Frustration During Travel…What To Do?

Derek Travel Tips & Advice 39 Comments

I walked along the sidewalk of Jamshedji Tata Road in Mumbai, sweating profusely in the 115 degree heat and under the increasing weight of my backpack. Both of my hands struggled to hang on to a 50 lb (22 kg) duffel bag that I carried for a fellow traveler I had just met on a bus and as a result, I was unable to wipe my face dry. My eyes stung and there was nothing I could do about it.

To make the situation worse, my good friend (who had joined me on this trip to India) and I couldn’t locate the hotel we had booked, as every single person we stopped on the street led us in a different direction. We had already circled the huge Oval Maiden Cricket Park with no luck at all and we’d walked around the entire Churchgate train station without making any progress whatsoever. And, of course, we eventually found ourselves right back where we had started.

We decided to try yet a new direction. I stepped down from the sidewalk and stood in between two parked cars, waiting for the impenetrable Mumbai traffic to clear just enough for us to run across to the other side of the street. And then, only seconds before I was about to begin my sprint, the parked car to my right began to move forward, quickly ramming into the duffel bag I held and knocking me off balance. I immediately found myself pinned to the car on my left with my legs twisted into a most uncomfortable position and unable to move at all. If the car moved forward any further, my legs were sure to snap in half.

I remained wedged between the two vehicles for what felt like ten seconds (although it was probably ten hundredths of a second), until the careless driver slowly backed his car away.

And at that very moment, the heat, the stinging eyes, the back pain, the being lost, the near loss of my legs, all mixed together into one giant fireball, causing me to explode. I dropped the duffel bag on the ground, faced the driver who had just hit me and with as hard a fist as I could muster, I slammed my hand down on the hood of his car, twice.

Still fuming, I then ran over to the passenger side door, yanked it open and started screaming at the driver, accusing him of trying to kill me. While his face was immediately filled with fear and he quickly began offering apology after apology, I could barely hear his words as I continued screaming, at one point slamming the door shut, opening it up again and screaming some more.

It was not until I glanced towards the backseat of the car and noticed a petrified young boy of about two years old, his face covered in tears as he cowered in the corner, that I snapped out of my fit of anger. At that point, I simply closed the passenger door one more time, grabbed my backpack and the duffel bag and walked off down the road.

THE REASON BEHIND THE RANT

In the end, my above burst of frustration had almost nothing to do with the driver and him pinning me against another vehicle. That was simply the tipping point, the culmination of several unfortunate incidents.

Traveling, and especially third-world travel, can be difficult and exhausting even when everything goes according to plan, so when extreme tests of one’s patience and sanity are thrown in your direction, the challenge intensifies, and with it the frustration.

Here’s what happened…

Two days prior to this incident in Mumbai, I had been traveling on a long-distance bus across the Indian state of Rajasthan when a rainstorm suddenly began and my face became soaked before I could close the window next to me. Unfortunately, though, after wiping the water away with my hand and licking some of it off my lips, I discovered that it was not raining at all. It turned out that the woman in the sleeper compartment above me had a bout of motion sickness and when she vomited out of her window, “it” had all re-entered the bus through my window below, consequently landing right on my face.

The following night, only moments after entering my own sleeper compartment that I reserved for an 18-hour bus ride to Mumbai, fully intent on resting my exhausted body, I proceeded to spill my 2-liter bottle of water all over the thin foam mattress. And so I spent 18 hours laying in a puddle, unable to change compartments or move into a seat as the bus was completely full. When I finally arrived in Mumbai, wet and on the verge of delirium, I discovered that I was still an hour and a half taxi ride away from the heart of the city.

It was after this taxi ride, after walking around lost in Mumbai for another forty-five minutes, after melting in the heat and feeling my arms and back slowly break, that I found myself pinned in between two vehicles. And so, I snapped, like I’d never snapped before.

Actually, my friend would later tell me how utterly shocked he was at my reaction as he had never seen me so angry in the 15 years that we’d been friends. Heck, in the 30 years that I had known myself at that point, I’d never seen myself so upset either, not even close.

Later that night, after we had finally found our hotel and I had taken a much needed four hour nap, I had a chance to reflect on my horrible behavior. And every time I replayed the incident in my mind, I nearly broke down into tears, feeling nothing but embarrassment and shame.

FRUSTRATION AS A COMPANION

As I mentioned above, frustration is an expected part of travel. The mere act of challenging ourselves to journey beyond our comfort zones can be, well, uncomfortable at times. Ideally, we should embrace these challenges to our routine, to our ideas of how the world should work. I’ve always considered frustration to be a traveling companion, one who is constantly poking me with a stick, trying to stir me up and knock me off of my course, but who, in the end, is there to teach me lessons about life and about myself.

