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?