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Why Mishaps are Awesome

“Sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men can go awry .”

Do I make mistakes while backpacking?  Have you ever seen the guy strutting around the airport laughing while he carries his seemingly weightless luggage with a look on his face broadcasting to the world that he is a natural traveler and that his trip is going perfect so far? You know the one I am talking about.  He is the poster boy of traveling and nothing can phase him.

Yeah, I’m not that guy.  I’m the guy right next to him, my shoulders slumped from my overloaded backpack, face horror-stricken and pale looking like I just got out of Dwayne the Rock Johnson’s latest family flick. It’s been this way ever since the backpacker in me was born

Anyone who has traveled can tell you that mistakes will happen.  At some point, shit will hit the fan.  The mistakes made while traveling usually are harmless and result in blowing some cash, wasting some time, and gulping down a healthy spoonful of humility.

They are like that elderly family friend that refuses to stop pinching your cheeks even though you are well into adulthood. It usually doesn’t hurt too bad; it’s just extremely annoying.

Believe me, I have gone through this a lot (the mistakes, not the cheek pinching). I used to deal with my mishaps with the meltdown method. Not yelling and throwing a fit in the middle of a restaurant type of meltdown. It was more along the lines of feeling my insides twisted and contorted into an unrecognizable mess because I had decided a fourth bean burrito was a wise choice type of meltdown.

But then one day something happened.  Someone flicked the switch and the light bulb above my head lit up for a very brief wonderful moment, and then just as quickly, extinguished itself.  In that moment, I realized something that changed my whole way of viewing my mistakes.

Misadventures, Mishaps, and Mistakes, are bad ass!

love my misadventures.  I applaud my mishaps.  I look forward to my mistakes.

By now you are thinking to yourself, “That’s a travel myth, I mean who looks forward to making mistakes while they are traveling?  This kid is as sharp as a marble!”  On the contrary, over the years I have learned not only how to deal with the unexpected twist and turns of the road, but I have also witnessed my mistakes evolving to become some of the most amazing and memorable parts of my trip. Greatness can happen to you when things take a turn south or you find yourself in a cold country with always warm clothes.

You Make Travel Partners

“Oh, you also waited eight hours for a ferry that showed up at midnight; didn’t let a soul on board, and then took off leaving us stranded, cold, bedless, and in shock?  Let’s become friends.  Want to go for a pint?”… it is that easy 

I have by far made my closest friends from making mistakes while backpacking. These are the people I have stayed in touch with, or have visited on later trips over the years.  I Have plans to see them all again and this is all because things went awry. It is easy to meet people when they are going through the same troubles that you are. Troubles can instantly create a friendship, because you are both waist deep in the same crap. Not only does it give you someone to work through the situation with, but it also makes for a good story to tell other people you meet.

I have made misadventure friends by: Missing buses, Missing trains, Being completely lost; Being bedless, Getting off at the wrong place on any type of transportation possible; Standing dumbfounded in the subway station starting at the wall map. Stuff like this happens all the time while backpacking.  While it’s more frustrating than trying to figure out why someone invented the Spork, you have to realize it happens to everyone. Chances are, that when something go awry while you are traveling, you are probably standing right beside someone who is also experiencing the same thing.  Now when some random mishap happens, I look around and see if someone else is also going through the same situation.  Bingo, instant friend.

Misadventures Make Kick Ass Stories.

Think about some of your personal favorite travel stories.  In how many of those stories did everything go perfectly to plan?  I am guessing, not too many and that’s because a big part of traveling is not about the destination but the journey, and everyone’s journey has a few bumps along the way. Yes when things go wrong, it is stressful and frustrating. It makes you want to pull your hair out and scream dramatically at the top of your lungs. If you’re backpacking with somebody, this is a pivotal moment in which an argument can easily break out.  If you’re alone, everyone is staring at you because you are probably pacing back and forth, muttering to yourself and making some sort of public scene.

These aggravating moments usually end up being some of the most cherished stories you bring home. That’s because when you have misadventures, it adds elements of excitement and  danger.   It brings new life into your story.  For a brief moment, all seemed lost, or bad at least, but you fought your way through and handled it.  You might have even come out on the other side a little worse for wear but you are still kicking.

Here are some of my favorite misadventures…..

I almost froze to death visiting Stonehenge.  I climbed Mt. Olympus in flip-flops that broke every other step. I had my twenty-fifth birthday hostel-less, sleeping in front of a car rental place on a dock on one of the best island in Greece.  A grizzly surprised my friend, Luke, and I in the Wilderness of Alaska. My brother and I had a four-day stretch of traveling where we only managed to get one hour of sleep the whole time resulting in a bunch of lost items, including one bank card and ID.  These are just a few of my misadventures and yet, when I reflect back at these moments, it is with a sense of fondness and inner pride. When people ask me about traveling, these are the stories I like to bring up first, Yes, I’ve been to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, but let me tell you about how my debit card wouldn’t work there, and how I survived 5 days with practically nothing.

I now enjoy it when things don’t work out exactly the way I plan them.  Now I skip the meltdown and go right to the part where it is funny because most things will work themselves out.  They always do, so I smile and think how someday I will view this as great chapter in the story of my life.

 They Knock You Back to Reality.

