6 Tips for Surviving Stressful Travel Disasters

February 10, 2015
4 Things That Surprised Me about Coming Back to America.

I was already tired of sitting in an airplane seat, and it was only my second flight out of four. It had been one of the longest days of my life, but after being re-routed all over the country, I finally made it to Boston with enough time to make my connecting flight to Istanbul in three hours.  Then I learned that my bag was still in Chicago and wouldn’t turn up for another day.

From the moment I learned that my school was offering a course about international development in Uganda, I knew I needed to sign up.  Though I’d been preparing for this trip for three months, my travels have been filled with mishaps. However, despite canceled flights, unhelpful ticket agents, delayed planes, lost luggage, insect attacks, and rashes, I have had an absolutely fantastic trip so far. It’s easy to allow your travel disasters to cloud your trip.  But, here’s how to survive those mishaps and move on.

6 Tips for Surviving Stressful Travel Disasters

1. Take a deep breath

I know, I know, you hear this a lot. In fact, the ticket agent probably told you to do it right after you found out that your flight was canceled. Sure, it’s annoying to have someone tell you to do this. But not only does it make a difference, but it’s something that people often forget to do when they’re in tears at the airport.

Breathing is really important for our bodies and our mental health, and when you’re in a stressful situation, deep breathing is one of the best things you can do for yourself. There are a lot of different breathing methods to center yourself and find a sense of peace, and the good news is that a lot of them don’t require you to meditate for a half hour. Just taking a few deep breaths will make all the difference.

2. Have a reality check

Did you spill shampoo all over your things? Did your bag not make it for your connecting flight? Is a snowstorm causing you to have to wait around in an airport? The real question is, how much does this matter in the grand scheme of things? If a shampoo mess causes you to miss an important job interview, then it will have a negative effect on your life. However, I feel comfortable saying that most of these situations will not dramatically affect your life for the worse.

When a flight gets canceled or delayed, it screws up the plans of everyone on the plane, and creates headaches for the people who are waiting for another flight, the ticketing agents who are tasked with reassigning people to new ones, the pilots and flight crews, and thousands of other people too. Remind yourself that something small like a sticky mess in the bottom of your bag or a delayed flight isn’t the end of the world. You’re also probably not alone in your plight.

3. Find and accept ways to deal with your problems

My grandmother once told me, “If something is worth having, it’s worth working for.” This was pretty insightful advice at the time, and it’s something that I’ve carried with me over the years. To me, this is particularly true for travel, when chances are high that nothing is going to go right. But if your trip is worth it, you’ll find a creative solution to your travel disaster.

Don’t have access to a laundry service or money to pay for it? Wash your clothes in a sink with body wash. Soap is soap, and maybe your clothes will smell like cocoa butter when you’re done. There is always a way to make yourself more comfortable–it’s just a matter of figuring out what the real problem is. Maybe you’re hungry and you just don’t realize it. Maybe you haven’t had enough water during the day. Get up and take a walk to clear your head. A creative solution will come!

4. Be patient

They say that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and that’s something that you should remind yourself if you run into a roadblock while traveling. Sometimes things just can’t be sped up and that’s okay. A herd of cattle might be blocking the road in Costa Rica.  Well, cows are kind of stubborn creatures and they won’t move quickly, no matter how nicely you ask them.

Patience is important beyond livestock too. In Uganda, I was attacked by thousands of army ants in the middle of the night. Thankfully, I had a mosquito net over me and was fine, but it took the better part of two hours to clear the room of ants. I was tired and fairly passive at the time, which definitely helped but I had to keep reminding myself why I needed to stay calm.

Patience and kindness while on the road will always be your best bets to getting what you want in a pleasant manner. If you’re not patient with someone, how can you ask them to be patient and kind with you? When people feel respected, they are more likely to help you out when you’re stuck in a tight spot. I am a huge believer in karma, and I think that the positive vibes you put out in the universe will be returned to you.

5. Be assertive

Being patient and being assertive are not mutually exclusive. When traveling internationally, you need to make sure that people clearly understand what exactly it is that you want. Being assertive is particularly tough if you’re a woman because our society puts female passiveness on a pedestal. If you’re not assertive, you can’t expect to get what you want and that can really ruin your trip and turn it into a travel disaster.

Demand to be treated fairly wherever you go, and speak up if you want something. But be patient when communicating your desires to others. They may be angry or overworked or there might be a cultural gap between you. Take time to communicate what you want but don’t let people take advantage of you or brush you to the side.

6. Stay Positive

This is another one that sounds like a no-brainer but is actually really hard to do! When one thing after another goes wrong and you have no control over the situation, keeping a positive outlook is the last thing your mind is going to do naturally. But really, don’t we all travel because we want an adventure?

When you travel, you’re going to be embarrassed. You’re going to be taken advantage of. You’re going to eat weird food and get parasites. This is just the nature of traveling, but it’s part of what makes it the best activity in the world. All of these experiences, no matter how mortifying or scary or enraging they are, will turn into fantastic stories when they’re said and done. You’ll look back and laugh at these experiences. Remember that the situation you are in is temporary and that it too shall pass. Don’t let something that will be inconsequential in a matter of time ruin your mood. Instead, learn to roll with the punches and enjoy the ride.

About Grace Baldwin

Grace Baldwin is a sophomore at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. She began traveling at a young age and has a bad case of the “travel bug.” She has been to 15 different countries in Latin America, North America, Europe, and the South Pacific. She will be making her first trip to Africa this January and will be in Uganda for a month.

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