I have traveled to over 20 countries the past few years, and yet there is one thing that never changes: unexpected situations. No matter how good you become at planning for a trip and preparing for every detail, which you do because your experience makes you wise in what to expect, you will still face new and stressful circumstances.
MITIGATING TRAVEL RELATED STRESS
One of the things that makes a seasoned traveler so good at confidently fitting in anywhere is the ability to mitigate stress and fear during the discomfort of a new situation. These things are always unavoidable no matter who you are. While travel never becomes a smooth, well-oiled process you do learn to decrease risk. As you travel more and more your scope of the world expands and you see more of the big picture. You learn to appreciate more as well because you are not fretting about the million possible ways something can go wrong. You know that in the event that a situation does not go as planned you will react in a way that can resolve the problem fast and safe. When inevitable speed bumps appear having a fundamental system to approaching the arising problem allows you to successfully overcome the issue. Below, I’ve laid out a four step plan for approaching any problem on the road systematically. Learn to mechanize your behavior in a replicable way and you will improve your travel experience. Recently, I found myself in a sticky situation in the road, which got me thinking about how we solve problems when confronted with them. Also note, the basic elements of this approach can be used to solve other types of problems as well.
A PLAN FOR SUCCESS
- Info Gathering
HOW DO EACH OF THESE WORK, AND HOW CAN YOU LEARN TO DO THEM?
Assess the self and the situation. self: Does your body have any other immediate needs: hunger, sleep, cold, etc. When our bodies need to be taken care of our judgment becomes impaired and we are prevented from making good decisions. (This is why you should never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach, for example) The needs of your body can take an iffy situation and make it bad real quick.
Instead of thinking rationally we think with the goal of satisfying our most pressing needs. Also, what are you hindered by? Did you come with two suitcases even though we told you to pack light? Are you able to speak the local language?
Situation: Are you in danger where you are now? Do you feel threatened? Is it getting dark out, and do you have any directional bearing? What is the weather like? Are there any questionable characters around you? Do you feel unsafe, or are you getting a negative vibe? Our gut reactions result from previous experience. They are instincts about the world that we haven’t yet formed into concepts to live by. Trust them.
What are your possible ways out of the situation? Possible is the key word here. Don’t waste time thinking about the fantastical. (Fantasizing about having a helicopter to take you where you need to go doesn’t help solve your problem.) Can you take a taxi? Can you walk? Can you get a horse and buggy? Basically, what are your options for getting where you need to go. Or, if the situation isn’t transportation related, can you trust anyone around you? (Seasoned travelers have a knack for reading people and, when necessary playing the weary, lost and confused traveler card to get help.) Other questions that you may want to think about: Is there an ATM anywhere that you can get more cash? If you get robbed do you have an embassy number or know where the nearest one is? Do you have a spare supply of cash somewhere? (You should, just for times like these) so you know the local police number if injured, or where a nearby hospital may be?
When you finally need to make a decision you should decide based on this list of priorities: Health/Life, Peace of Mind, Comfort, Money So, if you’re not hurt from being robbed and your life isn’t in immediate danger you should make a decision that gives you the most peace of mind with the greatest acceptable level of comfort for the least amount of money. If it comes down to it, always spend the money to ensure you remain safe. Finally, you want to move from assessment, to info gathering, to action as fast as you can while still making a good decision. Don’t linger, for that can cause a situation to escalate as well.
After the situation has been resolved return to the problem and play through it again. You want to answer one simple question: Did I make the best decision based on the circumstance? Now hindsight is always better, but you can at least learn from yourself and use that information for when you find yourself in a similar situation. Eventually, you will be able to develop a pattern for which questions to ask in which situations. This will allow you to consistently make good, confident decisions even when bad situations arise.
FINAL CONSIDERATIONS ABOUT MAKING SMART DECISIONS
- Take a deep breath. For example, if you just had your passport and camera stolen taking a minute to recompose yourself and put the situation in perspective will help you make a better decision.
- The more you know, the less unknowns you have to scare you.
- Look at a map before traveling somewhere or have one on your person.
- Self defense classes or instructionals can help you remain confident and protected in more situations.
- Language classes, or knowing the local language can make a world of difference on stress levels and comfort.
Mastering the above system takes a lot of practice, but knowing the framework can help you remain calm when a hairy situation arises. The final thing to keep in mind is that anybody who travels deals with bad situations from time to time. The thing that determine the outcome is the person’s ability to mitigate risk and remain calm and confident no matter what.