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Enjoying the Journey

Embracing Travel Adventures and Misadventures

A flight from Ireland to France was cancelled due to a strike. I was agitated to say the least. Didn’t they know I had to important stuff to do in Paris?! However, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise: it gave me the chance to reconnect with friends with whom I had volunteered in Spain, and I befriended their families while waiting for the next flight out. Not only did I get a chance to see more of Belfast (where I hadn’t spent much time), but I solidified these friendships and had an incredible impromptu experience.

I’m glad the strike happened.

Retrospect is a brilliant thing for travel. It is often in the aftermath of an experience that we can see the romance—or sometimes tragicomedy—of it all, and appreciate it for what it was. There’s usually a silver lining, even if it’s simply a great story to share.

Fundraising Highs, Lows, and Woes

When I was in Thailand a few years ago, my boyfriend at the time and I had a close brush with Cyclone Nargis, which obliterated chunks of the neighboring country of Burma—a mere 150kms away from where we were. Deeply touched by our proximity to the disaster, we hatched a simple plan to buy some water and deliver it to the cyclone survivors who were bereft of water, shelter, and food. With the help of some local Thai people, this simple plan soon exploded into an international fundraising campaign.

We weren’t really up for spearheading this sort of campaign at the time, but rose to the occasion out of perceived necessity. We spent our days on the streets networking, raising money, and sourcing goods locally; and we spent our evenings online networking, raising money, and raising awareness in other parts of the world that had just woken up given the time difference. It was a 20-hour-a-day job that lasted for two solid weeks.

Honestly, I hated the whole process.

But after all was said and done, we raised almost $15,000 for the cyclone survivors and managed to get aid into a country with closed borders that had fallen into obscurity after a subsequent earthquake in China had garnered more publicity.

This story isn’t over yet. As if the fatigue and drama of the fundraising campaign wasn’t enough, when we tried to pick up from where we left off in our Southeast Asian trip, my boyfriend became terribly ill with dengue fever. We spent the next week in a hospital while he fought for his life.

Where’s the karma in this? I wondered. After doing such a great deed, shouldn’t the travel gods have paved a yellow brick road to bliss for us?

Less than a year later, my boyfriend and I found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the Victorian Bushfires in Australia; evacuated for over a month and unable to escape while we were surrounded by fires. So what’s a Canadian couple with nowhere to stay to do? Volunteer, of course!

Despite our remaining fatigue from the year prior, we rose to the occasion and became instrumental in the relief efforts. It was exhausting – emotionally and physically. The trauma of the event is something that is taking years to understand and recover from for many of the survivors—and even for me.

This doesn’t sound very rosy, does it? It goes without saying that in both instances we did lots of good for the communities around us, but it came at a significant cost too. However, if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Why?

The fundraising campaign for Cyclone Nargis survivors led to our meeting TJ: a wonderful Thai man who ran the internet café we frequented. Inspired by our cause, he granted us unmitigated access to his café, drove us everywhere, acted as our interpreter, and helped us to bridge the cultural gap between Canada and Thailand in our efforts to network with local Thai business people. He—his wife, daughter, and college friend—became close friends with whom we still stay in touch.

Although the dengue fever can hardly be seen as a blessing, there were silver linings to that experience as well, including the treasured support of TJ and his family, and if nothing else—one heck of a story to tell. (Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Quite literally, this was the case).

The upshot of being involved in the Victorian Bushfires in Australia was that the Canadian High Consulate and Australian Immigration thanked us for our help by extending our Australian visas for an extra year and giving us working rights—something my boyfriend had been yearning for but didn’t know how to obtain. Although there was no expectation of such a reward when we volunteered, it was a lovely reminder that we generally get what we need, when we need it most.

Some of the best travel adventures are actually misadventures when you’re in the thick of it.

Embracing Experiences, and Maintaining Perspective

With the passage of time, we are hard-wired to forget our mediocre or lackluster experiences, and we tend to remember the noteworthy and wonderful ones. It is these experiences that often lead us to the most entertaining stories and memories—not to mention growth opportunities.

Travel (for many people) is largely about pushing beyond comfort zones to expand our horizons and see what’s possible. Going to a marketplace in a country where you can’t speak the language, don’t understand the customs, can’t recognize the foods and wares, and struggle to count out the currency is overwhelming. Leaving your hotel or hostel to go for a walk—without a map—and getting hopelessly lost while wandering, is also overwhelming. Moreover, both experiences will help you to discover something new about the place you are visiting, as well as about yourself.

In the marketplace, you learn to communicate with charades and broken bits of native language. You buy a food you don’t recognize and try it; sometimes it’s a dud, and other times it’s the most wonderful thing you’ve ever tasted. (I still remember trying rolinea in Hawaii; a fruit that looks disgusting but tastes like banana cream pie. It remains one of my favorite foods, despite never finding it anywhere else in the world thus far).

In the streets while wandering aimlessly and trying to find your way back to where you started, your senses become heightened as you look for something familiar to reorient yourself. Sometimes you’re forced to communicate with locals and ask for their assistance; a chance encounter that sometimes turns into a friendship. Alternatively, you wander into a local eatery you wouldn’t have otherwise discovered and find a little piece of “off the beaten track” to call your own.

So the next time you are in the midst of a “bad experience” leaving you feeling like the sky has fallen and your travel days are numbered, take a deep breath, and simply embrace the experience for what it is. Chances are you’ll look back on it as one of the “highlights” of your travels. Just keep your eyes and ears open, roll with the punches, and seize all opportunities as they arise. You never know where your next travel adventure—or misadventure—will take you.

Nora Dunn has been traveling the world full-time in a financially sustainable manner since 2007. She loves to take each day as it comes and embrace travel experiences for what they are (although she’d be happy to avoid natural disasters for a while). You can read more about here adventures (and misadventures) at www.theprofessionalhobo.com.