When holidays go bad - Macleans.ca

When holidays go bad

Survival tips for vacations from hell

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Take off eh.comYou know that person whose holidays always seem to start with a surprise free upgrade to first class and things only get better for them from that point on? Well, I am not that person.

My vacations usually begin in the middle seat of the last row, between a guy with a suspicious cough and a kid working a beeping game player. And things only go downhill from there.

As a traveller, I have a long track record of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

And after decades of on-the-road calamities, I have become an expert on how to cope when holidays go bad. I share here my tips for enjoying some worst case scenarios.

Bad trips make for great stories
Remember this: A vacation from hell provides material that will keep your dinner guests entertained for years. The trick is to capture as much of the misadventure in detail as possible. Keep a journal and take pictures of the fiascos if you can. True tales of rip-offs, horrific hotels, allergic reactions to jelly fish stings, hurricanes, and highly irritating fellow vacationers are the stuff comedies are made of. By contrast, perfect holidays are like perfect people. They’re lovely, but they don’t give you much to talk about when they’ve left the room.

The hotel didn’t live up to its pictures
Pictures can be deceiving, as anyone who has ever tried online dating knows. But your run-down lodgings can be an opportunity for you to reconnect with the young, wild backpacker you once were. Still, if you feel you can’t survive a week in an airless room with a broken shower, consider cutting your losses and moving to a nicer hotel. Your holiday should not be an endurance test.

Unfortunately, changing hotels will make your vacation more costly than you anticipated. To help lessen the blow to your budget, you may have to sacrifice a few restaurant outings in favor of cheese and bread purchased at the supermarket. But a picnic by the ocean or on the steps of an old church can be a very fulfilling culinary experience. And think of it is this way—if a room that makes your skin crawl is preventing you from having a good time, you have wasted the money for the flight and the week off work.

The advantage of shopping for a new hotel on site is that you can, and definitely should, ask to see the room before you hand over your credit card. As well, you are in an excellent position to negotiate the best rates since you know the room is standing empty. So at least you can take comfort that you got a great deal on your upgrade.

Ripped off at restaurants
Some restaurants have a practice of offering tourists pricier, and less appealing, set menus. If the waiter assumes you’ll have the prix fixe and never so much as asks if you’d like to see a menu, then you may have been handed the seafood pasta that is short on shrimp and scallops. Chalk it up to a learning experience. In future, make a point of dining like a local. Request to see a menu and if the one proffered is written only in English, hold on to it but also ask to also see the menu for ‘regulars.’ You may have to work your dictionary before ordering, but that’s less aggravating than looking around and noticing that everyone who speaks the language appears to be dining joyfully on platters of lobsters, while you are staring woefully at a bowl of mussels in watery sauce. To that end, don’t be shy to use the time-honoured way of ordering—point to what others are eating that looks good to you.

You bargained, only to discover you still paid 200% more for the handbag
Don’t let the fact that the merchants in the bazaar took you for a ride spoil your mood. Maybe you paid more than you needed to, but remember tourism supports local economies. By shopping, and overpaying, you have made a real difference to the world. So keep buying with abandon. And as far as anyone back home needs to know, you drove a hard bargain and walked away with some steals.

The weather couldn’t be worse
When nature is conspiring against you, there’s only one thing to do…ignore it. Force yourself to swim in the rain and walk the beach in the wind. Do what you were going to do anyway. Remind yourself that you went away to see new landscapes, and regardless of weather, you are still able to see things that you don’t at home. The chance to witness a tropical storm is an added bonus .

Your all-inclusive is over-run by conventioneers and first-year college students
You imagined peace and calm, instead you got loud and wild. Fortunately, party animals are nocturnal so you can likely count on the resort being yours alone for the first half of the day. That’s worth getting up early for.

But from mid-day on, sometimes the only thing you can do is remember that when you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Give up an idea of a quiet drink at the bar, and instead surrender to the joke-teller at the next table. Strange things can happen when you mix with a bunch of people you normally might avoid. A writer friend who went to an all-inclusive in St. Lucia with the intention of throwing herself into her books, found her plans derailed by hundreds of cosmetic sales reps determined to whoop it up. She didn’t manage to get much read but she came back with great make-up tips and a few contacts should she ever decide to change careers. When the recession struck, she followed up with those contacts and today is working part-time as a sales rep.

As far as I’m concerned, a bad holiday is an exciting one. Did I ever tell you about the time I found a snake in my hotel room or the camp ground flooded or….?

Photo credit: gioadventures

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