The Uselessness of Getting Upset While Traveling

Derek Mexico, Perspectives 105 Comments

The Uselessness of Getting Upset While Traveling

About a year and a half ago, I was sitting at an outdoor table in front of a tiny food stall in the small town of Izamal, Mexico. There was a large group of us and we had all ordered some lunch. After fifteen minutes of waiting, the woman working at the food stall began brining out our food, one plate at a time. The only thing is that what she was bringing us, wasn’t exactly what we had ordered.

And before we knew it, our table was full of more chicken salbutes than we could have possibly wanted to eat, yet there wasn’t a taco or panucho or beef salbute in sight, all of which had been asked for. Some drinks were missing and some drinks were incorrect as well.

Of course, as this was all playing out, it was only natural that there started to be some grumbling as we wondered how this woman had managed to screw up our simple order so much. There was even some talk that maybe she had brought out extra food just to try and get more money from us and the conversation then turned to cheating and ripping foreigners off and how we needed to be careful. The mood around the table had clearly shifted, from happy and jovial to a bit annoyed and upset.

But, why?

After we finished eating whatever was brought to us, all of which was quite tasty I might add, I went over to the counter and paid the bill. Looking at the piece of paper where she had written our order, I noticed that she had brought us exactly what she had written on that paper. Was it what we had actually ordered? I don’t think so. But given our lack of Spanish fluency and the fact that Spanish was this woman’s second language (Mayan was her first), she did the best she could to decipher what we had said.

Also, in this tiny town of Izamal, large groups is not a common sight at a local food stall, not to mention a group consisting of several foreigners who, once again, for the most part, speak no Spanish and if they do, speak a hacked up version of it. Second, in Mexico, it’s not common to ask a ton of questions when ordering food. You just read the menu, choose something and that’s about it. For many of us, we are used to customizing our orders back home, asking for clarification, asking for more specific descriptions of each dish and so forth, so I can only imagine the confusion we caused by bombarding this woman with our questions, again, in our hacked up Spanish which wasn’t even her first language!

If you look at the situation this way, from an entirely different perspective, you can understand how we might have overwhelmed this food stall in this tiny, laid-back town where life is quite basic and moves at an extremely slow pace.

So, why did we immediately start thinking that we were being cheated and ripped off? Why were we getting upset that our order was not 100% correct?

The thing is that we tend to interpret everything we do/see/experience based on our specific knowledge of how we think the world works, or how it has worked for us throughout our lives. And this knowledge comes from our education, culture, upbringing, social circles and other experiences that we go through. It is not easy for us to first recognize, and then accept, that every situation has an endless number of perspectives depending on the people involved. Everyone brings their own background and culture to the table, something that makes it nearly impossible for two people to interpret the exact same situation in the exact same way.

With the example above at the food stall in Izamal, we wondered why our order was incorrect, something that seems like a perfectly normal reaction in our culture. But as for the woman running the food stall, she tried her very best to do something that she almost never has to do – cater to a large group of foreigners who are asking lots of questions, making adjustments to their orders, speaking terrible Spanish and probably confusing her beyond belief! She didn’t ‘screw up’ our order on purpose. She wasn’t after our money and didn’t try to cheat us at all.

In fact, she always had a smile on her face as she ran around trying to provide good food and good service to us random visitors to her home town. Suddenly the extra salbutes and the lack of tacos and the absence of the agua de tamarindo on the table doesn’t really matter. Whatever this sweet woman brought would be fine with me and I truly appreciated the effort she put into serving us!

Avoiding Unnecessary Negativity
When we travel, we are going to face endless situations, where we interpret things one way and we then react accordingly. And sometimes, this is going to lead us to anger, frustration and a strong feeling of annoyance based on how we think things should work. But if we can somehow force ourselves to take a moment before we react, before we reach a conclusion as to why something has happened, why someone has behaved a certain way, why we are in the situation we are in, and remind ourselves that every situation can be viewed from many different perspectives, we might be able to avoid unnecessary reactions that could impact our travels negatively.

