Travel Lessons: How To Deal, When Everything Goes Wrong
The easiest thing to do, is panic. The best thing to do is deal with it. But that’s easier said than done.
Travelling has taught me many things, but honestly I think it is this trip that taught me the most.
See what happened, feel free to laugh at me – I do – and learn how to deal with the situation when everything goes wrong.
I Really Do Mean Everything
A few weeks before you are set to leave on your month long trip you get a call, your tour in turkey has been cancelled because the company has gone bankrupt.
You panic purchase a spot on a bus tour that miraculously gets you to the right airport on the right day, you can relax.
Until you get there that is.
Because you forgot that in European winter, it gets dark at about 4pm, your flight gets you in at 5pm. Too tired and freaked out by horror stories to catch the Athenian metro, you start looking for a bus.
The bus number, hastily scrawled by the grumpy, gum chewing, glazed over woman at the help desk leads you to board the wrong bus. Too nervous to ask the driver where you’re going you sit on that bus for a whole hour.
Upon overhearing some other passengers talking you run up to the bus driver – ‘what do you mean this isn’t stopping in Athens??’
Yep, you’ve gotten on the express to Piraeus, not the bus to the city centre.
The bus driver kindly says that he will let you off here, even though he isn’t supposed to make stops, and gives you complicated direction on how to get to the right bus.
Forgetting those directions the moment the bus doors close behind you, you make your way down the street towards where the lights are.
There is graffiti everywhere, the storefronts boarded up or closed with bars. Making your way down the pavement is not as easy as it should be – the bins are piled so high you can’t see over them.
Stepping over the legs of a person asleep on the sidewalk with their sleeve rolled up and a needle still in their hand, you start to question getting off the bus.
Then, heaven, you see a group of taxis bathed in yellow light. You go up to the man in the office who tells you, ‘no I don’t have any drivers – sorry’. Trying to remain composed, you spy a taxi down a side road – with a driver!
Knocking on the window he looks at you with a glare, rolls the window down an inch and responds to your pleas for a ride with “I don’t take passengers from here, they never pay”
After promising you absolutely definitely will pay – and tip heavily – for a ride to Plaka the driver unlocks the door and lets you in. You hand over the booking confirmation that you have printed out.
“Byronos? There is no street in Athens called Byronos”
All you can tell him is, ‘it’s near the acropolis, in Plaka’ so that is where he takes you. You’re still freaked out, and exhausted, but on the ride there you talk about Greece and your journey getting there and you start to calm down.
Pulling up to the acropolis entrance – which is of course closed and abandoned as it is now about 8pm – your driver still does not know where this “Byronos” is.
So he calls his boss on his mobile. After trying to explain for a while the driver hands the phone to you – he does not speak English and you do not speak Greek.
Realising this, your taxi drivers boss shouts WAIT in English at you, so you wait.
Then you hear a female voice, which says “you are speaking to his mother, where you want to go?”
So you explain to your taxi drivers, bosses, mother the name of the hotel and the street. She laughs, “not BYronos – VYronos, Greek doesn’t have this B sound”.
Within three minutes you are outside your hotel, which looks lovely, the street is still bustling and full of people. The creepy streets are long gone.
You see the meter – over 45 Euros.
Four days food budget.
Seeing you panic, the driver says, “don’t worry about that, if I had been better at my job we would have only been ten minutes, so only 10 Euro”
That was my first three hours, on my first solo trip, alone in a country where I did not speak the language.
And it was not over.
My very first day, I get an email from the tour provider I had booked up my next two weeks with – none had guaranteed departures and none had enough interest to run.
They had sent the refund, to my father’s account, because being 21 I didn’t have a credit card.
I panicked, oh boy oh boy did I panic. I think I scared the poor receptionist half to death when a semi-hysterical Australian girl started ranting at him about not having anywhere to stay after that night.
Luckily after a pep talk with aforementioned father and discovering google translate on my phone, I was able to embark upon the near impossible task of finding accommodation in the low season.
At that time in my life I didn’t know that finding a hotel in Greece, in winter, would take about 5 minutes.
The receptionist was lovely – he helped me find busses to the places I would have seen on my tours, book accommodation there, and spoke to the owner on the phone to make sure me getting there very late was ok.
I needed to woman up and cope with this stress that I was not prepared for.
So I did
I walked to the bus station, took a bus with TWO changes in random Greek towns, and ended up in Meteora. I have never seen anywhere like it in my life.
I took different busses and made my way to Delphi – one of the most awe inspiring and historical places I have ever experienced.
