All Travel Fails Have a Silver Lining
No matter how intricate your plans, how overstocked your first aid kid, or how many stamps you have in your passport, sometimes backpacking doesn’t go to plan. From a missed flight connection to lost passports to varying degrees of sickness, here’s a guide to turning life’s cruel travelling tricks into a positive experience (or at least fodder for some witty and perfectly executed anecdote).
From accidently carrying a bag full of cocoa leaves through a Peruvian airport, to stumbling into the eye of a three-thousand-strong riot in Istanbul’s Taksim Square last summer, I know as well as anyone that travelling can be risky. But whilst you can’t control every circumstance, you can decide whether its ups and downs result in a cancelled trip, or a more positive outlook at the world.
The most important piece of kit every backpacker should carry is a smile.
It can make the difference between kicking off at a market stall seller who’s trying to earn a little more for that cashmere scarf, or being invited round to their house for a family meal. Sure, there are times when you might not feel like smiling - sitting on patio furniture in the centre aisle of a broken-down bus accompanied by live chickens, dogs and cats is a unique experience of my own which comes to mind - but rather than stew over it, try to connect with the people around you.
A year ago, I found myself stumbling into the middle of a three-thousand strong riot in the middle of Istanbul. In a move that would’ve had the FCO sweating, I decided to stick around rather than flee back to the safety of my own neighbourhood. Had I left at this point, I wouldn’t have experienced the kindness of the people around me: the sales assistants who took me into a barricaded shop, despite my lack of Turkish, as the police fired water cannons and tear gas indiscriminately at the masses. I also wouldn’t have been plied with free beer and souvenir t-shirts, courtesy of my new favourite bar staff at the James Joyce Irish Pub, who provided my second shelter for the night when things kicked off again.
Obviously I’m not condoning recklessness on your travels. I’d like you to treat this as a gentle reminder that whilst things can and do go wrong, often these experiences become your fondest memories of your travels. These are the times that demonstrate the kindness of strangers.
Perspective works wonders. When the baggage carousel is empty and you’re the only person left without luggage, take a step back and remember that getting on the plane in the first place is a privilege.
We’ve all worked hard to afford travelling but it is only through travel that we realise how lucky we are.
Apart from my mother, who is only filled with fear, one of the most common responses people have to the news that I’m setting off yet again is envy; ‘I wish I was brave enough’. Whilst almost all of us dream of travelling, so many of us are held back by anxiety, spawned by tabloid journalism and anxious parents. This is a natural fear but travelling with an open mind, a positive attitude and a little common sense, you can turn those apparent travel nightmares into fantastic memories.