Being in control was my way of asserting power over my life or at least I thought so until I realized the illusion of being in control of your life. You may control your temper, your attitude, or your eating habits but you do not control circumstances and situations at large or the poor strokes of luck that show up unannounced and unwelcome. You can, however, plan to meet them with patience, preparation and presence of mind.
Do not be caught ill prepared when things go awry during your travels.
Just as with life, your travel plans may go astray once in a while and if you are not prepared to handle them, they will change your experience — and that, my friends, you should not allow. Guard your travel experience as you would a precious work of art; these memories will warm your heart in the years to come and these stories will serve you well in your golden years so refuse to let a few mishaps even slightly taint them.
There is disquiet in uncertainty and that feeling grows by leaps and bounds when you go away from home. You can argue the many good reasons some people rarely leave home but in my eyes none are good enough for the memories and experiences you negotiate in exchange.
Yet it is important to take heed of your particular discomfort — be it with your diet, your intolerance for the weather, your worries about things left behind at home – and prepare well for your time on the road.
What do you do when things just don’t go as planned?
How do you manage when your train is delayed, when your flight is canceled, when the phone doesn’t work (as the phone company promised it would), when you get sick, when you lose something, when your luggage is late or when you just miss home more than you imagined?
Things will go wrong during travels, but you can avoid some of it. Sometimes, you need to offset things by choosing your battles. With preparation, you can manage to work around problems,, minimize the impact, pick up the pieces, learn from them and prepare better for next time. Here’s hoping we never meet misfortune on the road but should it show up, you can use my power tips below to face them.
How to best prepare for and face these setbacks on the road?
1. Losing Things
It is dreadfully frustrating when you lose things and yet it’s bound to happen now and again when you are on the go. Here are ways I could have lost fewer things. Remember to always check back pockets of airplane seats, backseats, trunks and all compartments of rental cars and trains, under your table and chairs in restaurants and cafes, every single drawer and closet and inside the shower in hotel rooms for your stuff. Have a routine such as never taking your phone out on a subway or never putting luggage behind you in your blind spot or always tying your sweater to your luggage. Stick to smart habits in ways you carry and organize and especially unpack and then re-pack your belongings.
2. Getting Harassed
Being harassed by gypsies (Rome and Paris), persistent beggars (San Francisco and Boston), over-eager sellers (Hong Kong), can ruin your mood and bring you close to creating a public scene (or is that just me?). Here are ways to minimize it. Show super confidence in your walk and your sense of direction and purpose. Do not linger in places where these offenders hang out. Do not make eye contact or engage in conversation when in an uncomfortable environment. Be wary of those approaching you to offer to take your picture (forget that I said I do this for others out of sympathy!). Do not fall for their tricks or offers of lost money or “free stuff”; just walk away. Be firm, be vigilant, and be smart.
3. Getting Mugged
Thankfully we have not had this experience but it’s only because we are too cautious. You must always know the nature of the environment in any city or country you visit. Pickpockets are plentiful in parts of Europe and they are good at what they do; you just have to be better at their game. Choose to store your wallet or cash in your front pocket rather than back pocket. Be discrete, be careful, be consistent, and be wary of where you reach in to take money out. Watch out for a group of people where one distracts you while the other mugs you. Be very selective which ATM machines you use at what time of day and above all, use your common sense.
4. Getting Lost
With the advent of technology and electronic devices, which carry maps and GPS, Yelp and yellow pages, there is no reason to get lost. Map out your route before you leave for the day. Set aside your pride and ask for directions and ask reputable sources like a major store or your hotel concierge. Carry your lodging’s exact address and number with you. Understand general subway maps by taking two minutes to study the routes. Carry the small schedule booklets for trains and other modes of transportation. Be wary of street safety at night and know the acceptable taxi colors especially in South America.
5. Getting Separated from Your Travel Partner
Next to getting lost, getting separated from your partner or your group is the worst frustration and it can happen easier than you think. One second, you are all on the subway or train, the next second, one person never got off before doors shut tight. Have a plan B. Ours is for the “person still in motion” to get off at the next stop and wait until the other person makes it there. Have a way to contact each other. With cell phone usage so expensive in other countries, look at options like Google voice or Skype over WiFi. In the city upon arrival, have an agreement on your plans if you get lost. Maybe agree to meet back at the hotel or the main train station. My husband and I spent a good anxiety-driven 30 minutes looking for each other inside Paddington Station due to a small error in communication once, no fun!
6. Getting Sick
If there were one wish the travel Gods could grant me, it would be to never again fall sick while on the road. I remember curling up into a ball in a corner of a giant hotel suite wishing only for my bed at home when the company’s cafeteria food (never again!) made me so violently ill that I was sure I would not survive the night. I remember when my husband had to be hooked up to IV in the ER and dropped 10 pounds in 2 days in our Caribbean cruise (also never again!) after eating something suspicious. Getting sick can put a huge damper on plans and this is the one about which you should be most vigilant. Know your allergies and your food tolerances. If you have doubts, ask about the ingredients. Eat at reputable places; use Yelp to read reviews or ask your concierge. Do not overindulge and stay away from alcohol. Always carry simple crackers, some first aid medication and some tea bags. Know the whereabouts of the hospital and the closest pharmacy. Form a relationship with the hotel manager, a driver, or someone trustworthy so that you can ask for help.
7. Getting Delayed
Delays are the most common occurrence especially with train, plane and car travels. You are a safe bet if you are walking! I think this one is mostly psychological and you learn acceptance over time. No matter how well you plan, planes and trains will be delayed, traffic will meet you along the way and you must learn how to pass idle time without thinking it wasted. Read. Take a walk in between flights. Have a conversation with others. Make plans for later. Return phone calls. Accept that some circumstances are outside your control but this is where good attitude pays in abundance.
8. Having your Luggage Delayed
If you know me, you know the first tip is to never check in luggage. If you must, however, make sure it is clearly tagged as yours and never check in your electronics or jewelry or other valuables (for me, my tango shoes!) along with the luggage. Know how to describe it well to others. Keep electronic copies of your important documents online in a service such as DropBox, accessible from any computer in case of emergency. Always carry your toiletries and a clean set of clothes in your carry-on. In some countries, you may be expected to “tip” if they find your luggage so be aware of the culture and at that point, be willing to abide by the norms. In general, travel light, have copies of your passport and credit cards and reservations handy, and keep reserve cash in a secondary location.
9. Feeling Homesick
This is the emotional weariness of the trip and usually it meets me towards the end. I miss my house, my bed, my pillow and my closet full of clothes. I miss my food and my routines at home. It is usually the best mishap to have happen to you especially if you are home bound soon. I think having something familiar from home, a favorite shirt, a journal, a scent, music or favorite pajamas, can set you in the right frame of mind for a happy return home.
Have you experienced other travel mishaps? Do you have tips I did not share here for these mishaps? Please share your fabulous thoughts in the comments below!