You know what they say about best-laid plans, right? When you’ve spent enough time travelling, you probably know better than to sweat the small stuff- things aren’t always going to go your way. But what happens when all of your planning goes completely off track? That’s what happened to me when Winter Storm Jonas (𝄞 ♪ thanks for all ya shownus 𝅘𝅥𝅯 ♪) unleashed its wrath on the US’s east coast, and I found myself with a surprise three-day weekend in Fort Worth, Texas.
My trip to Fort Worth started out routinely enough: everything on my packing list was checked off, my suitcase was zipped, and I was ready for a quick three day business trip to attend a conference hosted by the nonprofit I work for. I had been watching the weather forecasts for a few days, and I knew a huge snowstorm was predicted to hit the Washington, DC area on the day I was due back home. It was so bad that it was even being referred to by the name Snowzilla. Still, the conference went by in a blur of PowerPoint presentations and late night drinks with colleagues I hadn’t seen in a while, and so it somewhat surprised me when I checked my email in between sessions to find that my Friday afternoon flight had been cancelled. I made a quick call to the airline and found out there was an earlier flight that would get me in before the storm, and rebooking quickly put my mind at ease. Sadly, that was short-lived; just a few hours later I received another email. My earlier flight was cancelled as well. This time it took more than an hour and a half on hold with the airline before the reservations agent gave me the bad news: I wasn’t going home on Friday. I wasn’t going home on Saturday or Sunday, either. I was spending the whole weekend in Fort Worth, Texas.
I cycled between anger, frustration, and despair. This was not the way things were supposed to go! I had a ticket to go home! I hardly ever experience bad travel luck! Even the Easter Island luggage debacle of 2015 ended better than this! And now I had a long weekend in a city I knew nothing about stretching out before me.
Have you ever found yourself stuck in a place you weren’t expecting to be? Here are three things you should do—and one mistake you shouldn’t make.
DO Look on the Bright Side
Life would be so much easier if things just went the way we wanted them to go. When both of my flights got cancelled, it was really easy to get caught up in how mad I was that my plans were thrown off course. As soon as I accepted that going home just wasn’t in the cards, though, I found myself feeling- dare I say excited?- about spending a weekend exploring a new place.
I had only been to the Dallas area twice before, both times for work, and both times left me mostly confined to hotel conference rooms. Thanks to the snowstorm, instead of hopping in a taxi and leaving for the airport an hour after the meeting was over I spent my first afternoon shopping and walking around in the sunshine. Instead of a pretzel after going through airport security, I enjoyed tacos and margaritas at a fantastic local restaurant. I have to admit, it was a better way to unwind from a hectic workweek!
When your travel plans don’t pan out the way you’re hoping they will, it’s OK to dwell on your frustration for a little while. But don’t let that ruin what could be a great, unexpected adventure.
DO Remember Technology is Your Friend
When it came time to figure out how to make the most of the weekend, I did what many travellers do: I turned to the Internet. Your smartphone likely has all of the tools you need to create a great trip at the spur of the moment, and some of the apps you already have might lend themselves to some surprising uses.
A lot of people stopped using the Foursquare app when they removed check-ins a few years ago, but I have found it to be a reliable way to scout out restaurants and find things to do. We regularly update our Road Unraveled account on Foursquare with tips and recommendations, and we enjoy using it to explore new cities. It was particularly useful when a few of my coworkers and I ventured off to Dallas for a day. The Foursquare app led us to Ellen’s Southern Kitchen, an adorable soul food restaurant that was just a few blocks from Dealey Plaza and served some of the best catfish I have ever had. Knowing nothing about the area, I picked Ellen’s solely on the high score it received from other patrons. It did not disappoint.
With very little time to create a plan of action, I immediately turned to TripAdvisor to see what other visitors recommended for things to see and do in the area- specifically their Top 10 Things to See in Dallas list. Toward the top of the list was the Sixth Floor Museum/Texas School Book Depository, which walks visitors through the history and assassination of American president John F. Kennedy. The museum itself is very well done; my coworkers and I spent a few hours tuned into the audio guide and watching some very powerful videos that captured both the facts and the effect JFK’s death had on the United States and the world. I knew the museum was in Dallas, but I might not have thought about it if scanning TripAdvisor hadn’t jogged my memory.
