One of the fears people have of traveling is “What if things go wrong?” Sometimes you spend too much time reading the travel warning lists and think everywhere is dangerous. Others read so many blog posts and articles talking about how wonderful everything is all the time, that when they do travel they have no plan for how to deal when something isn’t perfect.
Both of these are situations are harmful. Bad things happening should neither be feared nor overlooked. They should be embraced. Why?
Because bad things make you appreciate the good things so much more.
Yup. You want mishaps to happen. You had your phone stolen. You spent 50 hours on a freezing cold bus with a light jacket and shorts, no money, and only a liter of water (this happened to me), or you (god forbid) got attacked in Sarajevo by a deceitful (psycho) hostel owner who tried to steal your passports, and you had to run through the rain in the middle of the night to safety (also happened to me).
But you know why things like this are good?
Because you survive them!
You learn that you can deal with situations like this (although I honestly hope no one has to deal with any of the above situations), but once you live through something like this, you realize just how strong you are. You realize how to deal with being outside your comfort zone. And you realize just how precious life is, and how lucky you are that you have the privilege to travel.
Another reason why you should welcome mishaps, is that they help you appreciate the good parts of travel more. If everything is champagne and rainbows all the time, you start to become jaded. Good things seem “meh” because, well, EVERYTHING that happens is good. In travel, just like in life, you need ups and downs to really grow as a person.
I almost turned around and went home after the 50 hour bus ride across Venezuela. The bus was so cold the air was condensing on the AC and dripping water on the seats. I had no food, no US dollars, and very little Venezuelan bolivares – which I couldn’t exchange to Colombian pesos once we crossed the border. I was freezing, hungry, and thirsty but the hardest part was being completely and utterly emotionally spent. I was almost stranded overnight on the extremely dangerous Venezuelan-Colombian border (luckily strangers figuratively, and possibly literally, saved my life that night) and I had no shower, no clean clothes, no time to buy provisions in Venezuela. The last 24 hours of this ride I had half a liter of water for sustenance (and mind you, still no idea how long I would be stuck on this bus).
I finally landed at the Bogota bus station over 2 days after I started, and every part of me was screaming “JUST GO HOME!”
But my bus driver (after helping me find a bank that would take my card, so I could get money out to pay for my ride) looked at me very fatherly and said, “Home. Eat.”, while turning me around to see the most beautiful sight I had ever seen: A Dunkin Donuts! Ok, it really wasn’t the most beautiful sight by a long shot, but at that moment there was nothing better in the world to me. It was something from home. It was comfort. It was much needed food and drink. It was everything and it was perfect!
It was also the reason why I didn’t give up and fly home. After eating, I decided to stay the night in Colombia. I took a taxi to a hostel, showered, changed my filthy clothes and slept. The next morning I awoke thinking, “I’m still alive. I’m ok.” and felt stronger, ready for more adventure. There was no way I was turning home now.
And that is how bad experiences work. You are horrified. You want to cry (or do). You are emotionally drained and just want to curl up in a corner and wake up from a dream. But it’s not a dream. It’s life. So you do what you have to do to get through the present and into a safe place.
But once you are at that safe place you look back and realize just how strong you are and how lucky you are. You did it. You survived something you never thought you could, nor wanted to, handle before. You realize just how beautiful everything around you is and that it’s not the end of the world. You didn’t die. You are ok. And you are overfull with the feeling of being ready to take over the world.
And this feeling, this new found strength and confidence, is exactly why having bad things happen – whether it’s missing a connection, loosing your belongings, or almost dying – is part of what makes travel great.
Plus then anytime you run into an problem after that, you think back to the worst time you had and think, “This isn’t so bad. At least I’m not on the freezing cold bus in Venezuela again!”
Want to read about other’s travel mishaps (much worse than my own) and how they dealt with them? Check out these posts: