Bad travel is suffocating. There’s no other way around it. Choose a bad location? a bad hotel? a bad restaurant? You can always wake up the next day and move, leave or eat somewhere else. Bad travel though, when things just never seem to go right is suffocating.
It is going to happen to you. You are going to go out of your way for a place that sounds amazing from a review. You will find yourself in a place that took forever to get to, that is supposed to be authentic and amazing, only to question the sanity of the person that gave you the recommendation. Worse yet, you’ll find yourself trapped for a few days, because as usually happens in these types of situations, there is no transport out for the next 24 hours.
So now you’re in a bad location, without a way out, and your luck, the hotel that was recommended? It’s out of business/full/dirty/rundown (choose your own adventure on that one). Nothing is going right and you are trapped. So what are you do to?
Fortunately bad travel has benefits. You may have to look hard to find them, but in the perspective of Nietzsche, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Here are five tips we have to save a bad travel experience:
Get Exploring. It might take awhile to find, but there has to be some redeeming quality of that place or else it wouldn’t exist. Leave the confines of your lodging and hit the pavement. Wander, get lost, smile at strangers, stop for a drink, grab an ice cream. In short, explore without a plan. Speak to as many locals as you can and ask them what they recommend. We were stuck for several hours in a dusty village in Eastern Turkey waiting for a bus during Ramadan. Everything was closed and the Internet cafe had a terrible connection. We retreated to the bus station. Two hours later we were singing with the drivers and bus station managers as they strummed their guitars to Kurdish love ballads. Redeemed our entire stay there.
Relax. If the place you are in really, really, stinks then take the opportunity to find a quiet place to spend some time alone. Bring that paperback you have been trying to get through for days or bring your journal to catch up on travel notes. At least you’ll have something interesting to write about. Find a cafe or even a stump where you can be alone with your thoughts. It might seem solitary, but at least you’ll get some time to recharge your battery, that in and of itself can save a bad travel experience.
Build Character. There’s nothing like a little adversity to build character. It might be frustrating, and you might find yourself angry, but that’s life. If life was always predictable and as advertised it would be a bit boring wouldn’t it? Sometimes the worst place and the worse experiences turn out to be the best memories of your travels. That is after weeks pass and you are able to laugh about it. Remember the food poisoning in Ethiopia? Worse travel experience ever. One of our funniest travel memories years later.
Make New Friends. If adversity builds character, it is also good about strengthening relationships. The unexpected and unpredicted are often the best ways to make new friends or strengthen your relationships with your travel partners. Save a bad travel experience by meeting new people or taking a moment to laugh with your travel partners about how terrible the experience is. If you are traveling alone, finding someone to commiserate with might feel like meeting your new best friend. If you are traveling with a partner or with friends, bad travels or a bad vacation can be saved by a deck of cards or a few rounds of improvisational story telling.
Take control. Remember, bad travel is just that. It is still a vacation from the normal. It is still travel. It comes with the good, the bad and the ugly. Take control of your satisfaction, ask for a recommendation for a nearby place that might be better, or a day trip that might get you out of your current location. You have to take back control of your travel.
It is going to be a challenge to see the benefits of bad travel when you are in the moment, but I promise you they exist. If things are really going bad, before you make any rash decisions, take a moment to think about your situation, your options and how you can save a bad travel experience. Remember, your satisfaction is your responsibility and you travel by choice. You are never truly trapped by your decisions (at least not for the long term!). Make the best of every bad travel situation, at the very least you’ll have great stories when you get home!