My eighteen-year-old daughter and I just returned from an epic European vacation. The trip—officially—was a graduation gift, though I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to it being a bit of an excuse to spend some one-on-one time with her as she tiptoes into adulthood. Having spent a year planning the details of our vacation, we had high hopes. I think both of us naively imagined flawless travel followed by warm summer evenings spent strolling the streets of Paris. In reality, most of the things that could go wrong, did.
The trouble started when our flight from Tucson to Atlanta was unable to land due to weather. The plane literally attempted a landing—our wheels coming feet from the ground—when the pilots aborted the attempt and pulled back up. When we’d returned to 10,000 feet they came over the speaker and announced that visibility was an issue and we’d have to divert to a nearby airport for fuel. Four hours later we finally touched down in Atlanta, just as our connecting flight to London was taking off without us. Strike one.
We spent that night first pleading with the airline agent for a decent rebooking and then fighting for two seats on a shuttle bus to a local Comfort Inn, where we spent four fitful hours attempting sleep in spite of the constant rattle and hum of an aged air conditioning unit. Strike two.
When the sun rose we headed back to the airport for an early morning flight to New York’s JFK airport, where we’d waste away eight hours awaiting to (finally!) board our flight to London. When the time came and we were buckled into our seats onboard the plane, we took giddy photos with our camera phones, documenting the seemingly momentous occasion. But that giddiness soon faded when we landed in London only to learn that my daughter’s suitcase had last been scanned in Boston but had fallen off the grid shortly after that. Strike three.
It was in our London hotel room, upon hearing the news that her suitcase may not ever arrive, that my daughter finally broke down. Our travel woes, together with sleep deprivation, won out and she couldn’t hold back the tears.
I don’t blame her.
My intentions were good and true when I asked if she wanted to just go home and try again later. Our trip—after all—was off to a miserable start with little hopes of improvement. I didn’t want her memories of our adventure to be sour ones and so if we needed to scratch the first attempt and start over, I was willing.
She was not.
She cried for ten minutes, maybe. And then she picked herself up off that bed and went to freshen up. She made do with my makeup, in spite of the fact that hers is far more youthful and familiar. She had to borrow one of my shirts, in spite of it being a size too big. She couldn’t brush her teeth or change her contacts, in spite of the far overdue need to. In short, she rose to an occasion that I’m not sure even I—at nearly twice her age—would have been willing to rise to.
It’s a good thing she did, too, because her embrace of that less-than-ideal situation turned our trip around.
The suitcase was eventually delivered, days later. We met up with our tour group and took in the highlights of both London and Paris. As a special surprise, I took my Disney-loving daughter to Disneyland Paris for what I hoped would be a magical end to a trip with a most bumpy beginning.
I’m confident that when we look back years from now, we’ll laugh about all the things that went wrong. Perhaps our travel troubles were even a blessing in disguise. Aren’t the best memories, after all, woven together from good times and bad? From laughter and tears? Moments both bitter and sweet? In my experience, yes. Indeed they are.