happy that you were state side and able to spend some wonderful time with your family.
I have had an interesting year, as everyone who travels knows, life certainly does not stand still for you while you are away.
I was hiking in Manchu Pichu in 2012 when I found out my dad had been put on the kidney transplant list, so it was only fitting that in Jan, 2014 after hiking Patagonia and returning to my phone, I had the following sequence of texts. “There’s a kidney available”… “we are on the plane”… “your Dad is heading into surgery”…”your dad is out of surgery and joking with the nurses.” I believe I was able to call the day after his transplant, but I honestly had felt like I was there with all of the messages. On the phone with my stepmom, I get this news.. “there’s been a small complication and he is back in surgery.” I felt helpless, I am a nurse and I yearn to be there, to ask certain questions and feel kind of in control. Luckily, my father was in good hands, although he did have a prolonged stay and a few more setbacks along the way.
After flying back to Denver and working a few shifts I was able to drive to Iowa to be with him as he recovered in a hotel near the hospital. I also got to accompany him to his clinic visits. ask questions, and get a few improvements in his care made;) However, my intention had been to drive to northern MN to visit him as well as my grandmother, but it seemed as though I was needed more in Iowa and couldn’t do both. I was set for a year of traveling abroad starting Feb 14th, 2014.
I made a point to call my grandmother every 2 weeks. She loved hearing from me still while I was back in Denver, then in New Zealand, and in Japan. She was in disbelief that I was in another country while it sounded like I was just in the next room. In May, while I was in Japan, I got a call that my grandmother had suffered a heart attack and was in the hospital. In three days she was supposed to go home, however just needing to get her strength up a bit. I was completely torn up, I had two cousins that were due to fly into Japan in two days. I spoke to my grandmother and told her I loved and missed her. I decided to stay in Japan and make new memories and live life to the fullest with my boyfriend and cousins. I can undoubtedly say that we had the time of our lives and will all remember that trip forever. While they were visiting, my grandmother did not get stronger, she had to be moved to a nursing home for a bit, maybe a week. Let me tell you a little bit about my grandmother, at this time she is 90 years old, she has lived without my grandfather since 1992, when he passed away, she has macular degeneration (big blind spots in her vision), has not been able to drive for over a decade, she is active in the church and community with commitments at least twice a week to get her out of the house (relying on rides of course). She lives in rural, northern MN and is strong willed to say the least. She has adamantly stated numerous times that she will not live in a nursing home (she was afraid she would no longer get rides to her activities). She was only in the nursing home for three days when she died. Most of my family believe it was her stubbornness to not live in a nursing home, her friends said that she was ready and had been asking for God to take her during that winter. I don’t care what the reason was, I felt a huge emptiness. I felt like a piece of me also died with her, as I no longer have her to bring out who I was with her. I made plans to fly to MN from across the world to say goodbye properly with the rest of my family. I felt a huge burden of guilt as well for not making the trip earlier, until I spoke with my mother. She reminded me of all the weeks I spent with her in the summer and how I always made a point to see her, call her, and write to her. I can tell you that a peace washed over me and remains with me today that I had done all I could while I had her with me. I remember turning back for a second hug and squeezing as tightly as I could the last time I visited. Sometimes that is what life is about, making visits mean something, and taking the time while you have it.
Now that brings us to August, I was in Sweden visiting some family when my sister requested vet information for my 10 year old golden retriever, Kobe. We thought it was just a bladder infection, but it turned out to be cancer and a bladder infection (poor boy). Luckily, I was already planning a 10 day trip to the States, I just wasn’t going to Denver, my plan was only NYC. I booked a flight in the middle of my NY trip to stop by Denver for three days. We put Kobe on steroids and antibiotics, the vet didn’t know how long he had (we didn’t do any diagnostics, so we were not really sure..our plan was to give him lots of quality love, treats, and attention and go from there). When I saw him, I thought it was all a ruse. He ate all the swedish candy I brought home, went for a nice, long walk, and was ecstatic when I brought him to our spot for a picnic at the park. I am thankful for that extra time with him, for he passed away a exactly a month after that first vet visit. I was in Croatia at the time, it was extremely hard to loose my companion, 10 years and 11 months. I was lucky to have him… Well this post has gone on a bit too long, but this is my story. I can’t say if I’ve done any of it right, but all I know is that I’ve tried.
I am sorry to hear of your loss. And Thank you for sharing your story and I’d like to appreciate what you have done for your relatives. You reall a filial granddaughter.
I’m so so sorry for the loss of your grandmother… It’s good to know that airlines do have a heart and you were able to suddenly change your plans. I’ve only done same day changes and flown standby before – even then once the airline tried to charge me!
