Travelling is possibly the single most important thing we can do during the course of our lives. It not only broadens our physical horizons but if done with an open mind, it makes you more tolerant of those different from yourself, more patient with things that are out of your control and notches up ever-important life experience to new levels. It is truly fulfilling.
It’s not the destination, but the journey
Unfortunately, in my experience, there is usually quite a lot that doesn’t go according to plan. Whether it’s getting lost on local back-roads, cutting short camping holiday because someone asked when your baby was due or coming close to arrest at the Colombian border, things can go horribly awry. In all cases, there is really nothing you can do and have no choice but to simply just “go with the flow” in order to salvage your adventure.
If you’re able to see past how off-track things have gone, these little detours are what make time away from home unique and special – something that you and you alone can claim to have experienced. Even the worst of trips, in hindsight, make the best stories and warmest memories as time tempers them to the point where they become a sort of weird highlight in your life.
The trick to guaranteed good times
Having travelled quite extensively throughout my twenties and early thirties, I discovered that the trick to guaranteed enjoyment is to have pretty low expectations. To be, if you will, “cautiously optimistic” about what you’re expecting your travels to deliver. Of course, it’s important to be excited, but take a moment to realise that there will always be a fairly large gap between your expectation and what reality ends up delivering.
Let me demonstrate my point with pictures.
Land of powder-white beaches and Chichen Itza. Looking at pictures before I travelled I was expecting long walks along the shoreline, beautiful sunsets and chilled cocktail hours.
Instead, I got to go on a business trip about 6 months after Hurricane Wilma caused havoc in the region. I did 15 hotel inspections, viewing buildings still being rebuilt after being damaged by the hurricane. I inadvertently found myself walking along the highway outside of the city and hobbled down what seemed like the entire hotel strip, getting back to the hotel with only hours to spare before I was due to fly out. Fun times.
I knew nothing about South America when I first started selling the destination. After endless hours of research, I became somewhat of an expert on Peru – so much so that at a training seminar I gave to a group of travel agents, the Peruvian Ambassador asked me how long I had lived in Peru, to which I answered, “I’ve actually never been…”.
During this time I became obsessed with Machu Picchu and was lucky enough to get to tick it off my bucket list. One of the highlights of a Machu Picchu tour is seeing the sunrise over the mountain, bathing the site in sunlight.
Of course, it was pissing with rain the morning I was supposed to experience “sunrise”. Happy days…
I might not have seen the sun rising over the mountains, but not many people can say they climbed Huayna Picchu in the rain. It was still pretty darn special.
In 2006 I did a month-long camping trip through Europe. The journey was plagued with terrible weather, switching from an almost intolerable heat wave in England and France to freezing torrential rain by the time we reached Switzerland. Every person I was travelling with came down with the flu. To make up for everything, we were looking forward to being treated to some of the stunning scenery in the Austria / Germany region.
Unfortunately for this doomed tour, the bus broke down somewhere in the European wilderness. We lost an entire day as we waited for a mechanic. No scenery in sight. C’est la vie.
I visited Vienna on the same trip as the bus breakdown. There is a lot to see and do in the city, not least the highlights of the Stephansplatz area which sports the Stephansdom Cathedral. We expected to something like this:
Instead, we were treated to torrential rain, so we ended up getting trollied at a Schnapps tasting. By the time we got back to the campsite, the tents had all collapsed and every last piece of gear was drenched. Two days in the Viennese capital resulted in three photographs, of which this is the best:
It is what it is. And “it” is still awesome!
Are any pictures of my disaster trips brochure-worthy? Not in the least. Do they inspire others to travel? Probably not. Would I exchange any of these experiences? Not a chance! And that is the beauty of travel – this collection of experiences have been mine and mine alone. While perhaps a long way off from “Instagram worthy”, I look back at by time abroad with gratitude and nostalgia. I’ve really had the most fantastic time on my travels!
If you’ve never travelled and are concerned about things going wrong, stop worrying. You will, undoubtedly, miss the bus and get stuck in the middle of nowhere at midnight, left wondering if you’ll be sleeping at the bus stop.
But you’ll live and have a random story to tell! And when things go right, you’ll also get to experience stuff like this…
I’d love to hear your most disastrous travel stories. Share in the comment section!