I´m not often fond of making cliche statements BUT any backpacker who has spent a significant amount of time on the road will be able to attest to this blanket statement. It´s almost as much a part of the experience as the pristine beaches, boundless peaks & moments of awe that one could experience in a positive life changing event or even naturally cracked smile that lasted a little bit longer than usual. I´m not specifically going to write about life changing events in this article. I´ve been extremely fortunate enough to have never suffered such a crisis, accident or illness that will linger on & present challenges for the rest of my life. My health is perfectly fine, I´ve never lost any limbs or been afflicted with a life changing disease such as hepatitis or hiv; however, over the course of the past 12 months I´ve spent on the road in South America & various locations in Asia I´ve accumulated quite a laundry list of experiences that might make one bark aloud ´OH SHIT´ or ´THAT SUCKS SEVERELY.´ I´m now going to provide a list of some of the accumulated events I´ve experienced more often than not as a solo backpacker NOT to garner any forms of sympathy or induce a bleeding hears campaign BUT simply to give an idea of the type of things or situations one might encounter once, twice or as often as I have on my longest most adventurous backpacking trip yet. Ironically, when I was a little more wet behind the ears, aloof & less informed on my first large scale backpacking trip around SE Asia back in 2008 I had next to nothing go wrong. My guardian angel was looking out for me every step of the way – hell every inch. However, I´ve got this ungodly impression that he/she/it has been a little absent of late – possibly even getting shit faced in some dodgy bar in another realm us mere mortals are left to only ponder about. Anyhow, I digress, as I often do & now it is time to air my list of dirty laundry if you please:
South America Incidents
1) Robbed in Montevideo by knife point in broad daylight (wrong place at the wrong time sans $20 and some ID cards)
2) Netbook broke in Buenos Aires (International warranty not honored on time – eventually replaced in Salta)
3) Hard drive fried in a guest house pc terminal in Montevideo (no grudge, it could have happened to anybody)
4) Fake Pen Drive (My supposed solution to the hard drive failure – didn´t go so well when it failed on the third usage)
5) Severe food poisoning in La Paz (I was the literal equivalent of a human reincarnation of Iguazu falls for more than 72 hours)
6) Destitute in Iruya (Stranded in Iruya after severe weather – extreme isolation in a town ill equiped even at the best of times)
7) Robbed once again at a border crossing between Peru & Ecuador – this time warehouse/mafia style)
Stranded aboard a Bolivian bus that broke down at 2am during the winter season – BRRRRR – arrived 10 hours later than ETOA)
9) Wallet lifted during my last week on the continent while watching Argentina defeat Mexico in the world cup at the biggest public square in Buenos Aires – again only lost the equivalent of $20 – heck at least they won!)
1) Prescription sunglasses lost on a flight (whoops – totally my fault)
2) Missed flight to India after a severe bout of food poisoning – 1st time I´ve missed ANY scheduled transportation)
3) Absolutely fell in love with India but must mention I had food poisoning no less than 5 times in 2 months
4) Replacement & inferior prescription sunglasses jolted off my face and out the cabin window suddenly by an oncoming train)
5) Assaulted by a rickshaw driver who wasn´t thrilled when I didn´t pay 5 TIMES the agreed upon fare in Old Delhi
6) Sick & destitute in Dhaka at 2am after the WORST bus ride of my life (downright scary & 7 hours late)
6) My favorite travel shorts, rain cover & camcorder charger all breaking down beyond repair at the same time in Cambodia
7) My primary travels lens and most expensive item malfunctioning at the Grand National Palace in Bangkok
Two iPods & my South East Asia guidebook swiped from right under my nose on a bus going from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap
9) Survived a terrorist attack in Varanasi, India. A bomb went off in the main ghat where a major performance was taking place. Unfortunately, one individual died and many were seriously injured. I was very lucky to have escaped the situation unscathed. This incident still haunts me today.
This is not the most exhaustive list NOR the most severe case one could encounter personally or whispered erroneously to by an enthusiastic fellow vagabond about a friend of a friend of a friend. Amongst the many incidents I´ve encountered some were unavoidable, unfortunate & unexpected while others were preventable & TOTALLY my own fault. I lost well over two thousand dollars in these list of events spent more than a few moments, hours, days in quite a miserable state; however, most importantly, NONE of these events stopped me in my tracks, prevented me from going on or ruined my life in any way, shape or form. My already dwindling bank account is a little more bare BUT I´ve experienced nothing that will be important in my life one year while some events that I´ve listed above will not even be remembered AT ALL if I´m lucky enough to still be around in this same physical form I inhabit right now a decade later.
What I´d like to do is present a few positive twists on what to do when shit goes wrong. This is as much written for me as it potentially is for you. I´m coaxing myself right along the way. I´m specifically talking about the minor instances one might encounter on a long journey far away from home. What I´m NOT commenting on is something as serious as losing a friend/family member or having a crippling or chronically severe & debilitating medical condition that is an unexpected lifelong companion. I don´t know how to deal with this. It´s never happened to me. I hope it never will. Whether you´re traveling or not I´m hoping what I´m about to write about will resonate in some capacity.
