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When I first heard rumors about the French tran­sit strikes, I did­n’t think much about them. After all, our vaca­tion was weeks away. Sure­ly I could keep those reser­va­tions for our dream trip to Paris.

 

 

Our Dilemma(s)

 

Our first stop was Ger­many to see the Christ­mas mar­kets and enjoy a peace­ful hol­i­day. Our plan was to depart Leipzig the next week and spend a few days at a vaca­tion rental in a qui­et Parisian sub­urb, com­plete with a kitch­enette and a wash­ing machine. We would be near muse­ums but far from New Year’s fes­tiv­i­ties. How­ev­er, as the strike con­tin­ued, it dis­rupt­ed pub­lic trans­porta­tion through­out Paris. Watch­ing from Ger­many, we real­ized that if we want­ed to vis­it the Lou­vre, the Eif­fel Tow­er, or any of the oth­er places we had planned, we would be depen­dent on long taxi rides and sub­stan­tial walks across town with four kids in tow. 

 

 


You know how every­one says to vis­it Ger­many at Christ­mas­time because it’s mag­i­cal? Yep, it’s amaz­ing. Pho­to © Christy Nicholson.

 

 

A few days before our train from Leipzig to Paris, we start­ed look­ing up oth­er lodg­ings, hop­ing we could find a last-minute place to stay with­in easy walk­ing dis­tance of things to do. And then, break­ing news hit — every train from Ger­many to France got can­celed. After much dis­cus­sion with a har­ried-look­ing tick­et offi­cer, we final­ly accept­ed the truth. We were stuck in Ger­many. There was no way to get to France.

 

 

Be Flexible

 

I’m a per­fec­tion­ist, but the more I trav­el, the more I have to put those strin­gent expec­ta­tions aside. It’s tak­en me a long time to learn this. It did­n’t sink in when my par­ents’ car trans­mis­sion went out at Dis­ney World, or when we got stuck in a spring break snow­storm on our way to the beach and had to walk through a foot of snow to find food. 

But over the years, I’ve pieced togeth­er enough wis­dom to know that stay­ing flex­i­ble is the best way to keep unex­pect­ed events from ruin­ing a great time.

While we were stuck in Ger­many, we turned to the white­board (a.k.a. glossy kitchen cab­i­nets from IKEA) and brain­stormed fam­i­ly ideas. We could­n’t get to France, but what else could we do? We talked about all the things we could see with extra time in Ger­many. We brain­stormed oth­er coun­tries to see as a fam­i­ly. And you know what? It worked. Every per­son set aside their dreams of Paris and got to plan­ning some­thing new. 

 

 

Involve Everyone

 

The coop­er­a­tive spir­it was so con­ta­gious that even the youngest trav­el­ers let go of their Eif­fel Tow­er heart­break and looked for­ward to a dif­fer­ent adven­ture. We made long lists of pos­si­bil­i­ties and lis­tened to every idea. Would we shop flea mar­kets in Leipzig?  Go to Spain? Tour the medieval town of Rothen­burg? The lit­tle ones chimed in with opin­ions on vis­it­ing cas­tles and tour­ing the Lego fac­to­ry in Denmark. 

Prac­ti­cal con­cerns were a big part of our deci­sion-mak­ing process. We looked at which places were both afford­able and eas­i­ly acces­si­ble. (The Lego fac­to­ry was closed to the pub­lic, and Spain was just too far.) We looked at every­one’s ideas and fig­ured out which ones were pos­si­ble AND most pop­u­lar with our entire group. Adapt­ing quick­ly meant we could face our new plan with hope rather than panic.

 

 

See Changes As Opportunities

 

We had spent months plan­ning an amaz­ing trip to Paris that would hit every­one’s sight­see­ing pri­or­i­ties. When that was can­celed, we had an impor­tant choice: we could see the can­cel­la­tion as a curse or a gift. As we changed our plans, we decid­ed to focus on what expe­ri­ences we could gain, not on what we had lost. Thanks to the tran­sit strikes, we now had the chance to dream up oth­er options.

Ulti­mate­ly, we decid­ed on a fam­i­ly trip to Eng­land. The quick change in plans allowed our kids to make mem­o­ries of watch­ing the chang­ing of the guard and crowd­ing our fam­i­ly into the tiny upstairs room of a pub. I had always dreamed of see­ing more of Eng­land, and our extend­ed trip gave us time to trav­el to Dover and explore the coast. We did­n’t stand in Trafal­gar Square and com­plain that it was­n’t the Arc de Tri­om­phe; instead, we cel­e­brat­ed all the bonus­es of our new itinerary.

 

As our fam­i­ly sat in the pub, all ten of us gaz­ing at Wind­sor Cas­tle across the street, I real­ized that in los­ing our Paris vaca­tion we found many oth­er mag­i­cal moments. Pho­to © Christy Nicholson.

