Even from the airport taxi, I could tell that the motel’s website had been more Photoshop than reality. From my after-work evening flight, I had just landed in Florida for a professional conference where I was to chair a discussion panel. Always eager to score a bargain, I had selected and booked this budget motel over the official five-star conference location.
A friend helped me find and unlock my room, and before she left — of course, she had booked the five-star conference hotel — she said, “I’ll leave my cell phone on all night. Call me immediately if you …”
She never finished her sentence. But for the next eight hours, as I tossed and turned under that loud, wall-unit air conditioner, I finished it for her.
I’m not a high-maintenance or jittery traveler. But that night, my insomniac brain conjured busloads of thieves outside my motel window. Any minute now, a serial killer would loom over my bed, while underneath my mattress, an entire colony of bedbugs conspired to hitch a ride north in my suitcase.
Daybreak came and I went for a walk until the motel office opened up and I could demand a refund, excuse myself from the conference panel, and fly back to Boston and my safe, clean(ish) house.
After a brutal New England winter, I had forgotten what a sunny, T-shirt morning actually felt like. On the beachside promenade, I bumped into an acquaintance, also in town for our conference, also out for her morning run.
When I got back to my crime- and bug-infested room, it all looked brighter and safer. The patio table outside my room just begged for a long, lazy breakfast without having to wear mittens or a parka. By the time the manager opened up the motel office, my bugs and bogeymen had all departed, and I had settled in to stay.
There are some real life lessons here:
1. Face down your fears.
How often do we let our fears eclipse our common sense and keep us stalled within our comfort zone? Sure, you may not snag that dream job. Or that new vacation destination may not be 100 percent perfect. But you may land the job, or an even better one. You won’t know until you shush your frequently-unfounded fears and push on.
2. Keep looking until you find some good.
Yes, the motel bathroom tiles were cracked and rimmed with black mildew. The shower door wobbled. But the bed was comfy and the place was just two minutes’ walk to my conference site. The motel manager was kind and helpful. Force yourself to look past the problems to find the bright spots.
3. Put a timeline on the pity party.
Remember that rattling motel air conditioner? Ten minutes standing on the kitchen chair and a few quick adjustments got the ceiling fan working, so my noisy A/C could be permanently switched off and I could get some sleep.
Throw yourself the occasional pity party, but then dust yourself off and fix whatever’s broken or holding you back.
4. Go with the flow.
I had planned to use my Florida trip to finalize a proposal package for my nonfiction book in progress. Who knew that I’d use my little patio table to write in my journal in the sunshine? Sometimes the best things happen when we relinquish control and just enjoy whatever happens.
5. Always practice gratitude.
Mildew aside, I had to remind myself that there are families all over America who would have loved my tatty motel room — or any dry room with running water. Too many deadlines at work? A dinner recipe gone wrong? In the grand scheme of things, these are small and good problems to have.
Since this trip, I have found myself imagining the alternate scenario — the one I had promised myself during that insomniac night. What if I had canceled my conference panel and flown back to Boston to my usual and ordinary week? I would be disappointed and ashamed of my own timidity. Worse, I would have missed out on a week of great conversations, new acquaintances and all that sunshine. Next time, I hope I remember this lesson learned.
Motel photo available from Shutterstock