Our deepest good wishes for the millions of people on the East Coast. Stay safe, stay secure, and stay dry.
As I watch news reports of Hurricane Sandy and its emergence as a "Frankenstorm", my mind jumps back to my own experience of the blizzard of 2010. I was on a business trip to Philadelphia, The storm had been predicted for days, but the true intensity didn't become known until I was well on my way. In fact, my first notice that there might be a problem came as I touched down in Dallas Forth Worth, making a connection to Philly from there -- only to receive an auto-notification from the airline that my return trip had already been cancelled. Not a good sign, since I (obviously) hadn't even GOTTEN to Philly yet. But, after a moment of consideration whether to keep going or turn around and return to sunny CoCal, I boarded the flight to Philly and mostly tried to forget about the whole thing figuring it might be a day, perhaps two, before things were cleared for my return home. That was, course, before the two-punch storm storm system dumped some three feet of snow on a chunk of America between Virginia and Boston...
|Tuesday night: and so it begins|
I learned some valuable travel lessons that week, though I consider myself a seasoned traveler who -- you would think -- wouldn't have been caught so badly off guard.
FIRST: WHEN PLANNING, ASSUME THE WORST. While you might be tempted to tell yourself "how bad can it be?", doing so could put you at a serious disadvantage if the rose-colored glasses get broken. In the circumstances of a natural disaster, the best course of action is to prepare for it to be an extended event, and that you will not necessarily get on an airliner a day after the storm.
SECOND: EVALUATE YOUR RESOURCES. If there's ever any possibility of being locked in for a day or more, take steps and make sure you have a ready food source beyond the candy machine in the hallway. Many companies close down under such circumstances, which places food and other items beyond your reach even if you are able to get on the road and make your way to the market. Fortunately for the hotel's guests during the blizzard, a hardy team at a nearby pizzeria reported to work with a four wheel drive SUV. I gather they did stellar business that day, delivering pizzas to starving hotel patrons who, like me, hadn't done their homework. And that's only day one. What do you do about days two through four? Plan ahead. I made the critical error of going out the night before for dinner, but not thinking to stop in at the market for a few emergency supplies.
THIRD: EVEN BLUE SKIES MIGHT NOT MEAN EVERYTHING'S OKAY. Recognize that even if the airline and airport report a gradual return to business your flight may still be among those cancelled. I was actually on the car rental agency's shuttle headed for the gate when I received another auto-text from the airline, letting me know I'd have a few more days in Philadelphia. Fortunately I was able to round up a better (and closer) hotel, one featuring a restaurant -- and my car rental agency (National) was able to rustle up another car for my last-minute change of plans. Though the driving was still a bit treacherous, I was able to get to my hotel, check in and hunker down for the three additional days needed to get me on a plane.
FOURTH: RELAX. I saw a handful of frazzled travelers, in circumstances no unlike my own, losing their cool with both airline and hotel employees. It never helps, and is only called for in the event of a true mistake on the part of that employee. Not finding you a room in a booked up hotel isn't such a mistake. Nor is finding you a seat on a nonexistent flight. In difficult times, when you and virtually everyone around you, is a little stressed, the best option is to calm down and allow the person behind the counter to find you options. Fussing at them may have the opposite of the desired effect.
|But the Sky is CLEAR!|
FIFTH: FIND SOMETHING TO DO. Yes, I still had my daily work which, despite being trapped in a snowstorm on the opposite side of the country, still required my attention. But beyond that, recognize that the circumstances around you offer an opportunity as well as inconvenience. Certainly don't take undue risks -- and stay the heck out of the way of the clean crews -- but also take the time to do things which you wouldn't have otherwise had a chance to do. In my case, the storm came in two waves. The first was (relatively) mild and because of my schedule I was able to take a short trip up to Valley Forge and photograph the area encased in a fresh (but still manageable) coating of snow. Then, after the second and much more burdensome wave hit, and I had moved to a much more centrally located hotel downtown, I was able to walk the streets and shoot the city as it worked to clean up. Sitting in the hotel room, staring at tv, is a sure way to drive yourself nuts. You may not be able to leave the hotel, but leave your room. Sit in the lobby with a good book, or talk to some of the other guests who themselves are looking for distraction.
AND SIXTH: FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS. Yeah, I'm as difficult a person as anyone at giving up control and letting other people tell me what to do. But in most circumstances, listening to what the locals say is better advice than wandering about on your own. Chances are, they know the drill (if they don't, or seem to be foundering, of course you should step in. I'm not saying to be a sheep here). But if a hotel employee tells you it might be a bad idea to wander the very icy streets in the dark, DON'T send for your car. It's just a bad idea.
If all the above sounds like common sense, it's because it is. You never know what might happen on a trip, and we've experienced just about every one of them. But if you take a handful of precautions and are flexible enough to roll with the punches, you're better equipped for whatever nature might throw at you. It might not be the greatest of circumstances, but taking the necessary precautions when bad weather of other natural events occur, you can minimize the impact of your own experience, and even turn a problem into an opportunity.
|Valley Forge in the snow|