I was traveling on a chicken bus in Guatemala, when I saw this young man…probably about twenty years old….running up and down the aisle in a panic. It seemed he realized he was on the wrong bus…heading north instead of south. Then, he reached up into the overhead rack, grabbed his backpack and started a desperate conversation with the driver….mostly English with a few Spanish words thrown in. Then, the bus stopped, he got out and as we pulled away, I saw him standing there on the side of the road looking lost and traumatized.
I felt bad for him. Been there, done that, but, in reality, his panic was so unnecessary. Travelers often get confused, lost, and discombobulated while traveling and then there are usually high pitched voices, wild gesticulations and sometimes tears and, most of the time, there was really nothing all that tragic happening. What travelers need to do is simply sit down and breathe.
The problem is we tend to go into a fight or flight stage when we are not in any danger at all. Why just the other day I came out of a movie theater and had no idea where I parked my car. Zip. But as I stood there without a clue, I asked myself what was a sensible thing to do. It was a pleasant night, so I was in no danger of freezing to death. There were two garages with four floors in each. I was wearing flip flops, so I didn’t have to worry about trying to walk in heels. So, if I couldn’t figure out where I was parked, I would simply have to take a stroll through the eight levels. As I started my walk through the first level, I remembered that I had actually come in on a second floor in the back of the theater and suddenly I knew which garage I was in and where the car was. I went back into the theater, up the escalator, out the door, and there was my car. Just stopping to think it through helped me come up with a rational plan.
I learned a second trick from the book, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night.” In this book, an autistic boy wants to go to London to see his mother. But, when he gets to the underground, he has no clue what to do. So, he stands and watches. And watches and watches, and as he watches, he starts picking up clues as to what he should do next.
I found myself in the same situation in London one evening. I had severe jet lag (plus I hadn’t slept in two nights) and then I foolishly had glass of wine with dinner at a restaurant in Piccadilly Circus. I found myself short of money for a cab to the hotel. I had to take the tube. But, I was so tired, I could barely stand up. When I arrived at the station, I told myself, remember “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night.”
First I stood by the sign with all the colorful squiggles and tried to figure out which color went to my hotel. To keep calm, I admired the colors and named all the stops until I found mine. Then, I went to the ticket machines. There I stood and watched one person after the other put in their money and get their ticket. I began to catch on to what to do. Then, I did what they did and got my ticket. I went to the tracks and saw my train and got on it. I knew if I got on the wrong one, I could just get off and try again.
I have also learned that you can ask for help. And, sometimes, as you sit there to calm oneself, someone will ask YOU if you need help. There are usually places one can go to ask for help…a policeman, a ticket office, or a nearby store.
The young man on the bus was on vacation. He had all day to correct a mistake. He could simply have enjoyed the ride to the next town, got off, and found the right bus. He probably would have lost only a dollar or two in the process. Most of the time, the only thing we lose is a little money and a few minutes which is a lot better than losing our minds!
Next time you are traveling and something goes wrong, sit down. Take a deep breath. Ask yourself if you are in danger. If you aren’t, you have lots of time to figure out a plan of action. If you find you are headed to the wrong place, simply get off the bus or train and look around for a place to sit or a place to ask for help. If worse comes to worse, get a taxi and pay someone to take you where you need to go. Again, only a little bit extra spent.
Learning to relax and take things one step at a time will help you not only while traveling but at home. We panic far too often when there really is nothing all that bad happening. Leave earlier when you have to be somewhere, so you aren’t so rushed. Realize that being late probably isn’t a catastrophe. Even going the wrong way sometimes has benefits…I have found great restaurants, lakes, and stores taking the wrong road! One time my daughter and I jumped off a Spanish train at the wrong town and found there was not another train that night. We were offered a room in the only pension in town and we had a wonderful meal in their restaurant. We had a lovely time and it is still one of our favorite memories on our trip. On a solo trip to Guatemala a couple of years ago, I ended up with a bad van ticket (some well-known crook sold me) but four vans took me fifteen hours to my destination at no charge! That wouldn’t have happened in the US!
Things don’t always have to happen as planned. Just roll with it, sit down, take a breath, and see what happens!
Learn more about our upcoming trip to Nicaragua in January 2016! Seven spots left!
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