Ground Control To Major Tom: How To Deal With Travel Setbacks

What’s a traveller to do when she finds herself floating in the most peculiar way? How to deal with unexpected problems while traveling…

I mean, most of us who travel love that feeling, right? The weightlessness, the feeling of being bouyed upon the air of infinite possibilities. The feeling of satisfaction and empowerment as we master each new situation, it’s a rush… except when it’s not.

When you are tired and dirty and smelly and unsure where you’ll be laying your head next evening, it’s just plain stressful.

After a lovely visit to Copenhagen, of which I will regale my gentle readers fully at a later date, I crash landed in Berlin. Folks, it’s been bumpy. I know I usually keep this blog on a positive tip, I realize how fortunate I am to have the opportunities to do the kind of exploring I do and I just generally hate complaining, but I also want my blog to be truthful. The truth is that even after the months spent planning and looking forward to this trip, I had a moment where I considered packing my bags, saying, “Tschüss, Berlin!” And heading home.

It all started with a hiccough with my accommodations. I ended up in a situation that didn’t feel safe or comfortable to me. I considered just putting up with it, but going to my first day of German classes wrecked from not having been able to sleep the night before made me realize that this wasn’t the right thing to do. I couldn’t concentrate, and I wasn’t learning anything. So I took to the internet to try and find a new place to be… as you can imagine this was no piece of strudel during high tourist season in a major European city.

All the while I felt guilty for flaking out on my studies, supremely stressed about where I was going end up and resentful that I was standing  smack dab in the middle of this raw, pulsating incredible city and unable to enjoy any of it, because I was on the phone.

Things were a little touch and go there for a few days, I had a couple of options fall through on me and ended up sleeping in three different places in as many nights, but the silver lining is that now I’m settled in a great flat.

But folks, I’m tired, and I hate it. Life in Zürich has turned me into a country mouse, because the loud noises, crowds and constant stimulation of Berlin feels like too much for me right now. I feel so adrift and disconnected. I’m torn between listening to my body when it tells me I need to rest and recuperate, and pushing right through it because I’m in Berlin, goddamnit! How could I waste this opportunity???

How do you handle getting sick on the road? Read all about it here. 

Once again, life is teaching me that lesson I just don’t want to learn.

Here are my top three things to keep in mind when facing travel setbacks:

Sometimes Comfort Zones Are Okay:

I know I’m a totally over zealous preacher of the Gospel of Risk Taking, but there are times to test our comfort zones and times to stay within them. Trust your gut and unapologetically follow it. I was uncomfortable in my first Berlin Air B&B because I arrived there to find it was located above a shelter for homeless drug addicts, and there was no lock on the back door of our building. Now I am a city girl and I understand that addicts are part of the urban community, they have just as much right to be there as I do, and most of the time they will leave you alone. Had I been in my own neighborhood or with a friend, it may not have bothered me. However on this occasion, addicts congregating below my window made noise and kept me up all night, thus making it really tough for me to sleep and study, defeating the entire purpose of me going to Berlin for a language intensive. That, and I just couldn’t shake the idea of coming home on my own and having somebody desperate approach me in a dark hallway. I wasn’t proud of my fear, but it was the truth. Once I accepted that I was outside of my comfort zone in a way that wasn’t serving me, I knew I had to make the move to another place.

Sometimes You Need To Let Go Of Your Travel Vision: 

The yogi in me took a deep breath and realized it was time to practice Aparigraha, non attachment to my itinerary and my picture in my head of what Berlin was supposed to be. And above all, nonviolence, Ahimsa, starting with myself. No beating myself up for not being able to anticipate the problem and steer clear of it, or not being able to, “tough it out”. No getting angry because I felt as if my host had been dishonest with me and it was ruining my trip. No more fear of confrontation. I had to get myself to a place that felt safe, speak up for myself in a calm, assertive manner, and take my experience in Berlin into my own hands. And reminding myself that while yes, I lost money by cancelling my first reservation, money is just money, and saving a few bucks was not worth my safety and sanity. 

It’s Okay To Pause: 

I decided to accept my need to ground myself. I devoted an evening  to practical things such as doing laundry ( so I wouldn’t be so smelly), shopping for leafy greens (so I wouldn’t be so hungry) and getting a decent amount of shut-eye (so I wouldn’t be so grumpy).

After that, I decided to take it one day at a time. I went to class and then returned to explore the new neighborhood I’d decided to call my home in Berlin. Once I accepted those things, and adjusted to staying in a place where I actually felt relaxed, I was much more ready to dig into my studies and really experience Berlin.

A Few Other Tips For Your Sanity:

Have Travel Insurance: No, it won’t cover you for, “I felt sketched out by my Air B&B”, but it will cover you for the big things, like flight cancellations, theft, natural disasters and hospitalizations abroad. I use World Nomads.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help: When I got sick in Nice I had to ask my Air B&B hostess for help accessing medicine because I speak zero French had aucune idée what to ask for at the Pharmacy. Guess what? She was happy to do it. She even taught me a recipe for medicinal sage tea that I still use when I’m feeling snotty.  I’m used to travelling independently, so it was a bit of a blow to my kick ass, girl power, I can survive any situation on my own ego to ask for an interpreter. But think about it this way, if the shoe was on the other foot, wouldn’t you be happy to help somebody who was feeling unwell far away from home? No woman is an island, and don’t feel ashamed to call in backup when things get rough.

Connect: Travel is supposed to be a time to let go of what’s going on back home, but when you’re in a crisis, don’t feel bad about getting thyself into some free wi-fi and making a quick Skype call to a trusted pal. A few words from a familiar person can mean the world when you’re feeling down so don’t be too proud to reach out. If you’re in a situation you know nobody at home will get, there are loads of online communities out there for women who love to travel. The Facebook group Girls Love Travel is half a million strong all over the globe. Put up a status there and you’ll be receiving helpful responses from other female travellers within minutes. I used it and received all sorts of reassuring responses when I was feeling creeped out after a dude I thought I could trust touched me inappropriately in Bali. Some GLT members even meet up with each other around the globe!

When in doubt, always remember my golden rule, trust your gut unapologetically. 

For more safety tips, check out my post, 21 Tips For Safe, Fun and Affordable Solo Female Travel. 

What do you do to ground yourself when travel plans go awry? 

4 thoughts on “Ground Control To Major Tom: How To Deal With Travel Setbacks

  1. I think so many of us put pressure on ourselves when we realize things didn’t turn out as we had them in our minds. For you to be travelling so much outside your comfort zone, it is amazing that you didn’t crash before now. Accept that maybe this isn’t going to be your favorite place and allow yourself to wallow…and do laundry. We are here for you (in the blogosphere anyway.) and in spirit.

    1. Thank you for the support! It is much appreciated. It’s not that Berlin isn’t my favorite– its more that it is chock full of things to do and I need to accept that I’m here for two weeks so I can ease into it if I need to. Berlin is a capital city on par with Paris, London or New York, in that one could spend a lifetime here and still not do it all. Especially since I’m here to study, I need to manage my expectations.

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