Sounds like Grandma will be traveling around more with you moving forward 😉 She I’m sure is now watching over you and happy as can be. make sure to tell her hi every now and then!
Always great writing Derek you help me a lot beyond whatever you are writing about.
Sorry to hear about your lose. Thanks for sharing your story sounds like you’ve learned a lot from the situation. In this type of instance don’t think one can really prepare yet just be willing/open to change.
First up Earl I just wanted to take a moment and say that I am sorry to hear about you losing your grandmother. As we say here in Australia with our tradition of Cricket, 93 is a big innings – a long life indeed. I am in the same predicament right now. My grandmother is 88. She has cancer due to a late diagnosed and late treated melanoma originally in her leg. She was recently in hospital due to fluid in her lungs and it was there the doctors discovered that she has congestive heart failure, kidney failure and issues with fluid retention as well. She could die tomorrow or tonight even but then again she could live another ten years, nobody really knows. So my life is technically on hold while I save up money for the expected trip to Perth, Western Australia to say my goodbyes. Perth is one of the most expensive places in the world at the moment due to the presence of highly paid fly in fly out workers from the mining industry meaning that I have to save quite a bit even for a seven day trip let alone the 14 day trip I think I will need to make.
Your words about being calm in the midst of trying to do everything are very wise indeed however I am probably going to be like you and freak out plus get all teary eyed in the process. I think that self compassion is really important at times like these and your 20 minute coffee break idea is essential in this regard. In addition to that though I think the realization at that moment that we are all human and we are prone to react in ways that could be best described as very human could be really helpful also.
One other thing – thank you for your openness and honesty in this post. It is much appreciated.
Sorry about your loss, Derek! I lost my Grandmother earlier this year at 88 years of age. No matter how long they live, it is never easy.
My favourite “last minute travel” plans happened back in July 2009. My friend and I had plans to backpack around Honduras for 2 1/2 weeks including getting PADI certified on the island of Utila where another one of my friends was living and working as a Scuba diving instructor at the time.
Literally three days before we were to depart, the President was overthrown in a Coup d’Etat! Rather than abandon our travel plans completely, my friend and I spent the next 24 hours finding out as much as possible what we can see and do in Belize, which was another country we had previously talked about visiting before settling on Honduras. Turns out the change in flights from Toronto – San Pedro Sula to Toronto – Belize City would only cost us an extra $25 each!
Without hesitation, we booked our flights, grabbed the latest copy of Lonely Planet Belize, and had the most memorable backpacking trip to date — complete perfection with a nice mixture of culture, adventure, and R&R thrown into the mix.
Lesson Learned: Just because your travel plans don’t always go according to plan that shouldn’t keep you from enjoying the experience of travel in the first place! Belize taught me how “go with the flow” which I hardly did in previous trips.
My Grandmother also died suddenly. I had just flown into Alice Springs from Sydney to do a tour with my brother then ended up having to fly back to New Zealand the next day instead. I spent a week back in New Zealand then was able to return to Alice Springs to do the tour a week later than planned at no extra cost, despite the last minute change. I am so pleased that I was able to be at her funeral because I missed my Grandfathers when I was living in London.
Sorry to hear about your Grandmother Derek. I can only imagine what she meant to you. Thanks for sharing and this helpful post. Be easy.
Very sorry for your loss 🙁
P.S. You’ve surprised me a lot that Delta helped you change your flight for free… I had a similar situation and they completely screwed me over changing it to 4 days later (read: too late).
Very sorry about your grandmother, Derek. I lost mine a few years ago and I know that even when they’re in their 90s and you’re expecting them to go, it’s not easy, especially when you’re far away.
Thanks for putting together this helpful post.
My condolences for the loss of your grandmother.
In 2004 I was planning on spending time on the west coast of Thailand and also to Phuket, Thailand, early January of 2005. Then the tsusami hit on Dec 26th and the west coasts of Thailand were devastated, with incredible loss of human lives.
My travel partner and friend had cancellation insurance, but was brave enough still, to go with me to Thailand. We changed our plans and stayed on the other side of Thailand instead, which was intact. We took a bus from Bangkok down to Pattaya, then taxied far down to the docks where we ferried across to the island called Koh Chang. We stayed in a village on stilts above water, far south called Bang Bao. We even took an island hopper to another little island called Koh Mak to stay a few nights. Later we headed back up to White Sand Beach which was quite popular and stayed there.
We reversed the trip back up to Bangkok via bus and enjoyed Bangkok too.
We actually met people who were going to go diving off Phuket the day the tsunami hit but canceled because one was sick. We also met a couple who were staying in a bungalow when a wave hit them, washing away all their belongings.
