Cancelled! How To Fix Broken Travel Plans Without Losing Your Mind

easyjet plane

“What do you mean, cancelled?”

M. holds up her phone. It’s displaying an update from Easyjet:

“Regretfully due to adverse conditions blah blah unfortunately your flight etc. etc. while we understand how dramatically this urinates on all your travel plans etc. etc. best of luck with all your future endeavours if you survive the next 48 hours! The Team At Easyjet.”

It’s for the flight we were catching in four hours. We’re sat here in the foyer of the hotel we checked out of this morning, in the middle of Belfast, and our immediate future is a smoking crater. We have nowhere to stay and no way to leave. There are no flights today, and no flights tomorrow. Today’s was cancelled because of the fog in London; tomorrow’s are booked because everyone’s evening flight was cancelled today, and they were a bit quicker than we were.

One link broken, and the whole chain unravels. For me, it’s merely a massive pain in the rump – I’m catching a Megabus from London back to Yorkshire, and there are always more of those. No worries. But for M., it’s a disaster. She’s flying to Crete at 7am the day after tomorrow. If she can’t get home tonight or tomorrow, she’ll lose hundreds of Euros and still have nowhere to go.

We look at each other.

How the hell do we fix this?

germany trainline

Luckily, I’ve been here before. Many of my travel plans have gone tits-up at short notice. One reason for this is that I seem to attract misadventure, probably via not being very good at travel. The other is – travel itself. This is what happens. This is what it is. Travel is a string of tentatively-arranged plans that could at any moment be thrown into chaos by a million different unforseen things. Think everything’s going to go according to plan? The world is about to laugh in your face.

So, we need a new way to get back to England. But before that, we need to…what? Panic? Get drunk? Punch the hotel foyer wall, and get dragged away by the Belfast police? How do we get from here (“OH GOD!”) to there (“phew!”)?

This isn’t a post about travel-hacking. It’s not about scoring tickets at ludicrous prices. (If you’re after one of those posts, try these flight hacks for cheaper bookings, or use these guys.) No – this is about something that comes before all that. It’s about how to grieve over your befouled journey, how to carefully and strategically lose your mind, and about how to muster up the energy to allow you to build another travel plan as fast as possible.

Here’s how I do it. Your methods may differ.

1. I Fall Over

This saves time. When my immediate future turns into an enormous bubbling pit of turds, I experience a sudden loss of strength, mainly focused on the knees. It’s a similar feeling to when us men get kicked in the bojangles (here’s the female equivalent) – a dull, painful misery that pulses through the whole body, making the recipient incapable of all basic motor functions. My natural response is to drop to the floor and curl into a ball, rocking back and forth and making a low keening noise. If you’re big on dramatic gestures, give it a try. It’s cathartic.

Alternately, have a good slump. When I discovered I’d been robbed in Dusseldorf, I unsuccessfully tried to hug the wall of a German Starbucks. What I should have done is collapse backwards against it, slowly sliding down in a classic TV wall slump. It’s immensely satisfying, it doesn’t require much input from your knees, and it gives you ten to fifteen seconds of staring into space – which you can use in the following way…

2. I Despair

I never skip this. It’s really important.

In a few minutes, I’m going to roar back into action, triumphantly returning from the brink of utter disaster. But I need someplace to come back from. And this is the moment to go to that place. Yay! End of the line, in every sense! Welcome to The Death Of All Joy And Hope, Mike. The world turns black and everything is ash and ruin. Time for some really awful…

3. Self-Recrimination

…because it’s all my fault.

Well, okay, maybe it isn’t – but right now, it’ll feel like it is. And that’s okay! In a moment or so, that’ll be really useful. So I let it consume me. I twist and burn in the fires of my own manifest idiocy.

This is the big payback from all the little things I’ve done wrong in my life, all the times I was a crappier version of who I want to be. Those friends I never replied to on Whatsapp? PAYBACK. That busker I never gave money to? PAYBACK. That time when I was 9 and I got a metal & ceramic Starship Enterprise for Christmas and I ended up shooting my mum in the eye with a photon torpedo? PAYBACK, CAP’N.

I let these things gang up and give me a good pummelling. I sit there and take it for a second, miserably, traumatically. I do it because it’s useful for what comes next, when…

4. I Get Angry

Oh, to hell with this. This isn’t what I deserve. This isn’t who I AM. I’m not a victim of travel! And anyway, it wasn’t a real photon torpedo!

I’m a grown-up, and I’m a born explor…well, I’m a grown-up, anyway. And dammit, I know how to have an adventure!

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You know how travel actually works in practice? You continually get hit by things going wrong – a cancelled flight, a mistaken train station, a dropped passport – but you find a way to keep moving forward. It’s not about having a perfect plan to begin with, because there’s no such thing. Something always goes awry – hopefully minor, sometimes major.

You don’t earn your stripes as a seasoned traveller by making perfect plans. You earn them by fixing broken plans so they work again. Do that enough times? You get to where you’re going – and you win this round.

But how do you get the energy to haul yourself upright and cobble together a new plan? A really good way is by getting mad. Mad at the world, mad at travel, and mad at yourself. How dare you? I had plans for today. DAMN YOU, YOU FILTHY WRETCHED ^&*$£$$&^”£(%!! 

5. I Deal With It

If I’m angry and self-disgusted enough, this is the easy part. I grab a big sheet of paper and start scribbling the answers to the following questions:

  1. If I can’t travel by [mode of transport] today, when’s the next time I can do so? Who can I ask about this? (For example, if Easyjet’s website isn’t any use, how about Skyscanner (which sometimes lists Easyjet flights you won’t find through the airline’s website)?
  2. What about other modes of transportation? (“Aha! Of course. There’s a ferry from Belfast to Liverpool. Is there a Megabus from Liverpool to London that gets us there on time? No. Bugger. Wait! How about National Express? YES.“)
  3. If no travel options are available for today, where can I stay? How will I get there? What’s inside my budget and what’s outside it? Who do I know nearby who can give me advice? Is there anyone I can ask, emergency-style, for a spot on their couch for the night? Worst case scenario: can I sleep outside?
  4. How does it all fit together? What do I have to do for it to fit together? Where do I start this process? (I cannot do this digitally. I have to scribble it all out on a single sheet of paper, so I can see the whole plan, beginning to end.)

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The important thing through all of this is to remain angry. If I’m angry, I’m stubborn and belligerent, and it doesn’t even cross my mind that there isn’t a solution. A no-win scenario is something that belongs in the Despair part of the process, and I’m well beyond that right now. I am unshakeably confident that I can patch something together – and so far, I’ve always been right. This attitude seems to be part of the magic. It’s a requirement for fixing it.

And the final part of the process is always this…

6. Cool Off, Calm Down – And Fall Fast Asleep

If you ever see me on a plane or a bus, and I’m dozing against the window in a slobbery, faintly repellent way that reminds you of Jabba The Hutt – please, leave me to sleep. I’ve had a rough day fixing all my travel plans.

Thanks.

– Mike

  • Eric

    Hi Mike,

    Oh, the never-ending roller coaster of travel! I’m sure you went through all those emotions in less than a minute, too! Sounds like you got it all figured out in the end. Did M. make it to Crete?

    Congrats on another successful adventure!

    Eric