For years I was able to maintain my focus, to equanimously accept and handle even the most brutal, potentially frustrating of travel challenges. But on the occasion above, I failed the test. Instead of taking a calm step back in order to prevent myself from reaching such a useless level of anger, I chose to lunge for the jugular of the next person I encountered. While I certainly did learn a great deal about myself through this incident, I did so at the expense of other people. And that is not acceptable to me.

I can honestly say that such an incident has never happened again and in fact, I think I’ve been an even calmer person since that one blip. Rarely do I find myself overly frustrated these days, no matter what sort of troubling situation I may be facing.

DEALING WITH THE TOUGH TIMES

The key is to find ways to deal with the frustrations of travel so that we don’t allow every negative incident to build up, one on top of the other. If we’re not careful and we keep our frustrations inside, this is when we might find ourselves yelling at the next beggar that approaches, snapping at the shop owner that tries to lure us into their shop or treating everyone we encounter as if they had already done us harm. And then, we’ll snap over and over again, quickly watching our once rewarding travels unravel into a string of negative experiences.

Here’s some tips on how to handle the frustrations of travel:

  • Do something different: Just stop whatever you’re doing and do something different. If I’m frustrated while trying to buy a train ticket, I’ll leave the station and go grab a bite to eat. The longer you remain in the frustrating situation, the more frustrating it may become.
  • Close your eyes and breathe: It’s simple and you’ve probably heard it before, but it works. This will help calm you down and allow your brain to regather itself before you make any irrational moves (such as I did above!).
  • Call home: Pick up a phone or jump on Skype and call a friend, parent or anyone you’re close to back at home. Chances are that even a quick conversation will put a smile on your face, allowing you to realize that your frustration perhaps wasn’t so terrible after all.
  • Think before acting: Don’t allow yourself to do something you might regret. First, think about the consequences and ask yourself how you’ll feel if your frustration takes control of your actions. I now know from experience that I’ll feel terrible for days on end if I act rashly.
  • Change your habits: If frustration seems to be a regular occurrence during your travels, you may want to examine such factors as your diet, sleeping pattern and exercise levels. A change from the norm in any of these can easily knock us out of whack, leaving us far more vulnerable to becoming frustrated by small inconveniences.

Finally, if you just can’t find a way to return to that sense of calm that you have somehow lost, it may be time for you to move on to a different country or to take a break from traveling altogether. Sometimes a complete change of scenery is simply the best remedy.


How do you deal with the frustrations of travel?

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Comments 39

  1. Tom

    Mate, I’m so glad I read this. When I was in China recently I had a snap at a group of taxi drivers trying to get me in their cabs.
    I had a really trying couple of days which ended up on me missing out on something really amazing that I was keen to do and eventually I just snapped, threw my bag down and stormed towards one of the drivers who was just trying to make a living. He ended up getting quite frightened and was clearly quite disturbed by the situation.
    I felt pretty bad afterwards.
    It’s good to know that I am not the only one who has lost his temper while travelling at some point.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Tom – It happens, and it happens to most of us at some point. Sometimes it all builds up and there’s no other option it seems.

  2. Saloni Negi

    Traffic and drivers and the ‘I have right of way all the time’ mentality in India can drive anyone berserk. It’s happened to me twice when attempting to cross the street, once in Delhi and once in Bangalore, that a car has come to stop just inches from my knees. And countless times when they have swerved around me with maybe an inch to spare. Talk about unnerving. And I too lost it, pounding my fist on the hood of a car and screaming at the driver. And my day hadn’t been nearly as bad as yours! You have my sympathy. Love your writing about Playa by the way. I’m expecting to move there in a few months myself.

  3. Athena

    1) Cold coka cola: Totally can make everything better.

    2) 1/2 hour on the internet: I’m a poor victim of my generation and find a comforting familiarity with cyberspace.

    3) Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds: Instantly calming, and an excellent mantra. While travelling with my parents (as an adult) my mom often found Vietnam frustrating with buses not on time and the like. I’d be like “mom?” “ya, what.” “Mommy don’t worry… about a thing… Because…” “stop singing in public.” “EEEEvery little thing, is going to be alright! now you sing it..” Works like a charm.

    1. Earl

      Hey Athena – Ha! Those are three solid suggestions for sure. Another one I use is to go and eat my favorite food no matter where I am. But you really can’t go wrong with a little Bob Marley. I guess that’s why his songs can be heard in just about every single country on the planet!