It’s not just for posting your own pretty pictures; I use Instagram to look up anything I think I might get a chance to see when I travel. My stay in Fort Worth was no exception. After getting a recommendation to try a local taco chain, a quick search of their hashtag #VelvetTaco let me know that I was about to enjoy a delicious meal. #BillyBobsTexas was helpful when a few coworkers said they wanted to check out a place called Billy Bob’s Texas Honky Tonk Bar near the stockyards. Instagram can be a great app to incorporate into your travel planning if you use it as a research tool.
DO Take Some Time for Yourself
Most of the trips I take are as jam-packed with new sights, foods, people, and experiences as I can handle; because I’m not a long-term traveller, time is always of the essence. I was tempted to do the same with my unexpected stay in Fort Worth; how much could I pack into three days? I got a lot in- but I also did a few surprising things as well. I slept in. I enjoyed really long breakfasts every morning with my coworkers who were stranded with me. I filled my days with just a few activities that I really wanted to do.
Sometimes, having a lot of time to plan can be detrimental to travel; we might overschedule ourselves, and we might not spend as much time enjoying the moments we have because we’re trying to stay on course. If you find yourself with more time that you anticipated, let it be an opportunity to relax for a few minutes. It’s important to practice self care as a traveller, and sometimes a change in plans can do a lot of good for your body, mind and soul.
DON’T PanicTrust me, I panicked. When I found out my flight was cancelled, all I could focus on was what I was missing if I didn’t make it home. Adam would have to shovel 30 inches of snow by himself. I wouldn’t get to the chores I had planned for the weekend. We wouldn’t get to begin working on our 2016 travel schedule. In the end, none of that was in my control. If I could go back to the moment my second flight was cancelled, I would have told myself to calm down, have a glass of wine, and look forward to a great long weekend. All of the effort spent on worry can be better used to research and enjoy your time. You’ll get where you’re going soon enough. Savor the chance to slow down and appreciate the sights as you get there.
After three extra days in Fort Worth, I touched down in the wintery wonderland that had settled upon Washington, DC happy to have spent time getting to know a new city. Within a day I was back to my typical routine as if the detour had never happened. It was just another reminder that sometimes the road we travel takes an unexpected turn- but the detour is usually worth exploring.
Travel Insurance is Worth Researching
Because I was stranded during a business trip, I was extremely fortunate that my company covered my expenses and I didn’t have any out-of-pocket costs related to the extra time spent in Dallas and Fort Worth. Not every cancelled flight occurs when someone else is paying your bills, though, which is why it’s a good idea to research travel insurance no matter where you plan to go. We have been happy with the policies we have purchased through World Nomads, and it’s worthwhile to review available policies to see which one might be right for any trip you take.
More Information: WorldNomads.com
A few final notes on Fort Worth…
If you find yourself in Fort Worth, Texas, there are a few things you should absolutely do:
► Velvet Taco
Eat at Velvet Taco. I mentioned tacos twice already in this post, and for good reason: Velvet Taco was an instant favorite among my colleagues. They have some “normal” tacos on the menu, but don’t try those. Try the Chicken Tikka taco, which is just a bit on the spicy side. Also try the Texas wagyu beef taco with the swiss cheese crusted tortilla. They changed my entire outlook on tacos.
More Information: VelvetTaco.com
► Billy Bob’s TexasBilly Bob’s Texas is a lot of fun. “The World’s Largest Honky Tonk” has dozens of drink stations, indoor bull riding, live bands, dancing… they have it all. We got there on the early side and had no trouble getting a whole bunch of tables for our large group, and there was enough going on to keep everyone entertained. If you’re in Fort Worth, I think you have to take part in this kind of Texas experience.
More Information: BillyBobsTexas.com
► The Original Cupcakery
The Original Cupcakery is the one strong memory I had of my first trip to Texas in 2010. I was at a conference at a hotel across the street from their Dallas location, and every day just after lunch some of my fellow exhibitors and I would walk across the street for our afternoon cupcake. I made the request that we stop in so I could see if the cupcakes were as good as I remembered they were- and my memory didn’t let me down. I treated myself to a Tickle Me Pink and a Wedding Cake, and they got me through two of my three days. We visited the Dallas location, but there is one in Fort Worth as well.
Travel can be stressful sometimes, but it can make an interesting story in hindsight. Here are a few more of our adventure stories!