On Traveling: With Resilience
The name of a book caught my attention recently, Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back. The theory is that some people, organizations and cultures bounce back easier than others because they’ve learned to be resilient. According to this book, resilience is the ability for something to “maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances.�
I’d say travel is a pretty dramatic change to our usual circumstances. But not everyone handles this change very elegantly.
When traveling, we’re (mostly) stripped of our identity – that who we think we are. We carry with us a small number of items we identify with: a few changes of clothes, our camera and perhaps some other electronics, and a quart-size bag of toiletries. Down to the bare essentials, we can easily be off our game, out of sorts to a certain degree.
Add to that the stress of traveling to a region we’re unfamiliar with – regardless of whether it’s Middle America or the Middle East – and you’re creating a perfect storm that could turn into a potential disaster. Well, perhaps that’s being dramatic. But certainly the elements are there to create an environment of high stress.
So what can one do to reduce the stress level and be a happier traveler? Well, learn to go with the flow. Be flexible. Be resilient. Accept the situation at hand and control the only thing you can – your thoughts and your actions.
Much of our frustration, whether at home or abroad, stems from unmet expectations – whether related to our partner, colleague, the line at the coffee shop or an expensive meal out. If any of these fall short of what we had hoped, we’re annoyed. And the truth is that we spend much of our time living with this feeling of low-grade annoyance.
I’d argue also that we’ve become too reliant upon having the perfect experience. In this sense, technology is not our friend. We believe that because we can see photos of our hotel and read reviews before booking that it will meet our expectations. In India, we can now book our train tickets online, but it doesn’t mean that the train will run on time or that the air conditioning works in the first class car. How you respond to this type of minor setback, that is, how resilient you are, will make all the difference not only during the journey but long afterwards when you’re sharing stories and photographs.
No matter how much we prepare for a trip, making sure we have all of our documents in order, triple checking our packing list and laying out plans for the entire journey, something will fail in the process.
Ultimately, it’s how we choose to respond to those apparent “failings” that will determine a happy life and happy travels.
I was talking to a very well-traveled friend. He said that his pet peeve was when people take too much time getting to their seats and loading their luggage when boarding a flight. When I asked why, he said it was because the plane might lose its place on the tarmac and they might end up departing late. I then asked if he had ever missed a connection because of someone being slow during boarding. “Huh?” he asked. He didn’t get it. His low-grade annoyance, his pet peeve, yielded no tangible downside yet he let it bother him every time he boarded a flight.
Now, I’m not saying I’ve got this stuff down myself. I admit to having a meltdown or two at the airport when I’ve had to wait 10+ minutes for a female assist for a pat down or when a flight has been cancelled and the ground staff is unable to answer questions regarding rescheduled flights.
But looking back at those times, I realize how futile it was to get mad. I didn’t miss my flight because I had to wait at security and, ultimately, I have made it home regardless of a delayed or canceled flight.
Sure, it takes time to retrain ourselves to be more patient and resilient – particularly when we live in a society that looks upon imperfection as failure and believes we should put ourselves before others. But one thing is for certain. You’ll have plenty of opportunities during your next trip to practice both patience and resilience, I promise.
On Traveling: Solo Safety Issues