It was a simple plan. Fly to Malaysia, get collected by a family-friend, and drive to her place in George Town.

But there was a problem. When I landed at the airport in Penang, my friend was not there. It was 11:30 p.m., and I was curbside. Had it been less humid, I still would’ve been sweating.

An hour passed. Most of the passengers from my flight had already gone. There was an announcement over the Airport’s P.A.: “The airport will be closing in 30 minutes.”

Already, I’d noted fewer taxis. And while I didn’t know much about the airport, I knew that it was approximately 30 minutes away from the capital, George Town. I knew little of Penang (and Malaysia in general), and I hadn’t any way to contact my friend. What was at first curious started to become concerning, especially as I heard the announcement: “The airport is now closed.”

Moments ago passengers were exiting baggage claim, greeting loved ones, and securing transportation. Now I could hear moths banging against light fixtures. But there was one taxi remaining. Two German tourists were loading their gear into the trunk. I dug deep to resurrect my three years of high school German. “Entschuldigung, entschuldigung,” I said. “Sprechen sie Englisch?”

Fortunately, they spoke some English. They agreed to let me share a taxi with them to George Town. Upon arrival, since I hadn’t a place to stay, and since it was now almost 1:00 a.m., and since the local hotels were fully-booked for Chinese New Year, my new German friends agreed to let me share their hotel room as well.

Upon waking, I learned that the hotelier spoke little English and that the hotel was without Internet. I hit the streets, and over the next three hours I determined that most of the local businesses (including Internet cafes) were closed because of Chinese New Year, and they would remain closed for the next few days.

I pivoted.

Pivoting requires one to move decisively after gathering as much information as possible. I listed over a dozen options (ending my holiday was not one of them). The most viable was to take a bus to Thailand. So I did. And 9 hours later I was enjoying a can of Singha on the beach in Phuket.

The takeaway is this: I had a plan. (I planned to see Malaysia. I planned to stay with my friend.) Tenacity is important, but we mustn’t try to force a round peg into a square hole. In travel, just as in life and in business, assess whether you are advancing an agenda or forcing it. If it’s the latter, be prepared to pivot.

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