Things don’t always go as planned.
It’s something that every seasoned traveler knows very well. It is this mantra that this blog is built upon. On our first trip together, our boatman did not show up, leaving us stranded at a deserted wharf and forcing us to walk through an unfamiliar forest. On our next trip, our boat crashed onto a rock islet and we floated aimlessly for almost an hour. [ More about the origin of this blog here. ]
If there’s one thing that gets us by, it is this distinct ability to always look on the bright side. To us, getting lost is an opportunity to discover something on our own or a chance for an adventure worth sharing in conversations over beer when it’s all over.
Sometimes, however, the universe has a way of keeping you from having fun. Sometimes, the silver lining they keep talking about is a lightning that will shoot you down. Sometimes, the light at the end of the tunnel is the headlights of a train about to crush you. Sometimes, shit just happens. You just need to avoid it or be prepared when it does.
Here’s a list of the biggest travel buzzkills and how they can be prevented from ruining the perfect trip.
WHAT'S COVERED IN THIS GUIDE?
The biggest buzzkills are those that strike even before the trip starts. Here in the Philippines, flight delays are as common as politicians’ faces on publicly funded projects. It is especially harmful if you have a tight itinerary that leaves not much for adjustment. Imagine if you’re off to Bohol for only two days, your tour starts at 8am, and then suddenly your 6am flight is moved to 9am. You just missed that tour.
How to avoid it: Although you’ll never really know which flights will be delayed, there are flights that are prone to getting pushed back. For example, know how aircraft schedules work. A single plane usually passes through multiple cities in one day (Manila – Davao – Manila – Cebu – Manila – Puerto Princesa). If the Manila-Davao flight gets delayed big time, there’s a chance that it will affect the succeeding flights, which will accumulate and screw over the Manila-Puerto Princesa leg. The later in the day your flight is, the more likely it is to be hit by rolling delays. Which brings us to this tip: book early flights.
When I was in Amsterdam, I was questioned by an Immigration Officer for five minutes because there were inconsistencies in the documents I presented. It was probably the longest five minutes of my stupid life. What a shame it could have been if I was sent back home when I already was knocking on the door of my dream European getaway.
We’ve all heard horror stories about not being allowed to enter a country, or in the case of the Philippines, not being allowed to leave. The Bureau of Immigration has extremely strict rules that operate on the basis of prejudgment. Profiling is a standard practice at airports worldwide. If you look like you can afford the trip but doesn’t have a job here, they’ll think you’ll work illegally there. If you look like you can’t afford the trip, they’ll still think you’ll work illegally there or probably smuggle drugs. The rules are there for a reason, but if you’re in the shoes of somebody who genuinely intends to travel for leisure and you get offloaded, you’ll probably develop a life-long hatred for Immigration Officers.
How to avoid it: I wrote about it before. Here it is: How to Avoid Getting Offloaded by Immigration
Too Much Hype
Overhype happens when your friends and online reviews would conspire to paint a perfect picture of a place that would turn out to be something else. I’ve had my share of this. Case in point: Arashiyama Bamboo Forest in Kyoto. It’s magnificent, but I didn’t realize it was that small. Phuket is great too, but I was expecting more.
How to avoid it: Keep your expectations in check. The best things about travel are those moments of delightful surprise. On my first time at Angkor Wat, I wasn’t prepared to be blown away by how massive a structure it is. When I was in Wulingyuan, China, I had a hard time moving around because I had to pick my jaw off the ground each time a marvelous view presents itself. Chiang Mai (Thailand) and Hualien (Taiwan) were also fantastic revelations simply because my expectations were as low as my self-esteem.
Confused Head, Grumpy Tummy
Three of the illnesses that travelers are most likely to experience on the road: motion sickness, diarrhea, and body pains. And all three are like that ex you’ve always wanted out of your life but won’t go away.
Just like ex problems, motion sickness occurs when your brain gets confused by mixed signals. Except in this case, it’s your eyes and inner ear that messes with your head, causing your body to lose a sense of balance or equilibrium. Motion sickness isn’t that much of a problem for me. In my years of traveling, the only time I suffered from this was in the Great Barrier Reef (of all places!), but I wasn’t feeling well to begin with. And it’s not good at all. I never got to experience the Reef fully because I was too busy introducing what I had for lunch to the toilet.
