Lonely Planet Writer

Lost your situational awareness lately?

oceanicbillboardLast week a couple of Northwest Airlines pilots made headlines when they overshot their destination (Minneapolis airport) by about 150 miles, claiming a loss of ‘situational awareness’. This got the comics chuckling, and us thinking about those less than expected detours while travelling.

You know the ones… you miss the bus, but you end up having an even better time because you found a groovy little place to party the night away. Or you took a wrong turn and ended up in the middle of no and where, but were strangely delighted to explore the spot you discovered. Those people, places and moments you didn’t see coming (and may sometimes emerge from disaster), but ended up rocking your world.

Here in LP headquarters, Rose has a great example of making situational awareness failure work for you:

“I was on a train with a friend heading to Prague, but we didn't realise until border guards swarmed onto the train that we needed visas. We were dumped in the middle of rural Germany in the middle of the night. It was freezing. So we decided to go to Italy. Hours later we were in a sun-warmed carriage surrounded by musical language eating warm panini with fresh basil. Best detour ever.”

Julian has another: "Crossing Algeria had to burn through the substantial sum of dinar I’d had to convert as I entered the country (this really hurt as I only had US$50 left). I splashed out and purchased a couchette for the overnight train to Tunis. Waking refreshed in Annaba I realised I hadn’t been asked for my passport, I must still be in Algeria. Everyone was getting off the train, so I followed suit. Eventually I found out that the train had been delayed (an earlier train had hit a cow). I was stuck in Annaba for 24 hours and I only had a single US$50 travellers cheque which I wasn’t about to change (this was many years ago, and VISA cards etc were unknown in that part of the world).

Then some “students” who were “learning English” came up to me ... my guard was up, after all of the scams I’d faced in Morocco over the last 6 weeks, but something told me that this would turn out OK. They took me to their residences on campus, showed me around and introduced me to all of their friends. We had a party that night and where I met people from all over Algeria. The next day they bought me breakfast and extra croissants for the journey, accompanied me back to the train, saw me to my seat and then said their farewells. Minutes later they reappeared asking if I needed any money for the journey (which I refused). Twenty years later I’m so glad I didn’t let previous bad experiences get in the way."

And our Janey had her own Northwest moment in the USA: "Driving down California's Hwy 1, we needed a place to stay between Big Sur and LA. We'd heard good things about Ventura, so we booked a hotel online which turned out to be situated in a business park in some crappy little place called Oxnard about 15 minutes past Ventura.

When we arrived (three girls, one guy) we realised we had walked straight into a bodgy 'Loving Marriage' convention being held at the hotel. The air was thick with furtive glances and we were each accosted by people in bad pant suits offering for us to take part. We didn't. But we got a fair share of yucks out of it later as we peeled back out onto the highway."

Annelies had a life changing detour due to Lonely Planet's own situational awareness: "I met my Aussie husband in Ecuador thanks to an unforseen stop while he was having an unforseen lay-over due to some outdated info in the Lonely Planet guide! I wouldn’t be at Lonely Planet today if it wasn't for Lonely Planet!"

Have you ever taken a wrong turn and landed in an altogether unexpected experience?

(If you want to read some stories of serendipitous segues, you might enjoy By The Seat of My Pants).

[Image: Oceanic Airlines billboard. This fictional carrier could help you get 'Lost']