1) It´s Just Stuff
Whether it´s expensive, invaluable or a cherished possession keep in mind that what has just been lost, stolen, broken, damaged or can´t be replaced is just stuff. It´s material possessions that can be replaced by something else at some point in time. If it´s some form of swanky gadget you should grieve even less for it´ll be totally obsolete in no time flat. That iPod will one day be replaced by an iGod & you´ll one day in the future laugh uncontrollably that you ever used such a thing.
2) Keep It In Perspective
We’ve all heard this before but it´s so true that I´ll say it again: “Somebody out there is in MUCH worse shape than YOU ARE right now.” Especially if you´re galavanting in a developing country take a look around you for just a moment. It sucks that some SOB just made off with your iPod but the chai wallah crouching down in that humble little corner on the side of the road is likely just barely scraping by day after day & may continue to do so the rest of his/her life. You’ll need to replace what you’ve had stolen or find an alternative way to distract yourself on those gruelling bus journeys but it´s not a big deal when you consider what certain others are having to deal with right now.
3) Compassion or at least empathy for the Arse Wipe
The vermin who is now in sole possession of your X is likely facing circumstances that are rough. Imagine having to deprive others of their possessions as a way of life. You´d have to be quite desperate, destitute & without a lot of options to resort to such behavior in most circumstances. Consider the thief may feel bad about what he/she just did BUT if it can put food on the table for a family that is used to going without THEY DID need it more than you ever did.
4) Makes A Great Story Later On
It may have been costly, inconvenient or downright freaky what just happened to you but realize a few things. You´re alive and well with a chance for another day & just think about the HELL OF A STORY it´s going to make to tell others the rest of your life. You´re lucky to have experienced such a thing when others simply grumble about spilling coffee on their laps or being caught in traffic jam. Your story will RULE over these other milk-toast boasts!
5) Wake-up Call
Maybe what just happened to you wasn´t entirely God´s dice being dealt in an unfavorable way on that fateful afternoon. Possibly with a little introspection you´ll come to the realization that YOU could have prevented, avoided or reduced the impact of your given situation you´ve just found yourself entangled in with a little more care or self awareness. You might need to take a closer look at your lifestyle habits if you´ve ended up in the sin bin or the hospital for the night. If you´ve had something stolen were you a little careless or absent minded at the time? When you blew your 6 month budget in 6 weeks & had to call home to Mom & Pops for a bail out might you not learn a little from the experience? Sometimes bad events lead to good things when sloppy habits or behavior are altered permanently after the life changing experience. Consider it a wake-up call.
6) Shit that sucks BUT if could have been…
It´s horrible that you no longer have your iPad but my goodness it doesn´t mean nearly as much to you as your journal that is safely stowed away in your backpack or the photos you have backed up securely on your online storage site. I can´t believe I´ve been sick for an entire week lying in bed BUT it could have been much worse if I landed in the hospital for a month without travel insurance.
7) Did I Ever Really Need It In The First Place?
Maybe what I no longer had wasn´t really an essential part of my travel kit anyhow. I thought it was terribly important but I realized over time that IT WAS ONLY unnecessary, clunky & burdensome to carry around in the first place. My pack is now lighter & I´m spending more time doing ______ which I´ve come to realize I value more.
Time Heals Wounds
Maybe you´re just not able to mentally get over what has just happened right now or what transpired even days, weeks, or months ago. However, with time it´ll become less intense, serious & eventually matter very little in your life. It SUCKS right now but it´ll be water under the bridge at some point in time.
Let it be a challenge for you. If I can deal with this right now I´ll be able to handle just about anything when I get back home. Character is often built, shaped, molded, sculpted or whatever you want to call it not when times are smooth but when the waters are a little rough and you´ve been kicked in the teeth a few times. Get back up, dust yourself off and realize you´re a stronger more prepared individual because of the experience.
10) Move ON
Finally, move on. If you must – curse, throw, rant, snivel, snot, rip, shred, whine, whimper or do whatever it is that is your defacto reaction to what happens when shit hits the fan & then most importantly MOVE ON. Staying in your current state will only erode your mental or physical health over time. Get it out & get on with it and focus your mind on the present moment which is a lot more friendly when you realize the birds are still singing songs outside.
Well, that´s it folks. A ten step solution to overcoming THE SHIT that inevitably happens while on the dusty path. I´ll need to remind myself of these points on more than one occasion. I´ve mentioned previously that I wrote this just as much for me as I have for others. Anyhow, do remember to try and put a positive spin on things and appreciate what you´ve learned or have left to look forward to in life. I just had my iPod shuffle & classic swiped from right under my eyes on a bus trip that happened a few days ago. I´m still a little raw about it BUT it´s just as much part of the comprehensive travel experience that I´ve been taking in for quite sometime. Don´t wish for things to NEVER go wrong again BUT instead prepare or desire for a confident individual to emerge that will continue on down that dimly lit path towards a promising future.