Coping with the Unexpected While Traveling

A month ago I took an overnight bus to a small southeastern German city where I spent a lovely weekend eating schnitzel, drinking beer and enjoying the loveliness of a low-cost vacation visiting an old friend. On my last day it rained periodically, a seemingly innocent spring shower. I didn’t know that the city posted a flood alert, and by the time I realized roads had already been blocked off and the chaos of rerouted traffic ensued.

I booked my carpool to Frankfurt with enough spare time to account for some delay, but when it took an hour to drive the seven miles out of the city I figured karma wasn’t on my side. The guy driving attempted to make up for lost time by speeding (I closed my eyes around 220 kilometers per hour, a speed I don’t recommend under any circumstances), but more traffic prevented that from continuing. At 10:30pm, 45 minutes after my bus to Paris was scheduled to leave, we finally made it to downtown Frankfurt.

I often travel alone, but arriving in an unfamiliar city at night without a place to stay, heavy with the guilt of a wasted bus ticket and the ache of an empty stomach, made me desolate and frustrated. For about five minutes I resisted the urge to curl up in a corner and cry until my mom came to cuddle me. The trains and buses had stopped for the night, I couldn’t find any WiFi to research cheap hostels and I didn’t feel like paying for a hotel. Feeling incredibly lonely, stressed and angry that I would be late to work the next morning, I sulked down the street until I came across signs pointing me towards the Frankfurt Hostel. Despite my crabbiness and mild hostility, the hostel was a pleasant surprise (it has an energetic common room with a well-stocked bar, clean and spacious rooms, reasonable prices and a healthy, varied free continental breakfast).

Since the WiFi didn’t reach to my room, I sat in the common room to Skype my friend. I tend not to show negative emotions publicly, so when I felt the urge to cry I resisted. But after several minutes I let go of my ego and allowed myself to be vulnerable. My friend reminded me of how my situation could be exponentially more horrible (a week or so early he got stranded overnight on a platform after missing the last train in a small city with no hotels) and having someone to talk to deconstructed my anxiety over being alone.

What to Remember When Travel Plans Go Awry

  • The most basic preventative measure is to keep your documents organized. Tickets, reservations, maps, your passport, cash and a foreign-friendly credit card should all be tucked away in a convenient location.
  • Find a private place to re-center and release the initial wave of panic. The confined area of bathroom stalls, for example, provide space and time to perform deep breathing exercises and gain composure.
  • Maintain perspective. Anxiety is an over-exaggerated neurological reaction to a situation that is not nearly as threatening as you perceive. If you travel alone, remember that does not mean you are alone. If you really need help,  pedestrians, store clerks or even emergency staff can lend a hand. Unless your life is actually in danger, any problem can be solved with time and patience (and maybe money).
  • When deciding how to rectify the situation, understand your limits and admit what will make you uncomfortable. I had considered hitchhiking home from Frankfurt to save money, but thankfully got over my frugalness and reminded myself of the danger of hitchhiking alone at night.
  • Balance your stress with a sufficient amount of sleep and a reasonably healthy diet. I’m continually amazed how much enough sleep and fruit can change my mood from pessimistic to positively determined.
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