  4. Dave and Deb

    Don’t be too hard on yourself. That was a tough couple of days. Anyone would have snapped at that point…Plus, remember you were hit by a car.
    We spent three months in India and I highly doubt that that person would have given hitting you a second thought.
    Now, I know you over reacted by screaming at them, but I bet if you did nothing, the person was just going to drive away anyway without an apology or seeing if you were O.K.
    I remember walking down the side of the road in Jaipur, just loosing it on nobody in particular. I was just ranting to myself because by that time I had enough. I must have looked like a crazy lady. Dave avoided walking beside me at that point:)
    .-= Dave and Deb´s last blog ..Chateau D’If in Marseille- France- Photo Friday =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Dave & Deb – That’s an amusing image of you walking down the street in Jaipur ranting at yourself! Good call by Dave to fall a step or two behind!

      You’re right, the driver would have just kept on going as that is the way things are done over there. And I was perfectly aware that I was the outsider in a foreign culture, but on that one occasion I just couldn’t stop myself from rebelling against the idea that hitting someone with a car is a normal, accepted part of life. Actually, about a month later an auto-rickshaw (tuk-tuk) drove over my foot in Delhi and all I did was laugh it off! By that point I was back to my normal calm self…

  5. Margo

    funny… in this kind of circumstance I am more apt to internalize everything and cry – but this is a generality. There have certainly been times when I wish I had ripped someone a new one – but as a female, it would likely play out in a different scenario, perhaps over something more interpersonal. And food. I’m sure it would be a sign that I needed food.
    .-= Margo´s last blog ..Macaroon Madness in Charleston- SC =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Margo! I know what you’re saying about keeping some of the frustrations inside and a good cry must certainly help get rid of that anger. And at least that form of release doesn’t involve harmful words or actions aimed at other people. As for food, after reading through your site, I’d be surprised if you weren’t always carrying some cupcakes around with you to help ensure that your frustration level remains quite low!

  6. Anne-Marie

    Hi Earl
    Have been lurking but did really enjoy this post. I head off with my partner and two teenagers for 3 months starting in August. We continually talk about these kinds of strategies. I like the ones you had and others have suggested. I would add food. Almost always for me food is the issue – low blood sugar, then everything crashes at the same time. Bringing up kids we often had granola bars in our packs for hikes and so we hope to have snacks on hand to try to keep us all level. Wish us luck! We get to India late September for our Rajastan stage however I am sure there will be challenges before that which will call for a refill of water, food, breathing, tea, and nap!
    .-= Anne-Marie´s last blog ..Family Tour … so far =-.

    1. Earl

      Thanks so much for commenting Anne-Marie and that’s wonderful that you’re so close to the departure date for your adventure! It appears as if you’ve already thought through many of the challenges that you may face along the way and I’m sure that will prove very useful once the trip begins, especially in a place such as India. Also, the good news over there is that you’ll never be far from a sweet shop, so you can always pop a freshly made laddoo (my favorite Indian sweet) into your mouth for a sugar boost!

      I’m not sure if it would be of any use or interest to you, but a few months ago I wrote a post on why every traveler should visit India.

      I definitely wish you all the luck possible on your trip and considering I’m an India addict, I’ll be curious to know how you all get along over there!

  7. Financial Samurai

    Oh wow…… that is quite an experience soaking in the projectile vomit from the passenger above! Holy moly!

    India was THE toughest place in the world for me to travel. My patience was tested left and right, especially by the fact that everybody tries to rip off foreigners!

    I feel your rage, as I’ve snapped before too during brief stints of road rage. It’s nuts, and something I try to be mindful of.

    Good tips there!

    Looking forward to your guidance on the new site!

    Best,

    Sam
    .-= Financial Samurai´s last blog ..An Inside Look At The Yakezie- Stage One Recap! =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Sam! I would agree that India is a challenge like no other and if one can survive all of the challenges that present themselves, one is certain to have a life-changing experience.

      And I’m looking forward to participating in the new site as well. I’ve been a little sidetracked as of late but now that I’m back in Mexico, I’ll be able to focus once again!