So you see, we had to quickly change our plans but we didn’t give up the trip. It just takes some mental gymnastics to make sure you land right.
Hi, great post! I am so sorry for your loss. Sadly, I know how that is. I had a trip planned to take my first trip to Europe in May (all by myself), but had to push it back because my cousin had been murdered. His funeral ended up being the same day of my flight, and needless to say I stayed with my family during that time. I didn’t really think about my trip for a few days, but ended up calling Virgin Atlantic after I had missed my flight. They told me my ticket was still good until the end of the year, so I kind of just put my trip off to the side. Now, I am set to go with my sister in December and can’t be more excited.
I wish I would have known to explain to the airline what had happened, but at the time I didn’t feel as though they’d understand or even care. Ultimately, when it came time to change my flight and everything, I paid a pretty large amount. I really like your advice on asking for help, and not being afraid to talk to someone. Although, I ended up spending more money in the end, I am still excited for my very first trip to Europe, especially since my sister will be there with me (I was kind of scared going by myself).
Thanks for sharing with us!
Sorry for your loss, but also thrilled to hear she lived to such a wonderful age!
It’s also nice to see you offering fresh advice to others despite the obvious distress and pain such a time in life causes…
Thank you for these tips. They’ll be very helpful in the event that something like this (any trip changes for any reasons) happens to me.
My sincerest condolences on the loss of your grandmother. Wishing you solace & comfort during this time.
I’m sorry to hear about your grandmother, but I’m happy so many people were willing to help you in your time of need, especially the airlines. I handle crisis situations much like you did–I jump into action instead of taking a minute to think about what I’m going to do. It’s often a good trait, but sometimes it can backfire.
Sorry for your loss.
Sorry to hear about your grandmother. And yes, last year I had to return from China to Norway because I was ill. I, like you, dreaded to call the airline, but I called KLM and they were so much nicer than I have thought. I was prepared to pay an arm and a leg to change my plans, but in the end KLM changed my ticket for free (although it was the cheapest), upgraded me to comfort and I got safe and sound back home 2 weeks before I had planned.
Earl, what an interesting turn of events. (no, I’m not saying a funeral is interesting) As I live here in Santa Rosa, it would have been nice to finally meet up with you for a beverage (that’s a beer for non-PC’ers) and chewing of the fat. However, like you, I would have been out of town, attending a funeral. The stars were surely aligned to create a “next time”.
And, as for your world-wind reaction, you are not alone. The hurrier I go, the behinder I get. It’s yet another example of slow travel is best. Yes, that 20 minute sit with a cup of coffee will always be of benefit. Stopping to just think is something most people have forgotten how to do. Contemplation is never a waste of time.
Sorry to hear that about your grandmother. Good luck on your future travels, Your website helps a lot keep it up!
Nice! Yes, travel plans do change. It’s a hard fact, and as you rightly said that they teach us an important lesson – big or small. Just a few months back, I was supposed to go to Kashmir right after my Sikkim-Darjeeling trip in the Northeast India, but I couldn’t go – there were several reasons for that. I was disappointed, but then later I realized that you can never achieve everything that you set out to, but you still achieve a lot! I achieved a lot on my Sikkim-Darjeeling trip, even though I had quite a few hurdles and failed plans. The whole experience taught me lessons on better travel planning and money management.
First of all I’m very sorry for you’re loss. No matter how old or young, sick or in good health… the dead of a family member is always heavy on the heart!
I’ve always enjoyed reading your posts, but this one hits like a homerun. About 2 months ago I was enjoying myself in Brasil, just found a job there and my girlfriend was about to join me.
Then disaster struck. Like you, when waking up, I saw my phone was full of text and fb messages. My grandfather had passed away. Of course emotion hits me for the first hour or so, but then the practical problems arise.
Should you go home or not!? Is it necessary, will it outway the problems etc…
I chose to go home (although my family didn’t insist) and I’m happy I did so. Saying goodbye to my grandfather and emotionaly sharing those moments with family is more important than enjoying the beach life in some far away destination (I only realise this now).
What has changed going back home
1) Quickest flight back to Belgium (not easy and expensive for a backpacker)
2) Can’t return to Brasil for 6 months due to problems with visum = lost a job
3) Had to cancell my girlfriends flight to Brasil
4) Needed to change all travel plans
What happened then
1) 3 days after getting back to Belgium I booked 2 tickets to Thailand, leaving the same day
2) Enjoyed 5 weeks of romance with my girlfriend on beautifull islands
3) Now back in Belgium, taking the time to start writing a travel blog (have been waiting for years)
Even though it were hectic times, I’ve made the right call to go back home. Old plans are only as good as the new ones!
Thanks for the great post!