You either have it or you don't
I have good travel karma. Though writing about it may well doom my travel future.
What is travel karma?
Travel karma is when the travel gods smile upon you as things go wrong, you are late, planes break, it snows hard, and so on. It’s making impossible connections, having planes held for you, getting the last rental car, etc. and just getting there.
I have lots of examples, though the best is probably the late night I was on a very late flight getting into our transfer airport, where the connecting flight was leaving in five, that’s FIVE, minutes. Impossible to make this connection and I was likely sleeping on the floor, as there was just no way to get home.
But the travel gods smiled upon me and both delayed the connecting flight a few minutes and placed it right across the hall from my arriving flight!
So when I got off flight #1, the gate agents were just getting ready to close the door for flight #2, no more than 50 feet away. I rushed over just as they were closing, getting on my flight and sleeping in my bed that night. You thank the gods on nights like that.
There are many others like this, such as the time bed bugs invaded our transpacific flight from China to Seattle. They spent hours trying to eradicate them, and finally the pilots canceled the flight (over the airline’s objections; go pilots!).
This left 300 people suddenly looking for another way across the ocean, but by then all the other direct flights had already departed. But the gods smiled and opened a seat on a late Air Canada flight to Vancouver (go Canada!). I knew I could walk, drive, or fly from there to Seattle, so I took it, using my airline status & quick dialing numbers to get things arranged. Got there, I did. Uneventful, really.
Or the time I woke up in my apartment one hour before my flight was to leave. That seemed hopeless, but a very fast face wash, tooth brushing, and a rush out the door at 6am, along with very fast driving got my butt to the gate five minutes before the door closed. Got there on time, I did. Sometimes the gods even have to wake you up.
Contrast this with my friends with poor karma. One missed a flight he was actually already sitting on (that’s another story), while others find often find themselves in cars that other people hit with startling regularity. Bad karma stories abound, and you shouldn’t travel with those people (I’m joking).
How to get travel karma?
The inevitable question is how to get this magic karma.
As in all things, the first rule is just to be a good person, as everyone’s god likes nice people. As does everyone else, and being nice multiplies your luck in so many ways.
Second, and related, is be polite and respectful in asking for help and for what you want. Do NOT be that angry airline passenger, ever. Airline folks work hard under stressful situations and if you want them (and the gods) to help you, be sure to help them help you. Bringing chocolate for the flight attendants helps, too.
Third, be organized and prepared. This includes no checked baggage, having handy your (and other) airline and hotel phone numbers, apps, etc. Know your options and alternative routes, as you can often get near where you’re going in a pinch, a breakdown, or a snowstorm. I’ve used this many times, using fancy routing to solve problems; airlines are surprisingly accommodating in flexible destinations.
Fourth, and by far the most important, is don’t over-stress on it. Getting there is just not that important in 95% of the case (weddings & funerals might be exceptions). If you feel and act like the world is ending if you don’t get to your destination right now, you, and your travel party, will meltdown, and the gods will not smile, trust me. Relax.
What’s the worst that can happen if you don’t get there on time?
Maybe you have to sleep on the airport floor or eat airport food. I admit airport living is no fun with young kids, especially after you run out of diapers, but others will help you and it’ll be an adventure. Or perhaps you have to rent a car, move a meeting, or adjust your schedules.
For example, maybe you get to wait hours at the gate, only to have your flight canceled, and then take an hour-long bus ride with 100 others to some far-away hotel, where you get 90 minutes of sleep before coming back to the airport for the first flight. This was my Beijing experience one very late night, but what can you do? And I met very interesting folks on the long bus rides to the hotel, at both 1 and 4 AM.
Regardless of what happens, you’ll live. Treat it as an adventure, like me and 15 other people crammed literally on top of each other in a limousine one sunny evening from Milwaukee to Chicago, courtesy of United’s flight cancelation program. Oh, well.
Sacrifices to the travel gods
Finally, don’t forget to make occasional sacrifices to the travel gods here and there. This can take many forms, usually losing some piece of your travel gear, luggage, clothes, a Kindle, perhaps even a small child (yeah, I did that, too).
My last sacrifice was on our way back to the USA from China this summer. As soon as we arrived at the Shanghai airport, my son’s shorts became, um, irreparably soiled, and had to be thrown away - fortunately, we had spares in his luggage, treated it as the amusing karma-enhancing sacrifice it was, and hope it keeps the travel gods happy for some time.
Safe travels, my friends.
How to boost your travel karma - Useful tips, starting with “Don’t be a jerk”