The first time I travelled by myself, I got scammed. And we're not talking within the first few weeks, or even the first few days. We're talking within the first few hours. It was the first afternoon of what would turn out to be a 10-month solo journey, and I got scammed.
A young Vietnamese guy talked me into joining him for lunch. We travelled to the outskirts of Hanoi to eat a "traditional" meal of snake meat. The bill, when I was eventually presented it, was for $US100. Ouch.
These things happen though, particularly when you first start travelling: bad things; challenging things; upsetting things. Sometimes they're unexpected, and other times they're completely preventable. But they all shape who you are as a traveller. How you react to these dramas, how you learn from them – it changes you.
Pretty much every traveller will go through the following challenges. Think of them as rites of passage, as trials by fire. How you deal with them is all up to you.
I haven't been robbed, fortunately, in a long time. It's been almost 20 years since I had a snowboard stolen from a rack at a ski resort in Colorado. That might seem trivial now, but it was a major blow to a destitute backpacker. A setback worth $500 or 600 dollars hurts. Luckily, I had insurance, which is a lesson some people learn the hard way. I also wasn't in a position to fight off the robbers – another lesson that can be learned the hard way. I do, however, keep a much closer watch over my stuff these days.
As mentioned above, I have been scammed, several times – it's a thing that happens to most travellers, particularly those going it alone. When you're in a new place and you don't know the tricks, it can be difficult to pick friends from foes. The idea is to not let it get you down, to just write it off as an experience, to laugh at yourself, to learn from it and move on. The real problem is when it starts to happen over and over again…
Losing/forgetting your passport
I haven't personally experienced this, but I've been around plenty of people who have. There must be such a sinking feeling as you pat your pockets, rummage around in your bag, check the floor around you, and realise that your passport just isn't there. The reactions of those I've seen have generally fallen into two categories: shrugging resignation, or full-on panic. There's really not much you can do if you've lost your passport other than take the necessary steps, head to an embassy or a consulate and go through the laborious process of getting a replacement. If nothing else, it's a story for your friends.
'We don't have your reservation'
This is another one of those sinking feelings, when the holiday you've meticulously planned is almost immediately derailed by some sort of administrative stuff-up, by the hotel or hostel or Airbnb just not having your booking. This is when you see what you're made of as a traveller. Do you argue with the receptionist? Do you turn on the tears? Do you storm out and try to find somewhere else to stay? Do you jump on the free Wi-Fi and start searching for alternative options? This little incident will reveal a lot about you.
Missing a flight
There are several ways to miss a flight, and at least one of them will happen to you at some point. There might be a delay, meaning you miss a connecting flight. Your original flight might be cancelled and you find yourself punted onto a much later one (hi, budget carriers). You might just stuff up the timings completely and show up at the wrong hour or the wrong day. Again, your reaction will reveal a lot about you. Do you go for steam-out-the-ears anger, for smiling charm, or weary resignation? There's no right answer here. But you will learn a lot.
Getting sick at home sucks, but getting sick while you're travelling is even worse. You start to panic about what sort of weird virus you've managed to contract from this foreign place. You toss up whether to brave the local medical system or simply tough it out. You suffer through strange symptoms in a strange place. Getting sick overseas, frankly, is awful, and there's no good way to react to it. I've broken bones, contracted fevers, and been convinced I had malaria (which, fortunately, turned out to be a really bad hangover). You just have to battle through, and then wear it as a badge of honour.
Going through a break-up
Breaking up with someone is a bit like getting sick – at home it's bad, but on the road it's even worse. Maybe you're travelling with the person you're breaking up with, and things just fall apart in real time, before your eyes. Maybe the other person is still at home, and you're breaking up over text messages and teary phone calls. I can tell you from personal experience, both of these situations really, really suck. I'm sure they end up making you a better person in the longer run, a stronger person and a smarter person – but that doesn't help much at the time.
Losing something important
Your passport is the worst, but there are plenty of other things you can lose on your travels that will break your heart. It might be your camera, or your memory card; it might be your phone; it could be your diary; it might be your entire suitcase or backpack; or it might just be one sock (grrr). All of these things are super annoying, and frustrating, and you'll have to deal with them at some point. The only way to ease the stress is to not become too attached to anything in the first place – and back up your photos in the cloud.
What are the greatest challenges you've faced on your travels? Did they make you a better traveller? Or did you just do them again? Post your comments below.
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