Ever heard about Murphy’s Law?

Richard Knight had 10 days to see as much of Australia as he could. A busy attorney, he’d worked around the clock to get his billable hours in beforehand. On weekends he worked to get scuba-certified and planned to end his trip diving at The Great Barrier Reef.

Richard did end his trip there. But the pressure of the water caused both of his eardrums to burst. After an (expensive) visit to the emergency room in Cairns, he necessitated a double myringoplasty (a surgery to repair a perforated eardrum). And his surgeon recommended he not fly for at least a week to return home.

His 10-day trip turned into 16 — half of which were spent in pain.

Sometimes the best-laid plans don’t pan out and the travel plans you’ve made for weeks — even years — go awry.

I feel you, Richard. Well…not with the eardrums, but with the shift in plans.

Two weeks ago my husband and I planned to go to St. Kitts for the weekend to celebrate my birthday. We had the flights, the hotel booked, a babysitter lined up to watch the kids at home — even a spa day all mapped out.

Our first flight — a quick commuter to Miami — was delayed one hour. We waited 10 minutes on the plane while they connected the jet bridge. We ran to our gate, arriving just as they closed the doors. The next flight wasn’t until 4:00 pm the next day. That left us with less than two full days in St. Kitts. So we turned around and flew back home.

Traveler sad and unhappy with problem flight missed

“That was the best trip to the Miami airport,” Kevin said, on our short flight home. “Saw all of concourse B. Next time we should venture out to A or C!”

Travel changes happen to everyone. Flight delays and cancellations happen, weather mishaps and medical emergencies can all ruin an otherwise lovely trip. Sometimes it’s our fault or human error — but often, it’s just plain bad luck.

The website Flight Aware tracks the number of flight delays across the country. As I type this, there are 10,585 flight delays across the world. 2,359 in the United States alone. Some of these are resolved quickly. Many of them are not. Either way, that’s a lot of people with messed up travel plans, and it happens to nearly everyone.

“I was supposed to be a bridesmaid in my best friend’s wedding,” says Laura Wooden, from Spokane Washington. “I was studying abroad at Paris at the time and only had a weekend to get to Washington and back before my classes resumed. My flight was delayed. At first one hour, then two…then they canceled it entirely and said to come the next day at the same time. I missed the entire wedding.”

Woman trying to catch her flight

Still, Rachel Henders from Salt Lake City Utah has a story that takes the cake. Rachel traveled to Nepal for a service trip, and within days was told she “probably had appendicitis.” She was rushed to a nearby hospital via ambulance where she underwent a surgery. It took 12 hours for her to come out of sedation, and while she was there, her arm swelled, reacting to the IV…AND she got bed bugs.

When she finally arrived back in the US: “My five-inch incision was infected, I had just kicked the bed bugs, and I still didn’t have an answer as to whether or not I had appendicitis in the first place!”

External factors are possible any time you travel. And while horror stories like Rachel’s are rare, they are possible. The alternative to travel though, is staying home — which no one wants.

So what to do when travel plans change?

Here are 5 things you can do to be prepared for travel changes. While they won’t necessarily cover every possible situation, having the right plans and mental preparation can definitely improve your foiled plans.

Get Travel Insurance

filling up a travel insurance form

Rachel’s best piece of advice is to get travel insurance. Travel insurance can cover medical emergencies like Richard and Rachel’s, reimburse you for cancellations, and even provide reimbursement for lost baggage. So that expensive gift shop swimming suit is covered, as well as the more important details of your trip. Just make sure the coverage isn’t limiting and that you aren’t already covered with a previous insurance policy.

Manage Your Ambition

Extremely ambitious itineraries are the most likely to be foiled by changed plans. Cancelled flights, medical delays, stolen items, etc. can completely derail you. Keeping itineraries flexible allow you to roll with the travel punches a little more.

Plan for Delays

Traffic jam in the rush hour

“I wish I’d expected a delay of some sort and given myself more time to get to the US,” Laura says. “The wedding was years ago and I still feel horrible that I missed it. I should have assumed something could happen and gone early.” When you assume delays can happen, it’s less upsetting when they (inevitably) do. Planning ahead for lost baggage by packing essentials in your carry-on is also an important step in maintaining your sanity.

Double Check

As easy as it is to blame all of our travel woes on external factors, the truth is that often we ruin our own trips. Checking dates twice, giving ourselves enough time during layovers, and ensuring the hotel we booked is actually in the city we’re visiting are essential. Details are everything when it comes to travel, and they can make or break your experience.

Think of it as a Chance to Make Memories

friends retelling stories and having fun

I’ll never forget the time we spent 24 hours in an airport in Colombia due to our canceled flight. Or the time our backpacks were stolen from our hostel in Peru, leaving us with nothing but the clothes on our backs for the rest of the trip. We ended up playing cards and making new friends in the Colombia airport. We laugh now, about scrambling to find new clothes and toiletries in Peru.

If nothing else, foiled travel plans make for the best stories. And making memories, isn’t that what traveling is all about?

Got a funny story about the time your travel plans changed? Tell us in the comments.

About The Author

Hey I'm Mandy. Writer, traveler, wife, mother, author, woman, over-sharer. I like to talk about the grit of travel, the beautiful, and the people that I meet. Oh yeah - and traveling with kids.