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What to do when your vacation sucks

Updated: Sep 12, 2022

A lavender sunset in Sedona Arizona, overlooking red mountains and a lush city below.
Sedona sunsets are legendary and this one is from the airport overlook. ©AlonzoWright

There you are with luggage in hand, a glorious and meticulously-planned itinerary ahead of you, your body thrumming with the excitement of a dog who’s just giddily peed all over the floor. You’re practically bursting at the seams for new experiences and the anticipation of the lifelong memories you’re about to make on your vacation. And then something goes wrong. This is the part that lots of travel experts and bloggers glaze over because it’s the ugly, supremely disappointing side of travel. You plan and save and look forward to a trip for months, and then you’re thrown a curve ball that threatens to derail everything. This has happened to us in Spain, Cuba and most recently, on a trip to Sedona we’d been wanting to take for years (more on that below). Here’s what you have to remember: a really crappy vacation happens to all of us eventually. It’s what you do next that will make the difference between the worst trip you’ve ever taken and a laughable set of circumstances.

This scenario just happened to us. We’d waited YEARS to visit Sedona, always preoccupied with far off destinations instead of those a little closer to home. But no matter how desperately we were looking forward to exploring Sedona, the universe had other plans. What we’d hoped was just a bad burrito turned out to be a stomach bug that knocked each of us down like dominoes. Instead of wine tastings, we chugged Pepto Bismol and Ginger Ale. Instead of breathtaking hikes, we did back-breaking loads of laundry. Instead of dining in Sedona’s most revered restaurants, we lived on sleeves of Saltines. We’ve traveled enough to know that once it’s far enough removed, even the not-so-great vacation memories serve a purpose, we will either laugh about them later or they teach us lessons. But here’s what you need to know to salvage your trip, even when it sucks.

A tiny red fiat sandwiched between other cars on a Roman street.
It's not uncommon to have fender benders when navigating foreign streets and laws like those in Rome. ©AlonzoWright

Assess the damage

Did you lose your passport? Did you have an accident in the rental car? Are you so sick that catching a whiff of scrambled eggs has you praying to the porcelain gods? Assess the situation calmly and objectively. What is the right next step for you? It’s easier said than done, but the more you panic, the worse the situation will become, so stay calm and clear headed.

Adjust your expectations immediately

One of the worst things you can do, and I’m speaking from experience here, is to spend the time you do have dwelling. Nothing ruins potential like focusing on all the things that have gone wrong, especially when you’re still on vacation. Sure, your trip doesn’t look anything like you thought it would, but the more you dwell, the more the gloom snowballs and you end up wasting the time you do have left. You know that old adage, “if your expectations are low, it’s harder to be disappointed?” This is where it really works. If you let go of the idea of what you thought your vacation would be like, you create room for what it could become.

Look for beauty and you’ll find joy