When you travel, you are likely to encounter things going wrong, some frustrations, missed turns and canceled reservations. There are two options; get mad or learn from it.
Here are some life lessons from my many years on the road, when nothing seems to go right.
Van Ride to Cuenca, Ecuador:
“Wait a minute”, said the driver as he hopped out of the van. I looked at the only other girl in there with me for some guidance but she just shrugged and went back to looking out the window.
I was on my way to Cuenca in Ecuador for a teaching position. This van left from Guayaquil promising to get me there in less than 4 hours.
I hadn’t been in a Spanish speaking country in awhile, so my Spanish skills were rusty. No friendly chats with my fellow traveler or direct questions to the driver.
So I sat. And waited.
After some time, he arrived cheerfully with a small plastic bag and started up the van. “Que necesitó usted?” I asked hesitantly. (What did you need? This much I remembered) He looked at me like I had asked him where babies come from. “Un jalón”, he replied briskly and then merged back onto the street.
This told me nada. I had no idea what a “jalón” was, or why it was important enough to stop our trip to get one. If a hired driver did anything in the US besides drive to and from a destination, there would be lots of angry rumblings from the passengers. I forgot that in Latin America, there is no hurry.
1. Schedules are a suggestion, not a rule.
I’ve encountered this attitude everywhere, in the Americas, in South East Asia and ALWAYS on an island I’ve ever been to, ever. A friend of mine was once told that her bus would leave sometime between noon and 5pm. It seems crazy when you’re used to an orderly way of things.
If you have an angry fit about this random and open schedule, they will just ignore you and continue about their day. Customer service does not exist in the same way it does in the US.
You are better off to smile, buy a beer at the shop next door and sit down to a game of cards.
One Night in Paris, France:
I spent a ridiculous night in Paris with two friends because our flight to Amsterdam was canceled. The Ryanair lady at the desk at Nice, France airport had no sympathy for my friends or me.
The next flight was in two days, but we were meeting a friend in Amsterdam, so we needed to goooo. (this was before international cell phones and Facebook GASP!) She offered us a flight to Paris and told us we could take a train from there.
So we went, because why not? We missed the last train, of course. We didn’t have enough money for a hotel, so we wandered the streets until 4am (mace in hand, don’t tell my mother).
It was amazing. I sipped wine in front of the Notre Dame at twilight with Parisians trying to practice their English. I saw the Eiffel Tower light up the night sky without another soul in sight. I got to experience Paris in a way that most people never will.
2. Getting stressed about these things accomplishes nothing.
“You must learn to let go. Release the stress. You were never in control anyway.” ~ Steve Maraboli
Honestly, what is the hurry anyway, you’re on a trip and off to your next fabulous adventure. If you get there 5 hours later than expected, well that sucks. But it’s still there waiting for you. Maybe while you wait you’ll meet a cute stranger. Or learn a local custom. Or catch up on your journal.
“Remote Beach” in the Bahamas:
I was on a girls vacation in the Bahamas and we decided to rent a car for the day and go explore the island a bit more. The lady at the front desk of our hotel drew us a map on how to find a really lovely secluded beach. We made a plan for the day, and we were off.
The only problem was, her directions led us to the middle of nowhere and we popped a tire.
Thankfully, there was a military base nearby and so we wandered over there in our sarongs and bathing suits to beg for help. We looked insane, half dressed and desperate in the mid day sun.
These men were absolutely laughing at us, and told us that this “secluded beach” didn’t exist, at least not in that direction.
We all dissolved into laughter, because our carefully planned day went nowhere. We still laugh about how dumb we were that day.
A lot of people like to have a carefully planned idea of what they will do on vacation. I think this is really limiting and boring. (Sorry, not sorry). Absolutely pick a few adventures you want to have. But a forced march through a museum followed by a tour of some caves sounds AWFUL. Not because those things are awful, but because…
3. The vacation becomes more about the timeline and less about the experience.
You can’t enjoy the randomness life will throw your way.
Maybe it would stress you out to not know the exact hour everything was going to happen. And that’s ok, you and I are different. I see this popped tire disaster, not as a wasted day, but as a wonderful story between friends about a time when we were young and dumb, laughing in the Caribbean sun.
As they say, time you enjoy wasting is not wasting time.
Volcano outside Antigua, Guatemala:
You and I could both trying to go on the same day trip and discover that it’s not exactly what we had planned. I climbed an active volcano in Guatemala in sandals because I was told they were acceptable footwear.
They were not.
I survived, but my feet were destroyed.
You know what I remember from that trip? The passionate argument I had with our guide about in Spanish about treatment of animals. The smell and the heat of the lava trail. The way the stars looked as we hiked down from the mountain.
The fact that my feet looked like I had been walking barefoot on nails made no difference to me. I had an amazing experience and that’s what I wanted to remember.
4. Things will go wrong, accept it.
The best planned trips can get turned completely upside down in a matter of seconds. Life is this way, vacations are this way. Best to take it in stride and realize that the rest of the world does not operate like you expect. Except for the Germans probably, they love clocks and being on time.
It is better to accept that fact that you now have to climb a volcano in sandals (which to be fair, was pretty dumb on my part) instead of complaining and fighting it the entire way.
Chalk it up to experience, and get better shoes.
“It is not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” ~ Hans Seyle
I think many of us would benefit from slowing down. Regardless, throwing your hands up in despair and raising your heart rate with stress are likely to kill you young. Nobody wants to go gray at the age of 32 because their bus driver made a random stop to talk to his mother about when to come over for dinner that night and you arrived 20 minutes later than scheduled.
Realize that the situation is mostly beyond your control and give into the absurdity of it. Click To Tweet
By the way, I looked up ‘jalón’ when I finally arrived to Cuenca, and it means ‘wrench’. The driver stopped to by a wrench. And not for the van, nothing was wrong with it, probably for his own personal use at home. ::Shrug:: It makes me giggle now.
What have you learned from your travels when things go wrong?
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