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Travel experiences don't always work out as planned. Give places a second chance, though, and you might be pleasantly surprised. (Photograph by blickwinkel, Alamy)

The Tao of Second Chances

Travel isn’t always smooth sailing.

There are stormy days when you’d hoped to hit the beach, closed museums when the guidebook said they would be open. At times you meet grumpy, unhelpful locals who don’t seem to understand that you’re not trying to be a nuisance with your imperfect Italian; it’s just turning out that way.

Like anything else you do in life, travel has its bad days.

And while I tend to lean into the positive when it comes to taking stock of my experiences, seeking out lessons and silver linings, there are times when an awful travel moment rises up to leave an indelibly bad taste in one’s mouth.

Take for example my romantic expectations for a trip with two kids under the age of three to the City of Lights. That’s right, I took a toddler and an infant to Paris and anticipated nothing but love from the locals in return.

The reality was a far cry from what I had envisioned.

Restaurants turned us away with a quick finger point toward les enfants and a snooty “Non!” And we quickly learned that hotel rooms with a view don’t always come with a crib. By our third attempt to wait out the lines at the Eiffel Tower, I was over the city and the cold shoulder it was giving to me and my children. I boarded the flight for home and vowed to never go back.

In 2012, I broke. We returned at the insistence of my by now walking and French-speaking kids. My hesitation was strong, but eventually I yielded to the call of the macarons. Slowly the ice around my heart began to melt.

It turns out—as will be no surprise to you but was a lightbulb moment for me—that there was nothing wrong with Paris. I had simply taken the wrong approach.

On our second trip, we had locals on our side. Friends we’d met during our extensive travels. These parents, with two children similar in age to our own, showed us Paris and its environs in a way that made sense for our family. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love. All was forgiven.

Bad travel isn’t always your fault.

The negative experience I had in Indianapolis five years ago was almost the complete opposite of my experience with Paris. It was my second trip to Indiana’s capital, a city that had delivered good times in spades on my initial visit. Fantastic food, pedestrian-friendly green space, and a good friend in the city who made sure I met lots of locals while I was in town.

In fact, I’d so enjoyed my first visit that I’d brought my husband Ish along on this return trip. Everything was going swimmingly until our last day, when, after a weekend with very little sleep, we decided we’d try the newest Indy trend…the Segway.

To cut a long story short: I crashed, and it was epic.

I won’t bore you with the details, but the great Segway debacle of 2010 involved a steep hill, an iron guardrail, a busted shoulder, years of rehab, a compromised swimming stroke, and an ego that continues to be bruised.

Memes of then-U.S. President George W. Bush falling off a Segway—and news articles detailing the death of the owner of the company that creates the two-wheeled transporters who had flown off a cliff on one—found their way back to my inbox courtesy of friends who found my ordeal far more amusing than I did.

The problem with tumbling off a Segway, besides the obvious physical and prideful pains, was that it was the worst possible ending for a visit to a city I’d already fallen—no pun intended—for.

That one scarring moment had left a lasting mark. I couldn’t even look at a Segway tour without shuddering, and every shudder was associated with Indy.

People have shared similar stories of a food poisoning incident that turned them off of India, or a horrific childhood road trip that keeps them far from scenic byways as adults. These moments tend to color the whole of a travel experience, even though they touched only a small part of it. We rule out cities, countries, even whole continents, as a result. It’s not fair, but it seems to happen fairly often.

Which brings us to earlier this spring, when I went back to Indianapolis determined to right the blight on my track record there.

I decided to face my fears head on. Despite an immediate and intense desire to vomit when I first laid eyes on the two-wheeled beast (and a ridiculous amount of double-checking the straps on my helmet), I eventually relaxed enough to set out on a group tour.

As I took on the tiny canal pathways, warning pedestrians with my eyes, and explored the art along the cultural trail, my confidence slowly grew, and the positive feelings started to come back. And while Segways will never be my preferred mode of transport, the experience was enough to put the city back into my good graces—a case of bad travel made good.

I’m looking forward to giving many more places their well-deserved second chance.

Heather Greenwood Davis is Nat Geo Travel’s resident family travel advocate, guru, and soothsayer. Follow her on Twitter @GreenwoodDavis and on Instagram @heathergd.