Ever since I lost my credit card on the first day of my first solo international trip to South America back in 2010, I’ve had plenty of (mis)adventures around the world. But I’ve learnt some valuable lessons – such as the power of a packing checklist – which have helped me handle over seven years of sometimes bad luck.
First lesson: Get insurance, no matter how short the trip. Having it was why I wasn’t bothered when I returned from Uganda to find the wheel of my suitcase hanging on for dear life. Insurance was why my travel companions weren’t fazed when we arrived in Zimbabwe to discover that all their bags had been broken into, making me glad I’d upgraded to a sturdier one with a built-in lock. And having insurance was why I wasn’t upset when I missed my return flight to South Africa because the train I was in got stuck in the European countryside. Everything was covered and comfortable, thanks to the beauty of Business Class.
Second lesson: Understand that nothing is really a big deal. I didn’t think I’d survive when I lost my phone the day before I flew to Ghana, but after getting over the difficulty of waking up without an alarm (and calling a normal cab rather than an Uber, thanks to the landline at a nearby hotel), I was fine.
I also managed when I got back from Zanzibar only to discover that my suitcase hadn’t made it onto the plane. I had my essentials in my hand luggage, which left the airport official pleasantly surprised when I chose not to complain about the fact that my bag would only be delivered the next day. And there was the time we spent Christmas in Nairobi without running water in the morning and no electricity in the afternoon. We knew there was no point in complaining about problems that wouldn’t last long.
Third, and most important lesson: Go with the flow. Not everything is under control, and that’s okay. One day, you’ll be stuck in Mombasa in a sweltering apartment with no wifi and neighbours who blast Bollywood beats day and night. Or you might be stuck in Cairo traffic and running late, while on another day you’ll arrive early and be the one waiting for everyone else who clearly didn’t get up before sunrise as you did. Your would-be travel companions, who seem to have a unique allergy to planning and/or commitment, will cancel on you the night before your cruise departs, but guess what? It’s all okay.
Going with the flow is easy when you travel without rigid agendas and with space in your schedule so that any changes or delays don’t throw you off course. That’s what I discovered in Paris, where there was enough flexibility between and beyond the main things I’d planned to do.
I enjoyed a full-day foodie tour with Urban Adventures. I wandered the streets on VoiceMap’s self-guided tours. I even went backstage at the Paradis Latin, the city’s oldest cabaret. But the best moments were the little and often unplanned experiences beyond the tourist attractions that let me experience France as the locals do, from stumbling upon a jazz trio performing on a bridge over the River Seine to listening to a talented hip-hop group entertaining passengers on a midnight subway train.
So, wherever you’re jetting off to right now, keep the words of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh in mind: “Smile, breathe and go slowly.” And keep my words in mind too: sit back, relax and enjoy your trip. You’re on holiday after all!
Eugene Yiga is an award-winning copywriter, journalist, and blogger based in Cape Town. Visit: eugeneyiga.com. Twitter: @eugeneyiga