Lonely Planet Writer

Stranded? Here's what to do.

Blizzards cancelled your flights, bogged your trains or buried your car?

The wintertime chaos caused by snow across the North American East Coast and Northwestern Europe has affected millions of travellers.

We've seen this before, when Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano blew its top. Back then, we put together a list for stuck travellers. We've adapted the list for those trapped in snowy conditions on both sides of the Atlantic.

Stuck in an airport

Airports are no fun during the best of times. When populated by tired, overwhelmed folks who can't find a hotel room and don't know when they might possibly escape, they can become nightmarish vortices.

Stay cool. First of all, if you're lucky, you might find yourself in one of the world's best airports. If this is the case, you're home free: these airports are virtual villages unto themselves, and you'll be able to spend hours (or days) exploring the shops, relaxing in the bars and indulging in free city tours.

On the flip side, you may be experiencing the horror of the world's worst airports. These temples to drudgery, bureaucracy and life-sapping apathy may drive you to the brink - especially if you have children in tow.

Luckily, you have options. If leaving the airport is an option, you can use the destination information on this website (or download PDF chapters from our online Shop) to explore the surrounding area. It could be the secret vacation you always dreamed of, especially if you use the time to get to know a place.

If you must stick around, you might as well make the most of your time. Check out US travel editor Robert Reid's guide to making friends at airports. There's even a video of him in action at Phoenix's Sky Harbor - a notoriously unfriendly zone.

Getting desperate? You can always recreate the plot of the 1963 film The VIPs, in which Liz Taylor and her friends engage in romantic scandal and machinations while fogged in at 'London Airport'. And you can always console yourself with a reminder that you're not experiencing the horror of blogger A Lady in London, who was trapped in Bamako, Mali, for several days.

And if all else fails, you might declare a passenger strike - as we did on April 1.

Stuck at home

If you're travelling for business, you can probably breathe a sigh of relief: a teleconference will have to do.

But if you're missing your vacation, you need to act quickly in order not to lose precious holiday time.

First, call your insurance company and get a refund on any expenses you've already paid. Most insurance companies are paying up.

Next, figure out an alternative destination. If you're in the USA, it's a good time to head south - to Mexico or Central America. Try to book a flight out of the South or West (and avoid Boston, New York or Washington). You can still have all the fun of your European holiday, and save some cash while you're at it.

If you're in Asia, Africa or South America, the weather is great almost everywhere. Stop lining up for those European flights, which may never eventuate, and start looking for alternative deals.

The cruisy cultures and sunny skies of the Southern Hemisphere might be a boon for you if you're stuck in Australia or New Zealand, where hospitality is the norm. Take, for example, Stranded in New Zealand, a Facebook group set up for NZ locals to help tourists out with accommodation.

Stuck in Europe

If you're in Europe and your home is nearby, you have a variety of options. Although trains and buses are filling up, you can still travel over land to almost any destination on the continent.

If you have a bit more time, you should head south to Spain or east to Central Europe, where you'll be able to catch a flight out without trouble.

However, those who are far from home and need to wait it out might consider an extended European stay. Europe's small size and cheek-by-jowl country lineup makes for a fascinating experience - if you can spare a few days.

You may also consider just waiting for the dust to settle by travelling by bus, car or rail through the classic Grand Tour route (France, Germany, Italy and Austria). Our Europe series of Pick & Mix downloadable chapters will give you a handle on the entire continent.

Staying up to date

The Thorn Tree forum is positively abuzz with tips and updates.

Finally, for up-to-the-second information, be sure to follow us on Twitter (@lonelyplanet).

Good luck, and happy wintering.

[Image: Al Camardella, Flickr]