  8. Andi

    I really loved this post Earl. To me the reason why I travel is to challenge myself and I know that most challenges are going to involve some level of stress and frustration, but in the end it makes me a better person. These tips you suggested are really, really helpful. I think the worst travel frustration I had was 2 years ago on NYE in Peru. I was at Machu Pichu and the travel agency I had used screwed me royally. To make a long story short I couldn’t get back to Cuzco in time to celebrate the New Year and I missed out on a party that I had paid hundreds of dollars for. Instead of just accepting the situation I let it ruin my AMAZING time at Machu Pichu and I yelled and made a scene at my guide, when it wasn’t even his fault. I soooo regret my actions and I wish that I had either gone off for a little walk on my own to breathe or had thought about my actions beforehand.
    .-= Andi´s last blog ..India- Day 6 =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Andi – Thanks for sharing that story as I think it probably a situation that most travelers can relate to. I’d bet that most of the people we end up taking our frustrations out on really have nothing to do with our problems at all and that of course makes the situation worse. But at least next time you’ll go for that short walk first, so the lesson was clearly learned!

      And hopefully your next NYE turned out much better!

  9. Simon

    Hey Big E,

    Recent story: caught a cab in malaysia last week during a torrential downpour. 1) The driver was riding the clutch so hard I swear it must have been his first time driving. 2) The driver was peering so hard I think his vision was seriously impaired. 3) A huge tree branch fell on the cab during the trip (no one injured thankfully), but we spent several minutes trying to get out from under it. 4) After far too long of all this I recognized my hotel through the rain, and realized the driver had taken me in a full circle.

    The only consolation I had was knowing it would make a good story 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Simon – Did the driver even know he took you in a full circle or was he just lost? I could see how that would be a frustrating cab ride. But you’re right, it is a good story and quite an amusing one now that it is over.

      I’m looking forward to catching up with you again in the next week or so!

  10. Shannon OD

    I cannot even imagine how frustrated and spent you must have been to have that reaction. Food is often the culprit for me – as soon as I feel the irritability or tears coming on I know that I need to just stop talking to people and find something to eat.

    I actually have a much tougher time in these situations with my traveling companions than strangers…it takes a lot (maybe haven’t reached it yet) for me to totally flip out on a stranger but I have unfortunately, been pushed to my limit once or twice when traveling with friends…as you said, never acceptable so I try to really make sure that I never allow myself to reach that exhaustion/hungry/frustrated/”done” place.

    1. Earl

      Hey Shannon – Traveling with friends definitely presents its own set of challenges. When things get too complicated I always take a ‘day off’ from those I’m traveling with and just spend the day on my own. Unfortunately, it’s tough to take a day off from strangers since they are everywhere. So that’s why we need to try and figure out what is causing our frustrations so that we can get rid of them as soon as possible. Glad to know you’re able to always remain in control and avoid that final stage of anger!

      And even when I’m not too hungry, I also find that sitting down for a meal is an excellent way to clear my head and calm down.

  11. John Bardos - JetSetCitizen

    Hi Earl,

    Sorry to hear about your frustrations, but this will make a great travel story that you can tell over and over again. I hope to hear it again over beers sometime soon!

    I sometimes explode in frustrating situations as well. I find doing something ridiculous is a good way to change your mood. Stick out your tongue and make funny faces or maybe jump up and down like a child throwing a temper tantrum. It is hard to be upset when you are making a fool of yourself. You will often get some laughs from others as well.
    .-= John Bardos – JetSetCitizen´s last blog ..Life is Good- =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey John – I love those ideas and have no doubt they would break the tension and force everyone to calm down quite a bit! Making fun of oneself is something we should all learn to do anyway and overall, that will help us avoid some of the more frustrating moments we may encounter.

  12. ayngelina

    Wow you are so brave to admit that you completely lost it. I think a lot of people get into similar situations, I know I have, and feel so guilty over it.

    I’m totally with you on advice to do something different. Many times when I’m about to cry I just decide to go get something to eat or drink and the break allows me to refocus.
    .-= ayngelina´s last blog ..How I spent my 33rd birthday part 1 of 2 =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Ayngelina – Exactly! All it takes is something as simple as walking a few feet and grabbing a bite to eat. And if that’s all we need to calm ourselves down most of the time, we must make a dedicated effort not to remain in a frustrating situation for too long at all.

      And happy birthday by the way! I actually went volcano boarding at Cerro Negro last year, which resulted in this: Volcano Boarding. Not very pleasant at all, but still worth it. Glad you made it down in one piece!

    1. Earl

      Hey Kyle – When I met you in NYC I thought I noticed a bit of a violent streak, although you seemed more like someone who would punch a wall instead.

      But yeah, putting yourself in familiar surroundings does help eliminate many of the factors that cause travel frustrations. Staying in the same place is not worth it at all, even if it changes your plans completely. In the end, you’ll avoid having the anger dictate your adventures and you’ll start enjoying yourself once again.

