4 Ways to Survive a Travel Nightmare

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Getting There Is Not Always Half the Fun

Last month, I had the worst travel experience of my entire career. A combination of terrible weather, mechanical difficulties and general Armageddon conspired against me in every way that the travel gods know how.

My flight was supposed to leave at 5 p.m. Instead, it didn’t leave at all, and $500 later I was on a different plane on a different airline that also decided not to take off because it was routing through Chicago O’Hare and anyone who’s flown through it knows what I’m talking about.

By the time I finally arrived in Dallas, it was 2:30 a.m. The rental car facility was closed (there went $100 I won’t be getting back) and there wasn’t a cab in sight. I eventually crawled into my hotel room around 4 a.m., managed three hours of sleep and took a semiconscious shower so that I could meet my clients, who expected me to do a good job whether I was tired or not.

We’ve all had bad travel experiences. No one controls the weather, and there’s really no getting around the fact that an airplane is basically a Greyhound bus, albeit with fewer stops. I keep trying to figure out how to get everyone to just come to my house so I can deliver my presentations in the comfort of my pajamas, but so far the secret eludes me.

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Nothing is going to make a bad travel experience enjoyable (although alcohol sometimes helps). But there are a few things that can take your nightmare and turn it into something tolerable.

Inform Everyone of Everything

Is this going to make your clients nervous? Absolutely. But it’s better to keep everyone informed than to surprise them at the absolutely last minute with an “Oh, so yeah, I’m not coming. Tornadoes, you know.” More often than not, the situation will resolve itself nicely for everyone, but sometimes you need to give people as much notice as possible to make alternate arrangements.

Ask Your Questions Once

Gate agents don’t always do the best job of informing waiting passengers about what’s going on, but usually that’s because they don’t know themselves. It’s fine to ask, but you’ll only drive yourself crazy if you expect them to say something new and amazing every five minutes. Oh, and remember that they’re not the reason you’re delayed. Be nice to them. This is probably not a good day for them, either.

Accept Your Powerlessness

There are several things you can do—look for alternate flights, try to change tomorrow’s schedule, check into renting a car and driving through the night. But you can’t make a plane take off before it’s going to, and cursing at the bad weather doesn’t actually make it go away.

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Most of us like to think we have more control than we really do, which means that most of us get really angry when things don’t go our way. The more you’re able to relax and let things happen on their own, the less frustrated you’ll be—and the more composed you’ll be tomorrow in the event that you end up getting wherever you need to go.

Don’t Dwell on the Nightmare

When I met my clients in Dallas at 8 a.m. after 16 hours in airports and three hours of sleep, I didn’t greet them by saying, “You’re lucky I’m here, traveling sucks, I hate this aspect of my job and I’m contemplating a career change. How are you this morning?” Whomever you’re meeting doesn’t need to become a part of your personal irritation; they have hired you to do a job, and their biggest concern is that everything goes as smoothly as it can.

Besides, the longer you complain about how terrible the trip was, the longer it will bother you. So smile, move on and get to the task at hand. There’s coffee pretty much everywhere these days. Plus, lots of hotels have a hot tub, and nothing takes stress away like a good, long soak.

The world of meeting planning involves approximately 85 trillion things that have the potential to go wrong. Traveling to and from the event is one of those things. Bad moments are going to happen, but they don’t have to ruin everything. You can let the bad things rule you, or you can focus on what you’re able to control and manage the rest.

Jeff Havens is a speaker, author and professional development expert who tackles leadership, generational and professional development issues with a blend of content and entertainment. He is a contributing writer to Fast Company, Entrepreneur, BusinessWeek and The Wall Street Journal, and has been featured on CNBC and Fox Business. For more information, or to bring Havens to your next meeting, visit Jeffhavens.com.

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