A quick scan of the travel world on Twitter, Instagram or on your favorite blog (LandLopers!) and you’ll see what is the for the most part a very rosy picture of the world. Beautiful people on beaches, happy kids at amusement parks and travelers off in search of adventure. On the whole, most travel articles or posts tend to be positive and that’s because travel, for the most part is meant to be a positive experience. It’s one of the few times during the year we have to leave home, get out and do something different. It can be a road trip to grandma’s or an epic journey to Antarctica; what it is doesn’t matter, what matters is that it’s important to us. Over the years though I’ve noticed that this tendency to focus on the positive has had some unintended consequences. Some people may have an unrealistic expectation of the travel experience, seeing that my journeys are always so positive. And, for the most part, they are; but certainly not always. Bad things almost always happen when any of us hit the road, it’s just life and in the past I haven’t emphasized it very often not to hide the fact that bad things happen, I think everyone knows that they do, but because I want to keep things positive and light.
I find myself rambling, so I better get to the point. In this post I want to share a couple of recent examples of travel gone wrong, how I dealt with the situations and not let them affect my trip. That’s the key really, not letting unfortunate experiences destroy our adventures and instead moving forward as best as we can.
I’ve only been robbed a couple of times in the last 7 years or so of traveling professionally, which I think is a pretty good track record. Both times I was pick-pocketed and both times I was ultimately at fault, but it happened again a few months ago at the start of a trip. It’s a terrible feeling having one’s wallet, one’s personal little folder of money, credit cards and more taken from you. It’s a violation but it’s also an annoyance. I noticed almost right away what had happened and took action to stop as much theft as I could. I immediately started the process of calling banks and credit card companies, eventually cancelling everything but not before the thief made some large purchases. Thankfully I’m not responsible for those expenses, but the fact is that I was left at the start of a trip with little cash and only one remaining credit card. What I did wrong in this situation was to feel too comfortable. I was staying at a nice hotel, I was comfortable with the city and ambled about with wallet in my back pocket, ready to be stolen. I also kept too much in my wallet. I should have removed all money I didn’t need along with my ATM card and a few credit cards and stored them in the hotel safe. I did not and, as such, was left in a bad spot. Everything got sorted though thanks to a little creativity. Although my suddenly missing driver’s license meant renting a car was no longer possible, I was in Europe so trains were an easy solution. My remaining credit card was also accepted nearly everywhere, so cash wasn’t as important as it would be in other countries. The fact is though that I thought through the situation somewhat calmly, found solutions and continued enjoying an amazing trip. I didn’t let that one event destroy my journey, it didn’t sour me on the entire city or even country. I realized it was one jerk and tried to move on as best I could. That’s the key really when something like this happens to us on the road. We have to realize that everything is NOT ruined, that it’s not the ENTIRE country’s fault and, if we’re able to, we should carry on and enjoy ourselves as best as possible.
Unfortunately though, many aspects of the travel experience are well beyond our control, and that’s certainly true when it comes to flying. There are any number of ways to not enjoying flying, the airlines seem to come up with new ones all the time. While it’s usually just an annoyance, there are times when commercial aviation can move into the disruptive category of travel issues. I’ve been lucky over the years, after a gazillion flights I’ve only had a few hiccups, but one of the worst happened just a few weeks ago. Leaving Canada at the far too early time of 6am, I awoke at 3am to find a flurry of emails from the airline. Not really awake, I was sort of hoping that it was a dream, that those emails telling me my flight and ride home that day were cancelled, but it wasn’t a dream. It was strange reading through the emails, because they took me through the different stages of the process, from cancellation, to reaccommodation and so on. Unfortunately, the airline seemed to think that the only way to get me home was more than a day later. I knew that couldn’t be right and so I went to work. I researched every possible route either with the airline or a codeshare partner and thought I had found flights that would work. My bubble was quickly burst though when I called the airline and was told that, for some unknown reason, they couldn’t book those flights. So I took the last recourse open to me, social media. Most major airlines have really stepped up when it comes to problem solving via social media with some airlines employing huge teams to help customers 24 hours a day. So I took advantage of that 21st century service, presented my flight ideas and within a few minutes everything was booked. I wouldn’t have to spend another day away from home, scrambling to find a hotel room and being generally annoyed. Instead of getting down or believing the customer service representative, I took action and made things happen. That’s what we need to do sometimes when we travel. Instead of accepting something as inevitable or getting depressed, it’s important to realize that almost every problem has a solution.
Travel can be frustrating, annoying, depressing and downright awful. At times. Nothing in life is static, we are all dynamic beings as is the world and while I may be upset if I hop on a train heading towards Italy instead of France, stuff happens. Travel is not a perfect experience, no matter how much those lovely National Geographic images pretend that it is. But just as I haven’t tried to mislead, neither has National Geographic, or AFAR or any travel magazine. It’s because we see past a lot of these hardships (even if it makes us angry at the time) to look at the bigger picture. It’s a skill set I’m adept at when it comes to travel, but certainly not in my private life. At the end of the day I don’t remember as vividly the annoying people trying to constantly sell me rugs on the streets of Istanbul. The richest memories are instead of the Bosporus twinkling in the afternoon sun and of hearing the call to prayer at the Blue Mosque.
So you see, I never have tried to pretend that travel is a piece of cake, that nothing bad ever happens. It’s just that I don’t think these moments of anger and confusion are bad things at all. They are part and parcel of the overall experience and it is ultimately because of them that the experience is as transformational as it is.