Travel Lesson #1: Expect the Unexpected

Harry: We have to go there, now.
Hermione: What? We can’t do that! We’ve got to plan! We’ve got to figure it out…
Harry: Hermione! When have any of our plans ever actually worked? We plan, we get there, all hell breaks loose!
~Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II~

I always laugh at this quote because if you replace the names in this conversation, it could be an exchange between my husband and I about any number of our trips.  I plan everything down to the tiniest little detail, and then something always comes along and screws it up somehow.  As I sit writing this, I’m delayed on the tarmac at Newark Liberty International Airport—not an irregular experience for a frequent traveler, but it got me thinking about a lesson any traveler (seasoned or not) needs to quickly learn:  always expect the unexpected.  Like it or not, you have to adapt and be flexible because all the planning in the world won’t account for a sudden airline strike in Portugal, the wind picking up in Mykonos delaying all ferry service off of the island, a tractor trailer overturning on the German autobahn, your hotel “misplacing” your reservation—even after you confirm twice, or in this case, 2 days of thunderstorms wreaking havoc on the airlines’ schedule and you missing your 45 min layover connection in Stuttgart, Germany.

However, the unexpected event can be a positive sometimes, too.  I recently spent 2 months planning a trip to several parts of Europe, including Germany and Austria, and my favorite and most memorable parts of that trip were things that I knew nothing about ahead of time.  They weren’t on my 50 page itinerary, they weren’t in a guide book, they weren’t part of a tour, and they most definitely weren’t expected.

Photo: Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, Obersalzburg

On one of our days in Salzburg, I planned for us to take a day trip to Obersalzburg or as it is more commonly referred to by Americans, Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest.  The crisp, clear October weather was ideal for the views that the former sight of Hitler’s vacation home, high in the mountains, offered.  Getting from Salzburg, however, did not go according to plan.  The bus schedule changed from what I had researched online, and we missed our bus.  Then, when we did finally arrive on the next bus, the people working the station didn’t speak English, so we couldn’t ascertain the exact schedule back.  Things went according to plan (somewhat) from there.  From the main station, we took a taxi up to the ticket area below the sight.  We visited the Nazi Documentation Center and explored some of the miles of bunkers built into the mountains there while waiting for our ticket time to head up the mountain.  When our time slot was called, we boarded buses specially designed to climb the steep road, drove up hairpin turns, walked down a tunnel built into the mountains, and took the same elevator Hitler once did up through the mountain to the top and some stellar views.  That was all wonderful, but the next part was even more fun… well, the start of it wasn’t, but the rest was.

When we got back down the mountain to where we originally arrived, we planned to take the local bus back to the main bus station to get back to Salzburg.  So, we waited for it… and waited… and waited some more (it just wasn’t my day with buses).  Eventually, we ended up waiting with another American couple and their daughter.  We got to talking, and they told us that they were staying in the town down below (Berchtesgaden) and that there was a huge festival going on.  There were planning to head there next (if we ever got off this mountain), and we decided we might as well check it out, too.  Around that time, a taxi (nonexistent up there) was dropping someone off.  My husband chased it down (literally), and all 5 of us piled in.


Photos:  Food and Beer Tents in Berchtesgarden

Nothing could have prepared me for what we found in town.  It was like something out of a movie, only better.  The entire town of Berchtesgaden was one giant party.  They were celebrating the 200th year of belonging to Bavaria; there were food tents, beer tents, bands, and handicrafts on display.  Women paraded through the streets in their traditional best and men all dressed to the nines in their lederhosen.  The Germans certainly know how to party.  With our new American friends, we ate bratwurst and the best apple strudel of my life, drank liters of wheat beer, paraded through the streets with the locals, and made some new local friends, as well.  We also managed to somehow get a bus back to Salzburg without any trouble when we were done—mission accomplished!


Photos:  Some of the Festivities Going on in Berchtesgaden–Great Beer!

The other unexpected event we came upon during that trip was the Festival of Lights in Berlin.  It occurs in October, and for several nights, they light up all of the famous city buildings, lanes, and monuments with colored lights.  The atmosphere was electric (no pun intended), with everyone strolling the main streets and squares which were closed to traffic.  The beautiful changing colored lights on the famous monuments—especially the Brandenburg Gate—created a photographer’s dreamscape.  We wandered from one sight to the next, taking it all in, and just enjoying being out and about with the people of the city and their famous landmarks.  It was a great way to cap an amazing trip, enjoying the unexpected festivities like a local.


Photos:  Left: Brandenburg Gate; Right: Gendarmenmarkt Square

I could go on for pages about all of the mishaps, schedule snafus, and changes to itinerary I’ve encountered along the way trying to carry out my carefully orchestrated travel plans, but I could also go on for pages about all of the amazing, unplanned events, sights, and friends I’ve encountered during my travels. And you know what; sometimes even the worst things I’ve encountered usually have a way of working themselves out, even if not exactly the way I planned it.  The Portuguese airline went back to work just in time, I finally got a ferry off of Mykonos—albeit 4 hours later than anticipated and after watching passengers disembark making the sign of the cross and wishing us good luck—we survived, I got through the traffic in Germany and sped the rest of the way along the good ole no speed limit autobahn making up time, and two connections and an extra 5 hours later, I finally arrived in Dusseldorf to a liter of Germany’s finest beer and a draft of my next travel article.

by Meghan Perkins


  1. […] When traveling, things don’t always go according to plan.  The #1 rule of travel is to expect the unexpected.  TBT to an article I wrote 2 years ago on this subject: […]

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