I remember the moment as if it were yesterday. I had just said goodbye to my two best friends in Rome in 2015. They were flying back to the U.S., and I was moving back to Madrid, Spain, where I spent two years teaching English to Spanish students. I was pretty much in denial that my summer was over and I had to go back to work the next week, so I walked through the airport with that cloud over my head.
Little did I know, things were just about to get worse: I attempted to use the automated machines to retrieve my boarding pass, but was directed to a desk where an employee informed me that the reason I couldn’t get my ticket was because I never paid for my flight. I frantically searched through my e-mails to find the confirmation, but saw another email from the airline that had been filed away in a different folder, informing me my credit card payment hadn’t worked.
At this point, the devastating reality that I was alone in a foreign country without a plane ticket or place to stay in the height of tourism season. How was I going to fix this? Where would I go? The airline was of no help, and re-booking my ticket would be an extortionate amount of money, so I had to improvise.
As I logged onto my computer and started researching, I engaged in the process of figuring out my next move. I somehow found a hotel near the airport — with a free shuttle back in the morning, and booked a decently priced room. I then scheduled a flight for the next day. It wasn’t cheap, but it wasn’t going to bust my budget, either. Within minutes, I had a plan and a completely new attitude.
Everyone knows how much travel can teach us about ourselves, and, for me, the Rome flight fiasco was no exception. In fact, this experience was the moment in which I learned that I had to be more optimistic – no matter what was happening around me. And it’s something I’ve carried with me in both the real world and the wanderlust life I lead.
Was my booking snafu annoying? Yes. Expensive? Yep. Stressful? Oh yeah. But, was it that flight the only option I had? Would I be in danger if I stayed in Italy for one more day? Was I out of money and unable to come up with a viable travel route? No, no and no.
Travel has showed me time and time again that you can always come up with a plan A, B and C without much sweat. That helps me keep my head on straight as I travel, because I know one idea falling through doesn’t mean the end of a good time. Instead, it can lead me to reconfigure my itinerary and help me find something even more special to do in the meantime. Or, I just head out without a map at all and try to find something incredible all on my own.
Another way travel has taught me to be more optimistic is by showing me that all bad situations are learning experiences, thus making them positive in the long run. Once I returned and settled in Spain, I realized it was my fault that I didn’t properly pay for my flight. The e-mail had come through my main inbox after all, so there was no excuse for me not having seen it or re-paying for the ticket.
Not every second of every trip is going to be as magical as it looks on Instagram. But I always try and remind myself at the end of a particularly poor day that even my missteps are opportunities to make my next trip even better. Learning is one of the best benefits of travel, after all: why not make your slip-ups into lessons, too?
Unless you’ve had the most unfortunate vacation — horrible weather, cancelled flights, unfairly advertised resort, lost luggage — you can probably find something good to remember about your trip. Perhaps you met an interesting local, or sampled the national cuisine, or bought a beautiful souvenir. This is what you should try and focus on instead of everything that went wrong. Once you figure out how to be more optimistic, it’s easy to do!
The funny thing is, once I realized how important it was to keep a level head and a positive outlook while traveling, I started doing the same in my everyday life. I approached my to-do lists with gusto, headed to work ready to power through to the weekend and gave those around me the benefit of the doubt. I found myself much less stressed and much more smiley, and I’ve read this type of attitude might even help me live longer. I’m very optimistic about that.
So, if you start feeling stressed, or homesick, or otherwise upset on your next trip, try and remember all the good that can come out of those moments. If you do, you’ll be more optimistic on your travels and in real life, too.