Accidental tourist? Tips for maximizing happy coincidences — and avoiding the bad ones

By | February 28th, 2010

Accidents happen when you travel.

The bad accidents — the fender-benders, the missed airline connections the unfortunate food-borne illnesses — are the ones that come to mind first, of course.

Here’s one from Cindy Barthi, a hotel reservationist from San Clemente, Calif. When she returned to the Esmeralda Renaissance hotel, after a fun weekend in Palm Springs, Calif., she suspected something was wrong.

“The valet attendants had some very sad faces as we approached them with our claim check,” she says. “The general manager met us and this is what he showed us: A palm tree had come down on our car during the winds.”

Oops. Good thing Barthi wasn’t in the car.

You don’t necessarily think about the happy accidents, though. Like the terrific restaurant you discovered while wandering through a medieval European town, or that cutie you met on the train and is now your pen pal. We think of these, instead, as one of the unexpected benefits of travel.

But they’re really the other side of the same coin. Accidents — good and bad — happen when we’re away. More so, maybe, because there’s a certain randomness about travel — a sense that the unexpected can happen.

For better or worse.

No one has tried to quantify the happy coincidences, like meeting the love of your life while you’re on vacation or finding a the best hot dog stand ever, at least not that I’m aware of. But a recent poll by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives suggests companies are aware that accidents (the bad kind) are inevitable. More than 8 in 10 companies have a policy restricting the number of executives that can travel together on a plane, in order to prevent a business from losing all of its managers in an aviation disaster.

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Sometimes, bad accidents can lead to good things. Barthi’s hotel did everything in its power to make things right, including finding her a replacement rental car and ensuring that her damaged vehicle was repaired quickly. “They even offered us a certificate for two free nights,” she says. (Next time, she may ask the valet to park her car away from any palm trees.)

So how do you maximize the happy coincidences — and avoid the bad ones? I asked the real experts — travelers like you — for your advice. Here’s what you told me:

Be open to new experiences
Happy accidents happen when you are open to trying new things. Michelle Bell, the alumni director for a university in Fayetteville, Ark., recalls a stop on the Greek island of Mykonos while on a recent cruise with some former students. “We stumbled upon Restaurant Katrine and ventured in,” she remembers. “After bringing the typical olives and bread, we looked at the menu and were shocked to see the redfish was €90. When the owner came over with some wine, he said, ‘Oh yes, it feeds probably six of you.’” It was one of the longest, but best, meals I have ever had. I recommend it to everyone.” Had Bell not been open to trying a new restaurant and assumed that the €90 redfish only fed one person — and left the establishment in a huff — she would have never had the best Greek food ever.