Making the Most Out of Bad Travel Experiences

Although traveling abroad creates adventures, it also disappoints and distresses. Rarely is it ever routine.  Along with the memorable meals, fantastic photos and sought-after souvenirs, bad travel experiences abound. 

At the time perhaps they weren’t so fun.  But as time passes, somehow retelling these distressing tales to your friends brings a slight chuckle.  Surprisingly they now account for the more interesting part of your trip.  Whatever happens, remember there’s a lesson to be learned and a killer narrative to recount later over a few drinks. 

Making the Most Out of Bad Travel Experiences

Bad travel experiences. View of the Boston Harbor Islands and Logan Airport. One of these islands holds Boston's entire waste treatment plant.
Bad travel experiences. View of the Boston Harbor Islands and Logan Airport. One of these islands holds Boston’s entire waste treatment plant.

1 – Learn from Bad Travel Experiences

Like most bad travel experiences there is almost always a lesson to be learned. Many unfortunate incidents, given time can enlighten and help us avoid repeating the same scenario.  We all falter at some point.  Just improve your travel savvy and move on.

For example as a teenager traveling solo through Europe, I slept facedown on a train to Budapest, Hungary with my fanny-pack carelessly strapped on my back.  Unfortunately the bag contained all my important essentials: money and my passport.  You know, everything that I could not afford to lose.  

Of course I was abruptly awakened by 2 unkempt men dressed in dirty rags trying to quietly unzip my fanny pack. 

I sat back paralyzed with shock and fear.  We were alone in the train car.  I questioned how they got on the train?  And why was I so imprudent?  They feigned like they were looking for cigarettes, but I knew they really wanted my valuables.  I didn’t know if they had a knife.  Luckily they left without any of my possessions.

What did I learn from the experience?  Besides never being so stupid again, I remembered even in times of weakness to keep my guard up.  For weeks prior I protected my fanny pack, even sleeping with it under the sheets, tucked beside me and the wall while in youth hostels.  Then this one time on the train to Budapest when I was over tired, I created an opportunity for someone else to take advantage of me.

With each bad travel experience, I learn something new about myself and about life.  The world is full of wonderful, kind people.  However, it also has a small percentage of thieves and conmen.  Expect the best but be prepared for the exceptions.

Bad travel experiences. Sitting with my mom in London after walking around all day. This is after my junior in college.
Bad travel experiences. Sitting with my mom in London after walking around all day. This is after my junior in college.

2 – Stay Positive

Act and think optimistically.  This applies on the road and in life.  With any experience, our attitude governs a myriad of components.  From our initial impressions to long term spiritual, physiological and emotional effects, how we perceive the planet truly determines how the world sees and changes us.

Case in point our China Air flight from Okinawa, Japan to Shanghai, China was delayed 6 hours.  Sadly the airline informed us of the setback only after we had already checked in.  So instead of arriving in Shanghai at 8pm, we landed at 2am the following morning.  Therefore we spent one quarter of our day sitting in a tiny airport with one store and restaurant which closed at 10pm.

Instead of being miserable, Allan and I remained positive.  I worked on the computer and read.  It’s pointless to let negative experiences affect how you act and think.  Don’t allow life to control you.  Dominate your thoughts and emotions.  Positive thinking tends leads to beneficial results.

Bad travel experiences. Using an automated cash machine at the Okinawa Airport. I found creative ways to entertain myself.
Bad travel experiences. Using an automated cash machine at the Okinawa Airport. I found creative ways to entertain myself.

3 – Adapt to Change

Not all plans will developed as anticipated.  Adjusting in the face of adversity is crucial.  Being malleable allows you to overcome impasses.  Whereas some may struggle with each hurdle, you can turn shaky situations into serendipitous moments.

For instance, in 2016 Malaysian Airlines refused to allow us to check into our flight from Bangkok, Thailand to Denpasar, Bali without having an exit ticket out of Bali.  Bali wanted to ensure we didn’t stay indefinitely.

