Sometimes, when you’re traveling, everything goes perfectly.

It’s never happened to me.

But I imagine it happens to some people, somewhere. Maybe the same type of people that win raffles or find four leaf clovers. Those people.

For the rest of us, howevs, travel never goes as planned. Things come up, stuff breaks, people are mean, and schedules change. ALWAYS.

What makes a happy traveler is the ability to adapt and smile in spite of shit going wrong.

Fall leaves in Central New York
My favorite place in my hometown.

Though I knew better than to cement an itinerary for my recent road trip, I did set out with a pretty specific budget. I even kept all of my receipts so that I could track my spending — something I’ve never been grown-up enough to do before.

Open road in Indiana
Indiana is FLAT.

In spite of this, when my car decided to not start last Sunday morning, I was unprepared.

That probably makes me a moron, seeing as A. my car had been off the road for two years, and B. my car, like so many of the greatest things in history, is from the 90s.

I was just so excited to be reunited with the ol’ Cam that I forgot about the unlikely pairing of an old car + a road trip.

Camry being towed

To make a really long and boring story short, it was my spark plugs. Who knows what those do, but they are apparently important and apparently reallyyyy hard to fix (why has no one invented a sarcasm font yet?!).

$400 later (seriously), the Cam was up and running again. Did I mention that’s far more than half the amount I had budgeted for my whole trip?


I’m sure some people (read: more responsible ones) might have cut their trip short or forced themselves to drink less copious amounts of overpriced alcohol.

High gravity bar in Knoxville, TN
Boozy fun with friends in Knoxville, TN.

But, this trip was about visiting friends, and I wasn’t about to cut anybody out of the sched. Nor was I ready to ruin our boozy fun because of some stupid plugs.

As you often have to do while traveling, I was just going to have to suck it up.

While handing my credit card over to the mechanic, I said “At least I’m getting frequent flyer miles for this!” He responded, “Now that’s a good attitude to have.”

I was happy he said that, because a good attitude is something I work hard on. Staying positive is not always easy, but doing so can change your life.

Road through Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Beautiful drive. Also, my windshield needs a cleaning.

I’ve fallen victim to negative attitudes before. How can you not?

It’s especially easy to get negative when traveling — when you’re somewhere hot and unfamiliar and you feel as though everybody’s trying to rip you off.

I can’t count the times I’ve felt sorry for myself and been upset and complained and wondered “why me?” and… guess what? NOTHING CHANGED.

Michigan football v. Illinois 2012
There’s been many times at Michigan football games I’ve wondered “Whyyyy?!”

Several years ago, the light came on. I saw that the world was going to keep on doing its thing in spite of how it affected me, and that, if I wanted to be a better/happier/more kick-ass traveler/human/member of society, it was my attitude that was going to have to change.

Since then, I’ve made positivity my goal.

Fall foliage view in Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Though I feel insanely cheesy saying this, it’s changed my life. Granted, I speak from a privileged position, as nothing really awful has happened to me — but I have been robbed, scared shitless, and screwed over. General traveler/live-er of life stuff.

This spark plug business was just a minor bump in the road (YES for road trip metaphors), but these experiences are always good practice in keeping a happy attitude.

Street performers in Asheville, NC
Awesome street performers in Asheville, NC. The chick is tap dancing while she sings!

Of course, I mess up. I’m not freaking Mother Theresa. But I think it helps me just to remember that positivity, and not stressing, are always my goals. Not sweating the small stuff.

When something goes wrong, and I feel like I’m about to get negative, I immediately follow this 5-step plan of action.

1. Locate nearest purveyor of food.

2. Buy an ice cream, or next-best-thing. (Feel free to substitute your fave food or booze in this step.)

3. Sit, preferably somewhere sunny.

4. Think about how, in the grand scheme of things, this is not a big deal. You will laugh about it someday. Repeat assuring mantra to myself. In the case of the car, I said, “It’s just money.” Other useful mantras: “It’s okay that you missed that bus. Who else can say they spent three hours alone on the side of the road in the Palestinian Territories?,” “That old Guatemalan lady slashed your bag because she needs money more than you do,” “Red wine all over your white dress? Can’t change? That’s the style,” or “That crazy Thai man drove you off into a dark alley because he needs friends.”

5. Reflect on/notice beautiful things, like the deliciousness of the ice cream, or Channing Tatum. Remember all the awesomeness around you, and be thankful for the fact that you are even traveling at all.

Eating ice cream in Mongolia
I think this Mongolian ice cream came at a pretty key moment.

And just like that, you’ll be fine. (If not, repeat from the beginning, perhaps adding a bottle of cheap liquor to the equation.)

Elvis Presley said, “When things go wrong, don’t go with them.” And who knows more than Elvis? (The correct answer is no one, absolutely no one.)

Awesome t-shirts at the Michigan football game
Like our shirts?

So, my car broke down. I spent way more than planned. I had to spend a night in an ultra-creepy AirBNB place.

What’s more important? I’ve been driving for 10 years, and this is the first time I’ve ever had to get my car towed. I had the money to cover the extra expense, and I have ways of making it back. The fall leaves are gorgeous. Michigan kicked the shit out of Illinois. I played with approximately 948 puppies on my trip, drank 27 new types of craft beer, and ate a shitload of ethnic food. Best of all?

I got to continue my road trip and reunite with friends in EIGHT different states.

Life is good awesome.

What are your tricks for maintaining a positive attitude when things don’t go as planned?