 

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Take Action

 

When we saw our vaca­tion plans falling apart, we knew bold deci­sions would be key. I have to give a shoutout to my fam­i­ly mem­bers, who spent sev­er­al late nights look­ing at our trav­el plans and fig­ur­ing out how to make them work. They spent count­less hours on the phone, on trav­el sites, and down at the train sta­tion to find answers and options.

Mean­while, I got to work con­tact­ing our vaca­tion rental in Ver­sailles. With our trip to Paris due to begin in two days, I had less than 24 hours to can­cel our reser­va­tion before we would be charged the entire fee for a week’s stay. I can­celed on the book­ing site and then e‑mailed the rental direct­ly to apol­o­gize, explain, and beg for mer­cy with the 50% can­cel­la­tion fee. 

 

Online reser­va­tions are easy, but reach­ing out to an actu­al per­son is the best way to get help and learn more about your reser­va­tions. In our case, it saved us hun­dreds of dollars. 

 

 

Our planned train to Paris became a train to Frank­furt plus a plane to Lon­don. Bonus: With our last-minute book­ing, we some­how scored free busi­ness class upgrades and gourmet meals on the plane. Pho­to © Paul Nicholson.

 

 

Accept the Unavoidable

 

We were lucky with our Europe trip — we had the options and resources to fig­ure out a new plan. First, though, we had to let go of our efforts to change real­i­ty. As the obsta­cles piled up, we had to accept that this par­tic­u­lar trip to France was­n’t meant to be. 

Of course, some­times frus­trat­ing cir­cum­stances can’t be changed or rein­vent­ed. When my old­est son was a baby, we vis­it­ed fam­i­ly in Aus­tria and Italy. An overnight train ride between Venice and Vien­na seemed like a good use of time until I faced the real­i­ty of 12 hours on a train with a one-year-old. We did­n’t have beds, and my son did­n’t sleep. Plus, thanks to a vol­canic erup­tion that ground­ed every plane fight, the train was teem­ing with peo­ple. The six adults in our com­part­ment had to lock the door to keep more peo­ple from pour­ing into our seats. We were tired, hot, and cranky. And there was no way to escape. 

 

 

My hus­band tells me this is Venice. I don’t remem­ber, because I stayed awake all night on a train with my one-year-old. Pho­to © Paul Nicholson.

 

 

Some­times all we can do is accept the sit­u­a­tion and attempt to move on, whether we’re fac­ing sick­ness, can­celed flights, or nat­ur­al dis­as­ters. (And let’s be hon­est — I was in Europe. With a baby. I was exhaust­ed, but I was­n’t suffering.)

 

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How to Prepare In Advance

 

While atti­tude plays a role in res­cu­ing a trip gone side­ways, prepar­ing ahead of time also makes a huge dif­fer­ence. We keep our fam­i­ly ready for any­thing with these trav­el tips:

 

Flexible Arrangements

Look for hotels and air­lines with rep­u­ta­tions for stel­lar cus­tomer ser­vice. One hotel chain earned our fam­i­ly’s loy­al­ty when they gave us a free hotel room after a resched­uled flight. We con­tin­ue to use them due to their gen­er­ous can­cel­la­tion policy.

Back-up Plans

Keep a list of those long-shot sight­see­ing wish­es. When plans change, the new itin­er­ary may have room for that awe­some muse­um that was closed or the town that was too far away.

Savvy Packing

Plan for delays, stains, acci­dents, and fevers with a pack­ing list. Adding a few small emer­gency items to the fam­i­ly suit­case will smooth out a host of difficulties.

A Sense of Humor

Bring a will­ing­ness to find laugh­ter in any sit­u­a­tion. Stay­ing light­heart­ed can make almost any­thing bet­ter — even wash­ing clothes in the hotel bath­tub. (Remem­ber that Parisian rental with a wash­ing machine? That got can­celed, too.) 

 

 

 

We nev­er made it to France, but we could see the French coast from the top of a hill in Dover, Eng­land. Pho­to © Paul Nicholson.

 

 

With trav­el comes mis­ad­ven­ture, but that does­n’t have to take away the fun. With humor and grace, the expe­ri­ence can be enjoy­able — or at least bear­able. And remem­ber, it will prob­a­bly make a fan­tas­tic trav­el sto­ry someday. 

 

 

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Christy Nichol­son is a writer, edi­tor, and recov­er­ing per­fec­tion­ist from Nashville, Ten­nessee. Despite being an intro­vert, she has trav­eled exten­sive­ly with her extend­ed fam­i­ly, includ­ing a mem­o­rable overnight train ride with an infant. When at home, she spends her days read­ing, writ­ing at Any-Worth.com, and wran­gling two boys.