I called the tour company who had cancelled on me and convinced them to give me a huge discount on a day tour – with a guaranteed departure – and was able to see Epidaurus, the most beautiful ancient Greek theatre.
What Can You Learn From This Story
Before you leave, no, before you even book. Make sure you have your research done.
If you are booking tours then check that the company is reliable, not ripping off its local guides and subsequently going bankrupt after losing the lawsuit brought against them by these guides. Which is exactly why my tour in Turkey was cancelled.
In retrospect I am totally ok with this tour being cancelled for this reason, because it meant that the local guides got paid what they were owed and I didn’t support a company exploiting its workers.
Make sure that the tour company is offering a guaranteed departure, or already has enough places filled to fulfil the tour.
If I had done some proper research, not just looked at horror stories, I would have found that taking the Metro in Athens is FINE. I would also have written down the right bus number and not had to rely on someone uninterested in my plight for this info.
If I had printed my confirmation out in the local language, which makes far more sense than printing it out in English, the taxi driver would have known what I meant.
You Actually Can Do It
Sometimes it takes life shoving you in the deep end to realise that you can actually swim.
This trip proved to me that I wasn’t as useless, helpless, or incapable as I thought I was.
Not only did I have the most memorable trip of my life, seriously I took over 3000 photos in two weeks, I completely reassessed my life.
This was what I wanted to do, travel and see the world – by myself.
I broke away from a seriously unhealthy relationship, reiterated my desire to pursue academia, and started planning my next trip.
I genuinely doubt that I would have been able to live in Greece for three months, move to the UK for my education, or have the guts to book my dream trip to Egypt if it hadn’t of been for these terrible days on my first trip ever.
Step By Step, How To Deal When Everything Goes Wrong
Chill. Seriously. Just calm down. Most likely, this situation can be fixed. So stop panicking and have a think.
Calming down techniques I use:
- Measured, deep breaths. Each breath is 4 seconds in 4 seconds out. Count those four second in your mind, or out loud, depending how bad I’m freaking out.
- Try and notice how many people have green shoes, or are wearing flip flops, or have shorts on, or are carrying books. Pick a thing and pay attention to that. (this is particularly good for panic attacks)
- Put your headphones on and listen to a song you like, go over it until you remember all the words. Doesn’t matter if you can only get the first few lines, just keep going over it until you’ve calmed the frick down.
Identify the main problem. Then identify the problem you can fix.
My problem in this story was not that I was lost and couldn’t get to my hotel and my trip was ruined.
I mean, it was, but that’s big and scary and panic inducing.
My problem was that I was on the wrong bus.
So I got off.
My problem was that a taxi wouldn’t take me.
So I negotiated.
My problem was that I didn’t know how to make accommodation plans in a foreign country.
So I learned how.
Are you seeing a pattern?
Just like any big problem, it is really a bunch of little problems, and once you break them down it’s ok.
Once you have solved the first mini problem then you can move onto the next mini problem, and all of a sudden the big scary panic-attacky one is fixed.
ASK FOR HELP
‘but I’ll look like an idiot’
If the choice is between looking like a prat and getting stranded in the bad part of town – guess which one you should choose.
People want to help you, or more accurately 99% of people aren’t bastards and will absolutely help you – IF YOU ASK.
This mentality and these steps don’t just apply to when your travel plans go awry.
I was in Paris when Charlie Hebdo was attacked, with my best friend. Our flight was leaving in a few days and no one knew what was going on. The gunmen were holed up near the airport, there was talk of closing the airport, closing the border.
I was concerned, a bit scared, horrified for the people affected – but not panicking. We were safe, we were lucky.
If the flight is cancelled our travel insurance will pay for another.
If they close the airport we can take the train to Belgium, fly to England, and fly home from there.
If they close the border we can call my relatives who live in the middle of nowhere and go stay with them.
I would not have been able to be so calm if I hadn’t been travelling for a while and learnt that I could in fact deal with situations.
Most things have a solution.
Not everything is planning how to cope with a terrorist attack.
Some things are more mundane.
What if I have forgotten something?
Have a list, use it. (You could even sign up for free and use the list in our Learn To Pack Guide)
But essentially if you have your passport, phone, and wallet – you will be fine. You can buy a charger, you can buy spare clothes, you can change money when you are there.
99% of the time you will be able to fix what you forgot in destination.
So, use these steps, and figure out how to deal when everything goes wrong.
Most of the time, everything is absolutely fine. But what about if it isn’t? I use World Nomads Travel Insurance, they have had my back on several occasions – you can read my review here – and if you want grab a quote!