Previously we had been traveling around Asia with no set itinerary, booking one way tickets to each location.  At some point once we tired of one location, we’d book a flight into another one.

Certainly having to stay in Bali for a set amount of time complicated our flexible plan.

Furthermore not being able to check-in to our flight represented a substantial roadblock.  Instead of worrying, Allan and I quickly discussed options and reached a conclusion: we’d spend a week in Bali and then continue onto Chiang Mai, Thailand.  So I retrieved my laptop, and booked a return flight in seven days to Thailand.

In the end we boarded our flight to Bali, and made the most out of our week’s stay.   We chose to leave the minor hurdle in the past.  If we hadn’t adapted, this inconvenience could have clouded our perspective, turning an enjoyable trip into a miserable voyage.

Bad travel experiences. We discovered this mountain top lake on the way to our rental home in Bali. Adjacent to our spot we posed for photos with snakes and bats!
Bad travel experiences. We discovered this mountaintop lake on the way to our rental home in Bali. Adjacent to this spot we posed for photos with snakes and bats!

4 – Consider it Part of the Adventure

Traveling often rattles our nerves and tests our patience.  But the adventure continues like an amusement park ride.  Strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.  You paid for the ticket, why not try to smile!

Take for example my taxi ride in Bali.  After delivering us to our destination, the driver demanded three times the normal fare. When I refused he took off with me in the car, leaving Allan on the curb.  Certainly scared, I jumped out when he stopped at the next intersection.

I threw on his lap what I considered to be just compensation and fled on food.  Craziness will transpire at some point on the road.  Chalk it up to part of the adventure.  In the end (once I recovered my composure) all I could do was laugh!

Bad travel experiences. I'm posing at the Brahma Vihara Amara Temple in Bali. To my left the elephant statute emulates my posture.
Bad travel experiences. I’m posing at the Brahma Vihara Amara Temple in Bali. To my left the elephant statute emulates my posture.

5 – Realize You’re Not Always in Control

Many travel ordeals are out of our control.  From the airplane to the train, just relax and go with the flow.  Stressing out over incidents where we have no authority really is futile.

To give you an idea, our van driver tested my patience on a four hour ride from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay Vietnam. Not only did he speed excessively, he carelessly passed cars heading face on into oncoming traffic.

The adventure would have given me a spitting migraine had I not changed my perspective.  Instead I decided to concentrate on the conversation with our travel mates rather than his insane maneuvering.  In the end I realized I had no power over his conduct.  Either I could let the incident ruin my day or make the best of it.  I chose the later.

Bad travel experiences. Enjoying our boat ride in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam with new Australian friends, Trish and Stuart. We look forward to visiting them next year!
Bad travel experiences. Enjoying our boat ride in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam with new Australian friends, Trish and Stuart. We look forward to visiting them next year!

6 – There’s an Interesting Story to Tell

Regardless of what transpires, turn tragedy into a great yarn to entertain your friends.   Often my less than flattering travel experiences become my most favorite tales.  So make the best out of it.

To illustrate consider the time I suffered from altitude sickness in Lhasa, Tibet.  As unpleasant as it was laying in bed strapped to an IV, now I have a battle scar to share with anyone who will listen.  In the end I recovered within three hours of flu-like symptoms and was able to enjoy the rest of Lhasa.

Ultimately bad travel experiences are like having a wound on your leg.  When asked what happened, you can recount your epic drama in gruesome detail with Shakespearean delivery.  The story starts with “you’re never going to believe what happened to me!”  Queue the popcorn.

Bad travel experiences. A woman praying at the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. To her right a golden pray wheel stands.
Bad travel experiences. A woman praying at the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. To her right a golden pray wheel stands.

Can you think of any bad travel experiences that have tested your patience and perhaps made you wished you were back home?

Please let me know in the comments.

Happy travels,

Matt Weatherbee

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Matt Weatherbee
Matt Weatherbee

Hi, I’m Matt.  In 2008 I quit my job, sold everything and drove from Boston to Mexico to start a business.  Now I live and work in the Carribean, and spend my free time traveling the globe.  Learn more.

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