1. Stay calm and accept the situation
If you’ve ever missed a flight, boarded the wrong train, spent two days in bed from food poisoning or paid a large chunk of money for a vacation package that turned out to be a scam, then you’re familiar with feelings of panic and extreme anger. (It’s also likely you have a generous handful of swear words reserved for these very occasions, probably in a couple different languages too.)
The first thing you need to do when you’re faced with a travel-related issue (after the swearing, of course) is to remind yourself to react calmly. Close your eyes for a moment and breathe. Don’t waste time declaring yourself stupid or naïve. Don’t waste time blaming the train guards or the weather or the charming Brazilian man who swindled you out of nearly a quarter of your funds. Instead, accept the situation. The sooner you calmly confront the problem, the sooner you can learn how to move forward.
2. Take one step at a time
So someone hijacked your wallet while you were admiring the pigeons at Trafalgar Square. You have zero extra cash, no emergency credit cards and no pre-paid place to stay. At the time, it feels like there are a hundred tedious steps you need to take to remedy the situation. You feel so daunted and overwhelmed that after five minutes of tears and contemplating the worst-case scenario, you resign yourself to sleeping on the street. Instead of ticking through everything you have to do at once, don’t look too far ahead. Deal with one action at a time. Find a phone, call your bank and cancel your credit card. Check. Then move on to the next task.
3. Ask for help
When you’re bumbling around the streets of Buenos Aires lost and panicked, when you’re sea-sick on the ferry to Mykonos, when you crash the bike you rented in Barcelona, look around you and reach out for help.
When my mom and I traveled through Italy, we got stuck on a five-hour train ride from Naples to Florence without seats we thought we had paid for. We politely asked one of the servers if we could sit in the restaurant car. At first he refused, but then returned and let us spread out in a spacious booth where he brought us free chocolates and hot beverages for the duration of the ride. Don’t be afraid to share your predicament and ask for assistance or advice. People are far kinder than we often give them credit for.
4. Laugh about it
It’s true that death, injury and devastation don’t generally make for amusing stories. But it’s also true that many hilarious tales stem from wayward adventures. If you can find any shade of irony or humor in your travel dilemmas, laugh about them. Acknowledge the absurdity in losing every pair of underwear you packed to the strong Provencal breeze that shook the clotheslines they were hanging on. The very act of laughing will ease your tension and put the situation in perspective.
5. Let go of what you cannot control
The majority of circumstances during travel are far beyond our control: delayed flights, public transportation strikes, natural disasters, irritating hostel roommates. When you find yourself in an uncontrollable situation, surrender to it. Instead of obsessing over how your delayed flight to Istanbul will push back your entire itinerary by 14 hours, pick up a book, have a conversation and learn how to enjoy yourself while you wait.
6. Refocus your energy
It’s normal to feel distraught and frustrated when travel expectations don’t align with reality. Maybe you’re suffering from heartbreak after parting ways with the free-spirited Columbian girl you met and backpacked Southeast Asia with. Take some time to be sad, but don’t dwell in imagining what could have been. Refocus your energy elsewhere—try something you’ve never done before, help a friend or stranger in need, learn a new skill or plan your next trip. Redirect the energy you might have spent on self-pity toward a more positive and productive endeavor.
7. Find the value in your experiences
Every travel experience you have ever had and will ever have is inherently valuable. The tricky part is learning to recognize this value in the midst of difficulty. When you lose your passport and long-stay visa in France one week before you’re scheduled to leave, your first reaction might be to be upset that you have to travel alone to Paris to apply for a new one at the US Embassy. But because of that experience, you may gain a newfound sense of independence and confidence in your problem-solving skills.
Never regret so-called travel misadventures — each one can teach you something about yourself or show you a new vantage point from which to view the world.
Oxford Dictionary defines an adventure as “an unusual and exciting or daring experience.” The essence of any adventure is its imperfection, its position outside the sphere of ordinary. Learn to recognize the potential for growth and discovery in all your experiences, complicated and full of missteps though they are. Trust that the detours you take during your travel journeys are always the best way to get exactly where you need to be.
I'd love to know: what are some of your most interesting travel adventures or 'misadventures'? How did you react to them?