What to Do When You Have Unlucky Travels

by Laura Jelich

It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Everyone has a wee bit of bad luck from time to time; travel problems can’t always be checked at customs. Anyone spending any amount of time abroad will inevitably come across some unlucky travel situations eventually; the combination of foreign languages, rules, and transportation systems are just too tempting for fate to pass up for long!

So, what is one to do when this foretold bout of bad luck hits? Simply follow these five phases to sail as smoothly through stormy situations as possible (and make it to the other side relatively unscathed).

A woman on top of a mountain

Photo credit to Hillary Federico

1. Take control of what you can - make lemonade out of lemons.

Bad luck doesn’t mean ruined plans, it just means altered ones. Sometimes, you are still able to maintain some level of control and influence over your current situation. So utilize plan B. Or create plan C. Maybe you can’t stop the rain, but you can utilize your time indoors to get to know your bunk mates better or dig into that book you’ve been meaning to. Or say you missed the last direct bus route of the night back to your homestay. Instead of sitting on the curb crying (or maybe afterwards...), put those newly acquired Spanish skills to work! Use your confidence and street smarts to seek another way.

When I was volunteering in Uganda with a rhino conservancy, we had the unfortunate timing of working at the volunteer site at the same time as a team of world-renowned researchers. I say “unfortunate” because their studies, activities, and presence extremely limited our time working directly with the rhinos. So, we marched into our volunteer director’s office and asked for other projects. We could’ve sat around and waited for a glimpse of the gorgeous beasts, but we took charge instead!” -- Ashley

2. Accept what you can’t change - maintain a positive attitude.

Change what you can, accept what you can’t… It’s cliche, but for good reason. Because sometimes, there is simply nothing more that you can do. But when you can control nothing else, you can always control your attitude towards it. Instead of fighting it, pouting, or letting an entire experience turn sour as a result of some unfortunate circumstances, just roll with it. Enjoy the sights on the wrong end of town and accept that you can’t undo or hurry-up a stomach flu. Decide to face each situation with a smile, some perspective, and as much dignity as you can muster.

“I used to get so frustrated with the local Chinese bus drivers every time I tried to use public transportation to get to the Great Wall. As an international student in China, I was more than prepared to use my Mandarin to accomplish my day to day affairs. But I would NOT, for the life of me, get a straight answer out of the bus drivers about departure time, location, or trip duration. And cost! At first it angered me to hopeless tears, but then I just had to laugh. Chalk it up as a cultural difference, I had no choice but to relinquish control and enjoy it for what it was.” -- Alonso

Eating at Bedouin restaurant in Jordan

Photo Credit: Jacob Kessler

3. Pad your story bank  - allow it to add to your experience instead of taking away . 

When you find yourself in an unlucky situation that just won’t turn up, take mental notes and snap a photo. It’s the stormiest skies that produce the prettiest rainbows, and it’s the most unfortunate of circumstances that warrant the most pot-o-gold worthy stories. While facing one after another after another after a-unbelievable-nother setback, do your best to cling to the “at least it’ll make a good story later” ray of hope and then laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.

“Day 6. Fiji. Hurricane warning. Match that with our limited supply of water, our group of 12 nervous-nelly first-time travelers (two of which were threatening to “physically harm” the others), one student seriously contemplating hooking up with a local villager, it’s hot as #@$* out and I haven’t used toilet paper for 72 hours. This story doesn’t even sound real, and it was only just the beginning. I couldn’t wait to see the faces of my friends back home when they heard this neverending saga...” -- Greg

4. Learn from the experience - take notes for next time.

Sometimes, we are the precursor to our own bad luck. Unless you find you ultimately enjoy collecting stories and character-building experiences, recognize what actions you could have taken to avoid said unlucky circumstances, and utilize that information to set yourself up better next time. Get to the bus stop early, stop after one margarita, ditch the extra pair of heels in exchange for rain boots.

“Apparently, free public restrooms are a luxury we take for granted back home. Not any more! During my internship in Berlin, I ended up breaking my budget the first week by having to spend all my extra change on either WC (water closet) fees or cupcakes and coffees to gain customer status and access to the facilities of nearby cafes while out and about. I quickly learned to ALWAYS go before I left the flat while anywhere in Europe, and to use the bathroom at any place I purchased anything at (if they had one), even if I didn’t think I had to. It’s amazing how fast small savings like that add up...” -- Tom

Jump shot in Morocco

Photo Credit: Amanda Gill

5. Share what you’ve learned - flip the penny over. 

If you find a penny tail-side up, you don’t just leave it, you flip it over right? That way it doesn’t sit around, glaring the same bad luck at all other passersby, but instead counteracts and becomes conversely lucky for the next person. It follows the same logic that instead of allowing others to fare the same fates that you did, share any useful insight you have accumulated as a result so that they may benefit from it! Share the avoidable mishaps, as well as the unexpected rainbows. Maybe that unplanned side trip (aka boarding the tram heading west instead of east, oops) resulted in finding a hole-in-the-wall eatery with the best vegan cake within 1,000 miles! Tell the people.

“Before jetting off on my very first solo volunteer stint - a Turtle Conservation project in Costa Rica, I was connected via a mutual friend to a girl who had participated in the exact same program just months before. It was incredibly helpful for packing and nerve-calming purposes to hear a bit about her first-hand experience and insight, the most useful of which was probably her advice to bring a legitimate rain jacket! After experiencing a tropical wet season with nothing more than a flimsy poncho, she was able to help me avoid making the same unfortunate mistake.” -- Brooke

We can’t all have the luck of the Irish. So when your luck “runs out” remain level-headed enough to impact what you can, retain perspective enough to embrace what’s left, and then simply laugh and take it all in. After all, those of us who are blessed enough to travel the world for any amount of time, under any number of circumstances, are still pretty downright lucky to be fair!