How to Adapt When Travel Days Don’t Go As Planned

I’m a big proponent of not sugar-coating the fact that traveling can be really hard sometimes, especially if you are an introvert or highly sensitive person. It’s not all a highlight reel full of upgraded flights, amazing food, and beautiful views. No matter how well you research, things will inevitably go wrong, and no one looks forward to when travel days don’t go as planned. In this post, I’m going to tell you about such a day, and how to adapt when it feels like absolutely everything is going wrong.

An Auspicious Morning

The time had come to leave Oaxaca and I was a bit sad to go, as in our ten days there, we had started to develop a bit of a routine. Our next stop was Puerto Vallarta, our one and only beach destination on our 5-city tour of Central Mexico. The beach life admittedly isn’t really our vibe, but we chose Puerto Vallarta over other choices like Puerto Escondido and La Paz because of the supposed art scene and the numerous hiking options in the nearby mountains. It felt strange to consider moving to Mexico and rule out all beach side options.

So, we set our alarms for 6 AM to get to the airport by 7:30 AM for our 9:30 AM flight. It was a fairly quick taxi ride (FYI there are no Ubers in Oaxaca) from the Centro area to the airport, and a reasonable $250 MXN or $12.50 USD. Our taxi driver was actually very focused on driving and wasn’t what we would consider aggressive or reckless – a great and surprising start to the morning!

The security process at the Oaxaca airport is quick and easy – it only has a few gates so there was no line to speak of. We settled in with a surprisingly good airport latte to wait for our boarding call.

The First Sign of Trouble

I tried not to worry when I received an email from Aeromexico letting us know our flight had been delayed, and would now be taking off at 10:45 AM instead of 9:30 AM. No biggie, I thought…this is why I chose a flight with a 2.5 hr layover in Mexico City, to account for any delays. The first flight we scheduled had a layover of only 45 min, and that made me very nervous, so I jumped at the opportunity to pick a longer layover for no extra cost.

I don’t know if the Oaxaca airport is always haphazard, but while we were waiting for our flight, we noticed that none of the gate screens updated with the flight number that was boarding, and the arrivals/departures screen just stated “on time” or “delayed” and never updated with a gate number either. Also, all the overhead announcements were in Spanish only, so other than listening for our flight number, we weren’t really sure what information was being shared.

It was 10:30 AM and as far as we could tell, our flight still wasn’t there. I kept telling myself that as long as we were in the air by 11:15 AM, we should be able to make our 1 PM flight in Mexico City. Finally we heard our flight number called overhead, and got in the seemingly only boarding line in the airport (most of the gates were totally empty). We got to the front of the line before being told we were in line for the wrong flight and directed to stand to the side. Immediately after that flight was boarded, they began boarding our flight from the same gate. Confusing, no?

Once we were finally on board, I told myself that I was worrying for no reason and we’d be able to make our connecting flight. Less than an hour later we landed in Mexico City at 12:15 PM, but proceeded to sit on the tarmac for 15-20 min before the deboarding process started. It was a little after 12:30 PM when deboarding started and I looked at Kelton and said, I really don’t know if we’re going to make this.

A Mad Dash

As soon as we hit the airport floor, we very quickly saw an arrival/departure board and found the gate of our connecting flight (gates seem to be determined very late in Mexico because so far we haven’t known our gate number until 40 min or so before boarding). We briskly started walking in the direction of our gate – it’s not easy to run around slow moving people in narrow hallways while carrying all your luggage on your back.

Every time we thought we were getting close, the overhead signs would point us down another long, crowded walkway, up another set of steps, past multiple rows of airport shops…we were really starting to breathe heavily and sweat. Determined to make it, we kept on until we finally saw gate 55 ahead. We ran up to the desk, looked at the time, and it was 12:47 PM…

Whew, we made it. I dropped my backpack to give my back a rest and take a swig of water, relieved.

The gate agents weren’t acknowledging us, and I didn’t want to be rude and approach without being directed forward. Two guys we recognized from our Oaxaca flight ran up a minute or so after us, also smiling in relief. They were less patient with the gate attendants and approached, and we quickly realized, even though the conversation was in Spanish, that they weren’t going to let us board.

a couple with disappointed expressions
How it feels to miss your plane by a handful of minutes

We watched the flight attendants and pilots go through as the gate agent explained to the guys that it was impossible for us to get on the flight and the next one wasn’t until 8 PM. We were directed to the information desk, which we trudged over to in defeat.

They gave us replacement tickets for 7 hours later and a $700 MXN voucher for food. We were bummed that we now had to spend the remainder of our Saturday in the airport, but I thought at least we’d be able to stay in our food budget for the day with the help of the voucher.

Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth?

We found a place to sit down and eat, and were quickly informed that not only did they not accept the voucher, but the only place that did was Starbucks. We knew we couldn’t get a real meal at Starbucks, so decided to eat there anyway, which cost us $600 MXN or $30 USD – a huge portion of our daily budget.

Long day short, we afterwards went and spent almost our entire voucher at Starbucks just because we could, albeit on food-for-later that we definitely should have skipped (pastries, chips, fruit cup, large coffees…) Then we found a seat that wasn’t in a too-crowded area and both tried to pass the time working on some writing (check out the product of that time here).

Back on Track…

We were glad to finally board our flight to Puerto Vallarta around 7:30 PM, which also took off late, but at that point we knew we wouldn’t have time to do much once we got there anyway. When we finally arrived, we exited the airport, and walked over the adjacent highway pedestrian bridge, which is the only place you can get picked up by an Uber instead of a taxi (for a much lower price).

It’s never a comfortable feeling arriving in an unfamiliar place after dark (it was past 10 PM at this point), but there was a well lit bus stop and the Uber driver was communicative to let us know he could pick us up there, but that it had to be quick. I’m guessing that even though we weren’t at the airport, it’s still frowned upon for Ubers to pick people up there.

The Discomfort Continues

a leaky, low pressure showerhead

Now, we were dressed in our heaviest clothes for two reasons. One, it’s pretty cold in Oaxaca in the early morning and two, we wanted to make sure our bags were under the 10kg weight limit. And Puerto Vallarta was HUMID. You could see it in the air, and we were both counting down until we could take off our jeans – Kelton said his legs were wet underneath by the time we arrived at our place.

We got into our Airbnb relatively easily (thank god for self check-in) and immediately stripped, taking in our new home for the next 9 days. At this point, all that was left to do really was go to sleep so we decided we were going to rinse off and just start fresh in the morning.

Kelton went into the bathroom and turned the shower on, and I could immediately hear there was a problem. It trickled out of the showerhead, with barely enough pressure to even rinse off your body, much less your hair. And based on his reaction, I could tell it was ice cold.

That’s a problem for tomorrow I told myself, and just cleaned off as quickly as possible before collapsing into the admittedly very comfortable bed.

The Shit Hits the Fan

Waking up Sunday morning, I was just not in the mood to go explore. We weren’t particularly close to anything as we had chosen an Airbnb in a local neighborhood instead of the tourist area. I needed a day off and wasn’t prepared to brave the heat.

a broken down dusty car and incomplete concrete buildings open to the outside
The morning view from our kitchen window made me a bit nervous about our choice of Airbnb, but after exploring a bit, it’s a nice, safe local neighborhood – don’t judge a book by it’s cover

I really wanted to shower to reset after a whole day in airports, but I knew I couldn’t manage one in the shower’s present working state. I let our Airbnb hosts know of the issue, and they said that wasn’t normal and they’d work on it. At this point I thought I had nothing left to worry about and would just decompress the rest of the day.

And then one of the most dreaded, embarrassing things that could happen, happened. I clogged the toilet, pretty badly. Thankfully there was a plunger available (obviously plumbing isn’t great here) so I got to work, but it took long enough to fix that I was starting to panic that we were going to have to tell them about it.

I finally managed to fix it, but at that point my low-level anxiety from the past 36 hours had just completely worn me out. My body hurt, my stomach didn’t feel the best, I didn’t feel like planning what to do here in PV, or writing…I just wanted to lay in bed and watch a movie that didn’t require any mental effort.

How to Adapt: Taking a Breather

So, that’s what I did. Basically nothing, for two days. We ventured out to a grocery store at some point to get supplies to make food at our Airbnb, and stopped at a roadside grill for a make-your-own-tacos “paquete” (meat, salsa, tortillas, guacamole) to bring home.

Two days later, mostly decompressed, I worked up the willpower to start planning out some activities, and I’m looking forward to exploring Puerto Vallarta with our remaining 7 days. At first I felt guilty for losing almost 3 full days (partly due to the delay and partly due to my need to recover), but I think when you have the time available to rest, you shouldn’t push yourself when you need a break.

Traveling can be wildly unpredictable and every day isn’t going to reflect the vision you have in your mind for what you hope it will be. While it would be nice, not all people can just bounce back from stress with a beer or two – it can have a lingering effect. Take the time you need to adjust mentally and physically to certain discomforts and unexpected changes. Trust me, the rest of your time will be better for it.

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