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We recently just made the decision to take another adventure in our 71’ VW Van from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Surprisingly, it always seems to escape us a few 100 miles down the road what precisely we are traveling in. In an engine with the power of a riding lawnmower, we found ourselves quickly feeling invincible — leading to the newfound ambition that maybe we’d just drive all the way to South America.
We were somewhere in the middle of Missouri when we found ourselves on the side of the road with half our bodies filling the engine cavity. Our journey had just hit a sharp turn. So it was back north… On a flatbed.
We’re no strangers to things turning bleak while traveling. What we’ve learned along the way is how to not lose our shit. We’re constantly chalking things up to just another bump in the road of our adventures. Regardless of where in the world your journey leads you, if you can follow these 6 ways of avoiding SHTF travel scenarios, you too just may come out clean on the other side.
1. Pay attention to the people around you and try to talk to as many of them as possible.
On the night of our engine hiccup, we found ourselves bellied up to the local bar in town licking the wounds of our breakdown. I had noticed someone out of the corner of my eye that looked like he needed a boost, too. As we stirred up a conversation with this stranger, we not only found out that he had quite a history with VW vans like ours, but was considerably helpful with telling us where to find parts around town, who the best mechanics were, and even offered us a place to stay.
I’m not telling you to befriend everyone around you if you encounter an epic crisis as you travel, but by becoming vulnerable and opening yourself up to the situation, you may find that there are plenty of people out there who can help you get back on the road, if even just to lend an ear and laugh with you through it. You will be surprised how far the generosity of strangers goes. In fact, I don’t think we will ever be able to ‘pay it forward’ enough to those who have helped us along the way.
2. Remember that it’s all about perspective.
When we first set off in 2011 in our VW Van we had our first breakdown not but 500 miles from home. Our first reaction was to call it quits as this was already our third engine. Hell, we thought the world was probably just trying to tell us to cut our losses. However, we were either too stubborn (or stupid) and took a walk to embrace the situation and discuss possible solutions. It was then that we found morel mushrooms on our hike. Finding these ‘sacred mushrooms’ was like finding a little pot of gold under the rainbow. It was what we needed to remind ourselves what we were doing this for — not to mention our dinner that night was an absolute feast.
Regardless if your travels are a week long or a year long, a shitty situation on your trip sometimes can feel like the end of the world. You want to throw in your cards and chalk it up to a bad hand. There are going to be circumstances you can’t control, but if you quit early — you might just lose out on the best ingredients of your story.
3. Always kill em’ with kindness.
Last year I was traveling home from England with everything I owned and all of my prized possessions. I had just spent four years working and traveling abroad.
Then my suitcase didn’t show up at the carousel. I was horrified.
But I kept calm and did the only thing I knew… I walked up to the lost luggage kiosk and managed with a broad smile to say ‘I know this isn’t your fault, but…’
How often have you been in an airport and seen someone screaming at the employee behind the desk? Remember, it’s not their fault the plane couldn’t take off because of a blizzard in June. I’ve worked in the airline industry, I personally know that a bad attitude will get you ‘nowhere fast.’ Sometimes all it takes is an ounce of courtesy or to slather on the kindness and it just may get you on that next flight out. You will be surprised at how far a compliment will get you out of a sticky travel situation. That or the irreplaceable belongings from your suitcase back.
4. Maybe the most important tip: don’t lose your shit.
Maybe this tip is pretty self-explanatory. I’m a pretty dramatic person. Luckily, my better half can somehow manage to be as cool as a cucumber in the worst of travel scenarios. For instance, our VW Van’s brakes have turned into sponges as we have plummeted down mountains in Spain, and he didn’t even break a sweat.
I am well aware we aren’t all like this. I wanted to scream out the window ‘we’re all gonna die!’ whilst my other half was creatively computing the best solution to the problem and looking for an uphill side street to stop us. What I have learned from all our past travel blunders is that it’s important to remember to try to keep calm and that there are always more options than plan A and B. In fact, we’ve made it to plan E on many occasions.
5. Often, you’ll have to swallow your pride.
I’ve found that when I’m traveling far away from home, even the slightest issue or mishap on my journey feels amplified. In the beginning, I would steer away from contacting friends and family because I didn’t want them to think I was second guessing my decision to lead a different lifestyle out of my backpack or by living in my van. I was afraid I would be judged if I felt alone or was having a weak ‘what am I doing here?’ moment.
On the outside it may look like you’re living a ‘big life of adventure,’ but it can also make us feel small, removed, and far away. Always remember the support system that has been there for you from the beginning. These are the moments when you should turn to emailing, calling, or skyping with friends and family to get a boost when your adventure seems to be on a low. It will fill your cup in ways you didn’t know you needed, all by just letting down your guard and being honest with yourself.
6. Know that you’ll eventually laugh about it. Maybe not today…
All good travel stories have an epic fail. I think back to everywhere we traveled and what we remember most is that one time we were in the spooky town on top of a hill in Portugal where we swore the locals pickled the tourists and we were next, or waking up in the middle of the night in our tent in W. Australia, surrounded by wild dogs, or that time in Georgia when our VW Van broke down and we had to be pulled by a three-foot tow rope at 60 mph with only our emergency breaks to stop us.
Not only did we survive each and every crisis, but it made the entire adventure. These are the stories we tell fellow travelers and these are the stories that make us considerably stronger to face the next challenge that WILL come our way. Yes, there will always be another SHTF situation along your journey — but how you handle it and how you laugh about it makes all the difference.
Because let’s face it: our fails are sometimes our greatest adventures.