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The Day I Sent Everyone to a Strip Mall

Seasoned travelers know that not everything goes to plan, even when you have done your research and plotted out the perfect schedule.

For example, sometimes businesses are unexpectedly closed…or prices increase…or the address isn’t correct…or a pandemic interrupts local festivals and celebrations. The more we travel, the more we learn to expect these unexpected snags in our plans.

However, even the most seasoned travelers are bound to make mistakes which is why I want to tell you about how I ended up sending our pop-up friends to a strip mall, and a very non-descript strip mall at that.

In February 2022, our Merida Pop-Up hosted 28 families (a total of 100 individuals!). After a lovely meet-&-greet gathering at a park with a covered playground and ice cream cart, I thought we all should visit Plaza Mayor. The plaza reportedly had views of the cathedral, adorable you-and-me chairs, and shaded benches.

*Giant You-and-Me Chairs at Parque Santa Lucia, Merida

Here's how the confusion happened: In Spanish, ‘Plaza Mayor’ roughly translates to ‘main square’ or the 'biggest/best plaza.’ I read articles about Merida’s neat places to visit and more than one source said not to miss Plaza Mayor. When I noticed it was just 2 blocks away from our meet-&-greet park I thought it would be the perfect location for a little stroll through town.

Now I don’t often leave things to chance, so I checked the google reviews and everything, including the pictures, looked great:

However when our group of 20+ families arrived, we found a Carl’s Jr, a DHL shipping store and a few other local businesses. No cathedral. No shade. No benches. Just a strip mall named Plaza Mayor... whoops!

So, what should we do? We first did a quick scan of the neighborhood to see if we could salvage the situation. Unfortunately there were no other nearby parks, and certainly no cathedral…so we quickly formulated a back-up plan: go to Plaza Grande!

In Merida, the main plaza is called Plaza Grande (not to be confused with Merida’s mall named Gran Plaza – ha!). The google reviews I had read about Plaza Grande were listed in the wrong location! And it wasn’t just tourists that had mistaken the Plaza Mayor strip mall with Plaza Grande…these reviews were from ‘local guides.’

Thank goodness worldschoolers are an easy-going bunch. We all laughed it off and seamlessly switched plans. I was a bit mortified at first as the blame was clearly mine, but honestly, no one was upset. We all understand that mistakes happen and this one was easily fixed. Some of the group members went home, others made the move to Plaza Grande…but no one was bent out of shape.

The sliver lining to our unexpected strip mall visit was that a local family tried Plaza Mayor's bakery while they decided their next course of action. Apparently the sweet bread was fantastic and they’ll be adding that bakery to their list of places to frequent!

The moral of the story is, even when you’re well-prepared, there is no way to 100% guarantee you have the perfect information for exploring the planet. And really, that’s what makes worldschooling such an adventure. The kids and adults learn from these experiences, honing their travel skills including flexibility and adaptability. So even when your plans don’t go according to plan, do your best to pivot with ease. What a great lesson for all.

PS And thanks to the Merida pop-up families for graciously switching directions. That was really incredible to watch with so many people involved, you're amazing!

PPS Do you have a travel mix-up story to share? Leave a comment!

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