I’m not going to tell you anything you don’t already know. The secret to travel happiness is a positive attitude.
I know it’s simple. But it’s easy to forget.
It’s easy for me to get my hopes up about a trip and to get frustrated when things don’t go as planned. Sometimes I need to be reminded to take a deep breath and adjust my perspective. And sometimes a life lesson in positive thinking can come from a most unexpected source.
A few summers ago I invited my oldest nephew, Stone, to join me on a road trip to the Texas Gulf Coast. I figured that a week of fun and sun on the beach was surefire way to entertain my favorite first-grader. What could go wrong?
It started to rain before we even left Dallas.
It rained all the way to Galveston, Texas, where we finally checked our soggy selves into a beachside hotel.
I looked up the weather forecast. The sunny week that I had been expecting had been downgraded to a week of thunderstorms.
I was panicked. How would I manage my nephew’s disappointment? Should we cut our losses and head home early? I stared out through the foggy hotel window and wondered what to do.
Then I heard a little voice behind me.
“This room is cool!” said Stone. He flopped onto a bed and sprawled like an eagle. “This whole big bed by the window is mine, and that other whole big bed is yours.” Then he neatly unpacked his suitcase and announced that he was going to take a long, hot bath.
Huh? No complaining? Our whole beach trip was probably ruined, and he wasn’t whining about it?
Nope, he never complained. Not even once.
It continued to rain. For the next few days, we put up our umbrellas and roamed the deserted sidewalks of Galveston’s Strand Historic District.
We nibbled salt-water taffy and drank ice cream smoothies at LaKing’s Confectionery.
He beat me at Jenga at Board Game Island Cafe.
He drilled for oil at the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig and Museum.
We shared a root beer float at the counter of Star’s Drug Store, the oldest drug store in Texas.
“It’s too bad about the rain,” I said. “Nah, I can work with it,” Stone replied.
Using a souvenir pirate map, we scoured the landmarks along the harbor in search of buried treasure. We imagined sailing our very own pirate ship, The Jolly Fancher, along the rocky and treacherous shore. One afternoon I slipped in a puddle, scraping my leg pretty badly. Blood and rain is a pretty terrifying combination, but Stone never flinched. Instead, he created a pirate treasure map from the floor diagram on the inside of our hotel room door. Then he plundered the nearest ice machine and hauled back a whole bucket for my leg. What a champ.
On a cloudy morning, when the rain eased a bit, we walked from our hotel to the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier. Stone played carnival games on the midway while we waited for the amusement park rides to open.
But the rain worsened again and the rides didn’t open. Along with scores of sour-faced tourists, we were forced to take shelter in the only enclosed restaurant on the pier, a Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. What a downer, I thought. Surely being stuck in a schmancy seafood shack would be the last straw. But do you know what Stone did? He thanked the hostess for finding us a table with a good view, charmed our waitress and ordered himself a bunch of popcorn shrimp in a cardboard boat. And he never stopped smiling.
The next morning dawned dark and stormy again. When I got out of the shower, a cheerful fellow in Captain America pajamas greeted me with a surprise. He had spread a towel over my bed like a picnic blanket and set up a breakfast feast with the remainder of our road-trip snack foods. We watched old Bonanza reruns and ate gummy bears, cheese crackers and Buc-ee’s Beaver Nuggets until we were stuffed. Then we played Uno and Sorry and laughed so much that we almost didn’t notice when the sun shined through the clouds.
What? Sunshine? We raced outside!
The beach was a mess. The week of stormy surf had churned up seaweed so high that it resembled a fence-line of tumbleweeds. We had to climb a mound of the slimy stuff to even reach the water.
But when we finally jumped in, we frolicked and played in the waves like we were in paradise.
Stone had just enough time to build a sandcastle before the skies began to darken again, forcing us back inside.
That afternoon was our only time on the beach for the whole week, and we made every minute count.
During that trip to Galveston, Stone reminded me that travel is a privilege. Sometimes things aren’t going to turn out like I hope they will, but I have a choice about how I react to the unexpected. I try to carry on optimistically when things go awry. Recently I have smiled through a power failure in Buenos Aires, lost luggage in Copenhagen, a stranded tram in Melbourne and sand fleas in the Dominican Republic. I’m determined to have a good time, and I always do.
Stone is a big second-grader now, but he still teases me about our beach trip. Sometimes when it rains, he will give me a wink and say “this sure reminds me of Galveston!” He is the most easygoing, optimistic kid I know, and he’s an ace traveler.
I always think of Stone when I’m far from home in the rain. I’m happy wherever I go. And when travel gives me lemons, well . . . I know what to do.