Loose bowel movement, however, is something I am very familiar with. Like your ex, he shows up when you least expect him, and when he does, he somehow manages to screw up everything. And it stinks. Seriously, though, food is an important part of travel. Although I am not an adventurous eater, I love love love street food, which is a problem for someone with a sensitive tummy. Humongous tummy, yes, but sensitive.
And like your ex, travel brings with it a lot of pain if you don’t know how to manage it. Traveling is a physically strenuous activity, especially if you’re after adventure. As somebody who has a physique reminiscent of a slug, I tend to have more than my share of pain. There are muscles in my body that I wouldn’t know I have if they didn’t ache like hell after a morning of trekking or an afternoon of swimming. And while my parents have always told me I have “some nerve”, the only time I feel said nerves is when I’m enduring an 8-hour bus or train ride. Travel is rewarding, but it can take a toll on the body.
How to avoid it: When you open my bag, you’ll find another bag in it which contains two sets of must-haves: toiletries and medicines. The meds are to address the three things I mentioned above: meclizine for motion sickness, loperamide for loose bowel movement, and Advil for body pains.
One thing you have to remember when choosing meds is how fast it takes to effect. You’re traveling and you want to get rid of the ache as soon as possible so you have more time to enjoy the places you visit. For example, Advil Liqui-gel is stronger than paracetamol and its liquid form ensures it gets absorbed by the body fast–almost three times faster than ordinary tablets.
Accidents and Injuries
It’s all fun until somebody gets hurt. Accidents can strike at any time, and it can put a damper on your adventure. Mishaps are not a stranger to me. One time in Zambales, my boat crashed to a rock islet. In South Cotabato, I slipped and almost fell off a cliff. In Siem Reap, I was thrown off of my bike on a busy street. Fortunately, I got only scratches and wounds as shallow as my present state of mind, but those injuries prevented me from exploring over the next several days.
How to avoid it: People always say, “Take a risk.” Guess what? It doesn’t apply to everything. Take safety precautions. If your life is at stake, don’t risk it. If you think you’re not ready, you’re probably right. That bike accident happened only because I learned how to ride a bike earlier that same day. THAT SAME DAY. And I was stupid for thinking I was good enough to brave the major roads that fast. Courageous but dumb.
Our first year of traveling was littered with days of not being able to go anywhere outside our hotel room because it rained every damn time. When it stopped, we would get ready only to get drenched along the way. Uncooperative weather is a common nuisance that can be avoided by picking the right days. A little research goes a long way.
Still, weather isn’t weather if it’s predictable all the time. There are days when the forecast promises sunshine but showers you with betrayal come the actual date.
How to avoid it: You can’t avoid the fickle skies, but you can avoid the negativity. Come to terms with it. Either you push through with the plan (I once explored a theme park while totally soaked) or just find something else to do (switch items in your itinerary and front load indoor activities).
You’ve been waiting for this day all your life. You prepared for it, made sure everything was planned. You were born for this day, the day you’ll finally see it. And today, it’s closed.
Timing is crucial when traveling. Many important sites are not open all days of the week, all months of the year. Whether it’s closed for renovation, closed for a special event, or just closed period, it can be such a bummer to not be able to experience it when the only thing that’s in the way is a gate closed shut and a sign that bears the dreaded six letters of terrible timing.
How to avoid it: One word, research.
Nothing feels worse than being made a fool of. Partly because you can’t believe there are people who are willing to take advantage of others. Mostly because you can’t believe you fell for it.
Scams know no boundaries. From the temples of Bangkok to the beaches of Rio de Janeiro to the streets of Paris, scammers are waiting for that unsuspecting, gullible tourist. Don’t be that tourist.
How to avoid it: Same thing, research. Before visiting another country or city, check out review sites or travel blogs. Many of these scams are so “common knowledge”, it’s hard to grasp why they still happen. It will also help to ask hotel/hostel staff for things you should watch out for. They usually are aware of modi operandi in the city you are in.
They say that if you want to test a relationship, travel with that person. It’s like a road test. Traveling allows you to take a glimpse of someone’s true colors: how they behave under stress, how they are with people, how open they are to new things, how they deal with control, and what choices they make.
We’ve all had horror stories with someone we traveled with. That companion who won’t stop complaining about everything. That companion who won’t even try to have fun. Depending on how far you let them, they can affect the trip.
How to avoid it: I usually travel alone, so I don’t find myself wrestle with the idea of bad company. But if solo travel isn’t for you, choose your travel buddy well. And if a friend turns out to be not ideal, talk about it with him or her.