Sometimes you have a few days where the stars align, and all is right in the world of backpacking.  In the past, when these extremely rare moments of smooth sailing happened to me, I would start to get a big head.  Not that I would start acting cocky around other backpackers,.  No, it is more of an inner cockiness.  I would catch myself striking the manliest pose, fist on the hips, chin up, staring serious off into the sunset, armed with my quotes about the sunset, thinking I’m untouchable.  Basically, the best backpacker ever. I had navigated the last few days perfectly and with ease.  Now nothing, will ever go wrong again. Fast forward to an hour later, and you might find me slumped in my seat, feeling defeated, rubbing my pale stricken face while trying to figure out my next move because I have just made the dumbest mistake ever.

Mishaps help keep the ego in check. It is a quick reminder that backpacking is random and you aren’t perfect. I am far from the best backpacker on the planet.  Truth be told, I probably make more mistakes than most; which is what makes me an expert on navigating mishaps, and misadventures.

I’ve got reality check is every aspect of backpacking from horribly planning my trip, resulting in wasted time. I’ve had box of red wine break in my backpack, soaking and staining my clothes dark purple. I didn’t have the budget for new clothes so I had to wear the wine stained ones for the next three weeks until I got to Turkey, a country that has dozens of things to do.  I was half purple and smelled like I had bathed at vineyard for the next three very humble weeks.

Makes you a Stronger person.

When things go wrong, it is a kick in the butt. When you get kicked in the butt, you learn a lesson and gain some invaluable experience. When you make mistakes, you have to rely on your wit, insight, and ability to stay cool under pressure and try your best to resolve the situation.   Through mishaps, these abilities are honed and finely tuned.  (This still isn’t the case for me). It is part of the beauty of traveling, you learn how to deal with things on your own. You get to find out what you’re made of. When the chips are down, you have to figure your own way out of the sticky situation, if something goes wrong while you checking off your list of things to do in Montenegro. These moments change you. In these moments, you grow more as an experienced backpacker, but more importantly, as a person. You learn to utilize your strengths and avoid your weaknesses.

For me, I learned, rather quickly, that I wasn’t made of glass. When things went wrong, it wasn’t the end of the world. I learned to sit back, catch my breath, and figure it out.  I found out what worked and what didn’t and where i needed to make changes.

A major weakness I used to have is that I wouldn’t book hostels in advance.  It felt too planned for me, too set in concrete.  When I am traveling, I like exploring the unknowns.  I like to go where the road takes me, from the big apple to wandering around Rome for three days.   And not necessarily know where I am going to end up. I wanted to figure it out when I got there. Well, a few times I got there and every hostel in the city was booked leaving me wandering around the streets all night with valuables and money in tow in an area I didn’t really feel safe. (If this was being safe in Mexico City I would have been in trouble.)  As you can imagine around three or four in the morning, this was extremely old. Then I used my brain. (Is this becoming a habit?) I solved this by catching a ride to the airport and sleeping on a bench. I would definitely recommend this if ever you find yourself without a place to stay but I don’t know if it is legal to crash at an airport. I will say, no one bothered me throughout the night.

As i have stated, mistakes have the potential to change the entire course of your trip. I have missed buses and trains due to time changes I was unaware of, causing me to catch trains the next day setting my trip on a whole different course.  As a result of this, I have gone to places I originally wasn’t going to go, I have seen the most beautiful sunset of my life, and I have fallen in love with cities I had previously written off.  All of this because I missed my ride and had to stay an extra day. Traveling mistakes have the potential to improve your trip.

Yes, mishaps suck they can ruin a trip if you let them. Misadventures are hard.  But remember, there are both, good and bad sides of the coin. Over the years I have learned to change my perspective to see the good. I know it is better to embrace and learn from the mistakes I make on the road than to complain and fight them.  Now I use them to fuel my passion for backpacking around this wide and wonderful world. I use them to test my strengths, my weakness, and to see what I am made of.  I use them to grow and mold myself into the person I know I can be.  I say …… we should embrace our mistakes, learn from our misadventures, and try to turn them into a masterpiece.

8 thoughts on “Why Mishaps are Awesome”

  1. Charles @ The Barefoot Nomad

    Stephen, we’re honored you included our site in your post. As you probably guessed, we didn’t learn our lessons from everything always going our way. The only way to grow as a person is to try doing new things. The unfortunate side of doing that is the more in life you attempt, the more there’s a chance of failure. Becoming wise is taking those failures, learning from them and then realizing that every action, whether good or ill, is an opportunity to grow.

    We’ve made friends, startling revelations, major positive changes and had the best adventures as results of things not going the way we expected them. I sometimes think that mistakes are just life’s way of telling you that maybe you’re on the wrong path and it’s time to make a change.

    Good post! I also agree that booking your first night accommodation is always a wise idea. After hours on a plane, train or bus I’d rather be stuck in a dive for the night than to have to sleep on the street, a beach, a bench in the park or in a public transit hub. All of which things we’ve had to do in the past and will hopefully never do again!

  2. Nice blog post!
    The bigest mishaps that I had in my backpack years was that I had a forgotten to pack in my towels, shampoo, toothbrush and toothpaste. One time I had mistaken the time due to the time difference, so I came way to late for my flight back home and that was the biggest F up’s of all.

  3. They make it so much more fun! when I was in Chile on the way to Sao Paulo for my brothers wedding there was an earthquake in the airport. I was completely alone and have never freaked out so much in my life! But now i just pee myself every time I think about it! haha

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