On Travel Mistakes and Lessons in Life

November 16, 2016
USA, USA solo travel, USA stories
On Travel Mistakes and Lessons in Life

Truth be told, as much as I love travelling, I am not particularly good at it. I hate flying, I become anxious in transit, I lose things, I’m disorganised, I always get lost, I’m terrible at budgeting. I have lost my boarding pass after going through security and been mugged wandering down a quiet street in Barcelona. I have brought the wrong clothes for the wrong weather, and ended up shivering in snow wearing leggings and thin sneakers. I have gotten hideously lost in the dark after a night out in Thailand. I have gotten on the wrong trams in Prague after a raging row with one boyfriend, and due to being blissfully blind in love with another. I have taken trips with the wrong people, dived into pools of jellyfish-infested waters, and gotten sick after eating the blandest of foods. I wouldn’t recommend travelling with me!

On my latest trip, en route to the USA, I fainted on the plane after mistakenly taking some antibiotics in the sky. I got bad altitude sickness in Colorado. My card got blocked after I put it in some dodgy machine. I walked straight into the wrong neighbourhood in San Francisco, where I was mistaken for a prostitute, and walked past a drug deal in the middle of the afternoon. I ended up hiding behind a confused-looking German couple wearing baseball caps and backpacks, walking behind them just enough to look like I was with them, as we all tried to escape as quickly as possible.

When I travel, I see just how similar we all are in this world, despite our differences in language and culture.

But even with all the stresses, travel is still the best thing I do. I am madly in love with it. I live by the sentiment that “the worst day travelling is still better than an average day in real life”. Every time I have a difficult situation abroad, when I’m tired or sunburned or lonely or poor, I just have to deal with it. I can’t avoid these things, or put them off for another day, like I would do in my everyday life routine. There is no other option but to figure out in the moment what to do, and there is usually no Plan B. So I figure things out, I deal with them, and that’s that. I feel more resilient, more empowered and less alone. When I travel, I see just how similar we all are in this world, despite our differences in language and culture. I meet new friends, and quite often bump into them in other parts of the world. And I see the kindness of people every day. It’s humbling.

Mistakes can also send you tumbling down a new, better path. On my first day in San Francisco, alone and ready to explore, I took a tram up to the ocean front, where I could see the Golden Gate Bridge just ahead. I decided to head there, to walk across it. It couldn’t be so far – I mean, it was right there! Three hours later, after walking for what felt like forever in a straight line, I still hadn’t quite arrived, and it didn’t seem to be getting any nearer. I walked and walked, my feet aching in floppy sandals, but it still lay out there, tantalizingly ahead of me, but just out of reach.

Never judge a book by its cover, the destination is always further than you think, and learn to just let the little things go.

Yet without me realising at the time, this walk ended up being one of the happiest times of my trip. The sun was warm and the water glittered in the light the entire way there. I could hear seagulls cawing and feel sand between my toes. I walked past beaches and trees, buildings and roads, people having barbecues or strolling along holding hands, and all the while the Golden Gate Bridge smiled at me in the distance. I was in no hurry and didn’t need to be anywhere. I was so happy I felt like if I twirled across the beach, the wind would catch me and I fly away. It didn’t seem to matter that I wasn’t in the right place yet, for in a way, I already was.

Hours later, and far later than I had expected, I finally reached the bottom of the bridge, an exhausted, sweaty mess. It was now, right there, standing imperiously over me and the water. But I still wasn’t quite where I needed to be; there was a huge cliff between me and the entrance to the bridge, and I couldn’t see a way up there. There were a few people milling about at the bottom, sitting with their feet on the rocks, just watching the water rise and crash and fall. Presumably, they had given up early after an equally long walk, for there was no other way here but the long, straight route I had taken. So I gave up too, and promptly crumpled down in a heap, legs dangling over the edge. Water spattered in my hair, and the wind hurt my ears. But still, I was content. I sat and looked for a long time, sitting apart and a part of the people around me, alone but not. I only took one or two photos. I wanted to recall this feeling from memory, not from behind a screen.

My day was not what I had planned, but it was better. The mistakes you make in travel are the lessons you need to learn in life. Never judge a book by its cover, the destination is always further than you think, and learn to just let the little things go. You’ll never know what you’ll come across if you do. And I did eventually find my way up to the top. Because you always do.

About Alex Pendleton

Alex PendletonAlex Pendleton loves writing, exploring, baking and strong coffee. She has a permanent case of wanderlust, and is currently back in the UK planning her next adventure. She has traveled extensively, studied in the Czech Republic and worked in Germany and Italy.

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