      And just joking about your violent streak, you definitely seemed like quite a calm and peaceful individual to me!

  13. Mike

    Great tips on handling frustrations.

    For me personally, when I notice I acting irritable or thinking negative thoughts a lot of the times I realize I haven’t drunk any water in a while. Thirst usually precedes my irritableness… Medical studies show that dehydration and depression often go hand in hand since the brain doesn’t receive enough water (brain is 85% water). When feeling irritable I’ll gulp down an entire bottle of water and instantly feel much better.

    By the way, that was a very heavy backpack. How heavy is your typical backpack Earl?

    1. Earl

      Hey Mike – Thanks so much for commenting! A lack of water can definitely be something that leads to irritable behavior, especially for travelers who are constantly walking around all day, not even realizing that they’re becoming dehydrated. Downing a bottle of water cold very well be the solution needed.

      As for my backpack, it rarely weighs more than 20 lbs when I travel. On the occasion I wrote about above, it was actually a huge duffel bag that was weighing me down. My backpack was light (although the longer I walked around aimlessly in the heat, the heavier it felt), but this duffel bag, which I carried for a poor traveler who was trying to lug three huge bags around India, weighed 50 lbs!

  14. rose

    Hahaha! It is almost impossible to imagine you in that state! That reminds me of the one time I exploded after weeks of pent-up anger in India – what a situation I created! It culminated in a fistfight and then a police escort to our final destination… not exactly my usual style of travel.

    I agree with Audrey – I always try to sit down somewhere slightly out of the way (even just under a tree) and drink or eat something. Trying to bring my attention back to the present moment. And you’re definitely right, sometimes things like changes in exercise habits and diet affect a lot more than we realize! But generally what works best for me is when I try to remember a small trick my mother used to tell me about when I was younger, which was to “count my blessings”; every time something bad happens, try to think of at least 3 good things you can be thankful for. There are always a bunch, if you look enough…

    1. Earl

      Hey Rose – It’s nice to know that most of my readers (at least the ones I’ve met) think of me as such a calm person! Although now I’m not so sure about you – a fist-fight and a police escort? Talk about being out of character!

      And thanks for sharing your mother’s advice. It’s a great tool to use and sometimes all we need to realize is how lucky we are to be traveling in the country wherever we happen to be. That thought alone should make any of our frustrations seems quite insignificant.

  15. Alan

    I’m with Audrey. One of my favorite posts on this site! I’ve certainly “lost it” before, on a 22.5 hr train from Istanbul to Bucharest. I was hungry, fatigued and at that point utterly claustrophobic. But it’s learning to deal with those moments that make us stronger, more calm in the eye of the storm.

    Thanks for sharing.
    .-= Alan´s last blog ..Cycling Africa with Mark Lawrence =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Alan – Well, I’d have a hard time imagining your version of ‘lost it’ being too intense as well after meeting you! If you think about it, it’s quite incredible how much abuse and suffering we can learn to accept and deal with through our travel experiences. And that’s what I love, that despite putting myself in the most uncomfortable positions as often as possible, I’ve learned how to react to these frustrations in a healthy and beneficial manner (most of the time anyway!). It’s actual proof of the benefits of travel.

  16. Audrey

    I have to admit that after meeting you it’s hard to imagine you losing your cool like you describe in the scene above. You seem so calm and collected (in a good way) these days.

    Long-term traveling can push people to the edge. I tend to try and remove myself from the situation and go to a calm place to collect myself again. For example, just find the nearest cafe of food stall and sit there a long time enjoying your chai or coffee. Many times, the anger and frustration melts away in that peaceful state. Another idea is to take a nap. I find sleep (and being well-rested) tends to put things into better perspective.
    .-= Audrey´s last blog ..Panorama Friday- Market Day and Banana Peels in Yunnan- China =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Audrey – Honestly, it is shocking to me how I acted this one time as I normally am ‘too relaxed and calm’ as my friends and family tell me!

      The nap idea is a great point as sometimes we may not even realize how exhausted, both physically and mentally, we may be during our travels. For example, walking around a busy market may seem innocent enough, but once you take into account the excitement, the awareness, the adjustments to foreign surroundings that we go through, it can be quite draining without us ever realizing it. And often, a nap is needed to restore our energy and clarity.

        1. Earl

          Hey Jennifer – Sleep deprivation can turn anyone into a completely unrecognizable version of themselves. It all starts with that grumpiness that seems to take over as we get more and more tired. The cold water trick is a good one. It’s both quick and quite effective, both important factors when trying to limit a rise to anger!

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