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Here’s how to avoid—or deal with—a bad start to your holiday travel

There are mishaps that can get in the way of any holiday travel. But there’s no such thing as a bad vacation except not being able to get there.



There are no statistics on the number of Americans who abandon their vacations. But we know that airlines canceled 82,693 flights last year, or about 1.46 percent of total flights. I’m sure some of the passengers simply said, “That’s it. We’re canceling our trip!”

Bad vacation start? Don’t give up

Making a U-turn is almost always a mistake. A bad vacation start doesn’t automatically mean you’ll have a bad vacation. I know because the disastrous trip through Nevada turned into one of our most memorable adventures. I called my travel agent. She found our reservation, and we cooled off at the Holiday Inn’s pool later that day. My son finished his homework. I found snacks for the younger kids, and after a while, they calmed down, too.

We spent a few weeks in California, making stops in Temecula, Buellton and San Jose. If I’d turned around and gone home, none of that would have happened.

Even when the trip is going smoothly, I always encounter a moment when I ask: “Should I even be going on this trip?” The answer isn’t always “yes.” It’s a struggle between doing the safe thing—staying at home—and traveling somewhere you’ve never been and embracing a new experience.

Trust me, you don’t really want to miss the adventure, no matter how badly your vacation starts. You will almost certainly regret a trip not taken.

Everything doesn’t always go smoothly

Here’s what you have to understand about travel. Wires are crossed almost constantly. That rule doesn’t just apply to the journey but to the destination. Consider one of our earliest family trips, also to California. We were supposed to drive to Mendocino, California, and stay in a vacation rental for a week.

Mendocino is easily one of my favorite places, but it didn’t start that way. There’s this point, just past Navarro, California, when you’re driving along Highway 128, where the temperature suddenly shifts from hot to cold, I’m talking Mendocino-cold 55 degrees, which is the temperature pretty much year round on the Northern California coast. At that very moment, I received a call from our host with a problem about our rental. Just then, I was also pondering an email from one of my editors about a chapter in my latest book. She was obnoxious. Whenever she found something she didn’t like, she wrote: “FIX!”

Confronted with a minor issue at the start of your vacation? Keep calm and carry on.

Confronted with a minor issue at the start of your vacation? Keep calm and carry on. (Source)

And suddenly, too, everything went from summer to winter. I wanted to pull over and go home, but I pressed on.

I’m glad I did. Mendocino is an incredible, out-of-the-way destination on Northern California’s coast. We spent a week strolling along the beach, watching whales, picking berries and hiking among California’s towering redwoods.

Oh, and the rest of our problems? All resolved. I answered all of my editor’s questions, and the book eventually saw the light of print. We found the key to our rental, too—and our warm clothes.

How to avoid a bad vacation start

My advice? Just go, anyway. If you’ve experienced a bad vacation start, shake it off. But a little preparation can take you a long way. I could have prevented most of the bad-vacation-start problems with careful planning. That includes:

1. Calling your hotel or vacation rental before you leave to make sure it knows you’re coming.

2. Stopping by a grocery store and buying enough food and drinks to keep the kids from trying to eat each other. Seriously, you can’t buy too much food! (Pro tip: Avoid junk food, no matter how much they beg for it.)

3. Resisting the urge to check your work email while you’re on the road, especially when you’re driving. Believe me, the work will still be there when you get back to the office.

4. Making sure your kids don’t pack each other into the trunk.

Above all, be adaptable. Travel can throw you a series of curveballs, but if you expect them, you can manage. Whatever you do, don’t turn around.

DISCLAIMER: This article expresses my own ideas and opinions. Any information I have shared are from sources that I believe to be reliable and accurate. I did not receive any financial compensation for writing this post, nor do I own any shares in any company I’ve mentioned. I encourage any reader to do their own diligent research first before making any investment decisions.

Christopher Elliott's latest book is “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). You can get real-time answers to any consumer question on his new forum, or by emailing him at