Unexpected Challenges

People choose to travel for a number of reasons, but it often includes a desire to expose oneself to new experiences and cultures. It gives us an opportunity to grow and learn. To us, it’s what makes travel such a rich and worthwhile venture. However, putting yourself in unfamiliar situations, where you don’t always know the language, can sometimes cause stress and frustration. How you handle that stress and frustration will determine your success as a traveler and the satisfaction you get from traveling.

1) Be Prepared. This is partly about taking the time to learn a little about the place where you will be traveling, but it is also about preparing yourself mentally. Embrace the fact that there WILL be times when you are lost and confused. Expect it and accept it.

2) Don’t Panic. When the unexpected and unplanned happens, take a deep breath and relax. Every problem gets worse when you panic and problem solving is best done with a clear head. Take a step back, identify the problem, come up with a couple possible solutions, consider the pros and cons, solve the problem, and move on. Don’t let it ruin your trip.

3) Ask for Help. Don’t be afraid to depend on the kindness of strangers. Yes, there are some people that will ignore you and they won’t take the time to help, but that is actually quite rare. We ask people for help all the time and I honestly don’t remember ever being refused. Granted, sometimes they don’t understand you and they can’t help, but that’s different. Look around, spot someone that doesn’t look like they are in a hurry, say hello and excuse me, ask if they can help you, and then explain the situation. If they can’t help you, then ask someone else. If they can’t help you ask them if they know where you should go to get help.

4) Be Confident. There is a solution to every problem and you will find it. One way or another, it will be solved. Trust in your problem solving abilities. View these hiccups as part of the adventure and stories to be retold at a later date. There is only one way that the problem will go unsolved and that is if you don’t try to solve it OR you give up before it is solved. And, it will only ruin your trip if you decide to let it.

Over the course of our last 8 months of travel we’ve encountered a number of unexpected situations that could have made us decide to pack it up and head home or could have left us bewildered and unsatisfied with our adventure, but they didn’t. We’ve experienced an earthquake and a military coup, we had bedbugs in the very first hotel of our trip, we’ve dealt with leaks, countless insects, and power outages.

One night we were coming back to our apartment in Ho Chi Minh City after dinner only to find that there had been a huge fire next to our building while we were out. The electricity was out on the entire block, so we had to make our way through the dark in an unfamiliar city, down a narrow alley and up several flights of stairs in the pitch dark. Of course, there was no electricity in the apartment either, so we had to use the flashlights on our phones to find our way around. It was night time anyway, so we decided to go to bed. A little unsettling, but we made it and the electricity was back on in the morning.

Early in our trip I made the potentially costly mistake of paying for private Thai languages lessons for the 3 of us using US dollars instead of Thai baht. There is a HUGE difference between $6,000 US versus 6,000 Baht. As soon as I noticed the mistake, I contacted the language school and explained the situation. They promptly refunded all of my $6,000 US and then I completed the transaction again, this time using Thai Baht instead.

Recently, we had a couple of challenges when we were moving from Croatia to Hungary. They might each be good examples for how we went about dealing with unexpected hiccups.

First Example:
Apparently, there is a law in Hungary that kids under 12 need to have booster seats. Our son is 9, so we weren’t allowed to cross into Hungary without one.

  • Step 1: I asked the woman at the money exchange where I could buy a booster seat and she sent us to the nearest town.
  • Step 2: Upon arriving in the town, we found a pharmacy (most pharmacist speak English) and asked where we could buy a booster seat, she sent us to the mall down the street.
  • Step 3: We found a clothing store and asked where we could buy a booster seat, they pointed down street and said there was a store about 5 minutes away.
  • Step 4: We found the store and asked where to buy a booster seat, they said 2nd floor.
  • Step 5: Success!

We found and bought the booster seat within 45-60 minutes from learning we needed one and it only cost us about $15. Not bad considering we had absolutely NO IDEA where to get one when we started. Everyone we spoke with knew at least some English and everyone was very helpful.

Second Example:
We rented a car in Croatia to drive to Hungary one-way. The company did not have an office in Budapest, but they do partner with a Hungarian company. They told us to deliver the car to the Budapest airport to a company called Bar Elite and gave us a phone number for them. We were scheduled to return the car by 3pm. It turns out that there is no Bar Elite rental car company in Budapest and the phone number we were given was incorrect.

  • Step 1: We did some research and somehow discovered a rental car company called Ber-Elek that was located about 6km from the airport.
  • Step 2: We made our way there and sure enough that was the correct place AND we returned the car 30 minutes before our deadline.

Granted, that we had some serious luck with that one, but we could just as easily have called the original rental company back in Croatia, explained the problem, and asked them to confirm the correct information and resend it to us.

We can honestly say that none of these unexpected challenges have caused us any real problems or dissatisfaction. As unbelievable as it might sound, we’d actually forgotten about most of them… including the military coup and the earthquake. There have just been so many more positive experiences during our trip that the less positive experiences are minimized so much that they almost disappear from memory. Best of all, we truly believe that there isn’t any challenge that we can’t deal with.

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