The ability of planning ahead can be a live safer when it comes to traveling independently. Some situations and challenges however are impossible to predict, yet even more important to face accordingly.
I often wonder why there is not more people like you and me, more people who have the constant urge to move, explore and see the world. The truth is that most people are curious about foreign countries and cultures, but they might simply be too comfortable or afraid of traveling independently.
Traveling independently not only requires thoughtful planning, organizing and packing, it also means to deal with the unexpected. On our recent trip, Greg and I have been confronted with a bunch of complications from the start and finding the right response to these incidents is something every traveler has to learn over time.
1. Loosing your Personal Belongings
It is one thing to decide on what to bring with you, but another one to look after your personal belongings when traveling. With our arrival at the airport in Vancouver I found out that my checked bag had not made it.
As for long distance flights, there is not much you can do to avoid delayed baggage other than trusting the airline’s staff to do a good job. However, you can make sure that you always carry your most important personal belongings with you. Wallet, electronics, important documents should always go in your carry-on daypack when traveling independently.
In the unlikely case that one of your bags goes missing, you will have to fil in a missing luggage report and wait for someone to contact you. Most airlines will provide you with a refund for necessities such as toiletries and basic clothes that you might need for the time you are waiting for your missing bag.
2. Being Offline
Yes, being offline can feel life-threatening. As digital nomads, we heavily rely on the possibility to connect to the Internet wherever we go.
Google Maps, checking e-mails and updating our Social Media accounts has become part of your life like brushing your teeth? Then you know that finding Wifi hotspots can become a daily mission when traveling without a local sim card.
One solution to this problem is to download all the information you could possibly need before you leave a hotspot. That way you always have electronic tickets, road maps etc. accessible even if offline. Still, even I find that complete disconnection from the Internet can sometimes be surprisingly liberating and necessary in order to take your mind off daily life struggles.
Being offline without cell phone service also means staying isolated from other people’s demands and problems: Your sister might need a babysitter again, Instagram followers are waiting for your next post and bills are waiting for payment – for here and now, you shall not worry, you are off duty.
Typically, Moms are afraid of all kinds of dangers. Criminals could rob you, venomous animals kill you – but statistically most accidents happen on the road. Drinking and driving, speeding … The list of possible accident causes is endless.
Greg and I got in a pretty bad car accident during out last trip. To this day I sometimes relive the panic I experienced when we took the hit.
If you are lucky (and I realized later how fortunate we were), you and all involved passengers get away with a shock. The next step is to deal with the guild question, police reports and insurance claims. Not fun either.
Our car was a rental car, which can make things easier or harder. A lot will depend on your liability and the rental car company’s customer service. I can only recommend to ALWAYS get full insurance and Road Side Assistance with your rental car company directly. As soon as a third company (e.g. a booking website or external insurance company) is involved, it gets complicated. Let alone that you might end up with a huge charge on your credit card.
Of course, accidents can happen anywhere and anytime. It is impossible to see them coming and almost impossible to avoid them. In case they happen, the trick is to stay calm and not lose your mind. Make sure you own a reliable third liability insurance, international health and car insurance.
You consider yourself a confident driver, cautions person and have never caused an accident your life? That’s great, but you can’t control other people’s actions and one unlucky move or bad timing could change that in seconds.
4. Bad weather
Even though seemingly a small problem compared to accidents, bad weather can still decide on weather your trip becomes an enjoyable journey or a wet disaster.
Personally, I find it especially hard to deal with extreme cold and steady rain. Of course, you can and should always pack warm and waterproof clothes, but even the best rain coat will eventually be soaked.
The bigger challenge however is to cover all your gear when being exposed to heavy rain. Always have a rain cover for your backpack, especially if you travel with equipment that does not go well with wet weather.
Rainy days are lost days? Not at all! There are a ton of fun things you can do on a bad weather day: Go to the movies, visit a museum, go shopping, get drunk with locals in the pub… Further you can set up somewhere with a good internet connection and catch up on work. You could plan upcoming trips, pay bills and do all the other lovely things that you won’t want to do once the sun comes out.
5. Language Barriers
English native speakers are used to being understood wherever they go, but the truth is that there are many parts of this world where English is not pepople’s first (or even second) language. Naturally, the level of English will rise with the number of tourists in a place, but it is best not to entirely rely on that.
I would recommend learning some basic vocabulary for the local language prior to your trip. Knowing how to say “thank you”, “please” “I would like…” “where is..” and “how much…” in more than one language is not only very useful, but can open doors when traveling independently.
6. Cash Please
You love your Master or Visa Card. It has never let you down, works fine on every ATM and spending money just seems so much easier when all it requires is swiping your card through the machine. Until we started backpacking through Central America, I was a Credit Card Lover. I had no idea that relying on a solid credit card is not always the safest bet when traveling independently.
A there is the risk of having your card stolen. Replacing it might take months while you are tied to a place in order to wait for your new card. B you might find yourself in a situation where a restaurant, hotel or border control (very likely) accepts cash only, but there is no ATM around the corner to refill your wallet.
The simplest solution to this problem: Always carry some cash in local currency or US$ with you.
Locals will appreciate the effort and be happy to explain the rest to you using hands and feet if necessary. The number one role when traveling is to always expect the unexpected. Things don’t develop according to plan ever and sometimes it is good, sometimes annoying that they don’t.
I have come to the conclusion that the best attitude to have for travelling is to not have any expectations. Open and curious to experience the new, things can only surprise you in a positive way.
Do you remember the last time you had to deal with an unexpected situation? How did you manage it?