When something happens and you start to get upset or annoyed, look around you. Look at everyone involved and try to think of the reasons they might have for their actions. Think of their culture, their background and influences, their possible life experiences and what may or may not be normal for that person. And remember that we are only seeing the world through our own experiences and that our world view is not the same world view as everyone we come across.

I try to remind myself of this constantly.

And this is how I’ve avoided what I believe to be unnecessary negativity for a long time now. Rarely do I get upset or annoyed or frustrated these days.

Getting Upset in Bishkek

Those Rude Locals!
If you’re walking around Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and you get lost, and you walk up to a random taxi driver, asking for directions in English and a few mispronounced Russian words, don’t get upset if you are met with a serious look and a raised hand from the man in the driver seat, as if he was brushing you away. There is a good chance that this man was just shy and not at all used to interacting with foreigners, and he didn’t understand your attempt at Russian, and he didn’t speak a word of English, and maybe that raised hand gesture was his way of saying “I’m sorry, but I just don’t know how to help you”.

It’s the very same situation but, as I’ve pointed out above, it’s a completely different perspective. And while we’ll always tend to believe that our way of interpreting the world is right, believe me when I say that it’s worth the effort to push through that stubbornness and accept the fact that others may see the world and every single experience differently than we do.

What a shame it would be to walk around Bishkek all day unable to enjoy the city because you are annoyed that the Kyrgyz people are unfriendly and not very welcoming based on one misinterpreted interaction!

It happens more often than you may think. Every day we react to hundreds of different experiences, ranging from tiny to major, yet we seldom take into account anyone’s perspective on those situations except for our own. It’s unavoidable to an extent, but we can try to remember, as often as possible, that there is no absolute perspective for any situation we face.

Taking this approach quickly leads to a realization that getting upset or annoyed isn’t really something that makes sense most of the time. It’s usually just a waste of energy that can drain all involved of any happiness they might have been experiencing at the time. And besides, with less anger and frustration in our lives, especially the unnecessary kind, comes a calmer, healthier lifestyle, something that will ensure we enjoy an infinitely more rewarding set of travel adventures as well!

Are you able to view situations from different perspectives and avoid getting upset? Or do you find it challenging to do so? Any other thoughts?

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Comments 105

  1. astha

    I absolutely agree with you! For me what works the best if trusting those I meet when I travel, and then it becomes much easier to see things from their perspective and go with the flow.. 🙂

  2. Alessandra Braun

    This is such a great read. So true. When I traveled in Thailand, I really had to learn to go with the flow. I ate what was put in front of me even though I was trying to order fried rice. When I was brought to the bus station instead of the train station, I figured it out. It really can ruin your experience when you bring negativity into the moment and that is essential for traveling. The world is a completely different place from someone else’s eyes and its so important to remember that. Thank you for this article!

  3. Claudia

    Thank you for this post Earl. People who travel should really try to adapt a bit more and be more understanding of local customs. I have led group tours of up to 20 persons in Central America. I speak Spanish, so communicating and making myself understood is hardly an issue. But imagine having a group of 20 persons when placing an order at a restaurant, when everybody is talking at the same time, and then you have to translate the specific requests (aka not as in the menu) while others meantime have changed their mind and want to add/take out something else. Of course there are bound to be mistakes. And of course the 20 drinks are not going to come out all at the same time, and within 1 minute. It was hard having to answer questions such as “Claudiaaaa, where is my drink, I am thirsty!?” What I fail to understand is why people can’t relax a little when they are on holiday. What’s the rush anyways?

  4. grahame

    Hey Earl
    I didn’t read all the comments, good, bad or indifferent (way too many of them) but my heart does go out to you nevertheless. There will always be people, no matter where you come from or where you go, who will not always agree with your sentiments. That’s life and you have to accept the fact. But then again, after travelling for so long, you should already be aware of this. Just close the door and move on.

    On the other hand, it’s refreshing to read this from a South African perspective. We live in crazy times and for this I’m glad I travel on a South African Passport. These days, persons travelling on American Passport are more likely to be targeted than people like myself travelling on a passport from a country, very few people know a lot about. It has its benefits. Even when I travelled during the apartheid years, it made me stronger.

    I have now applied for a British Passport and the WORLD PASSPORT just in case I may need a little extra helping hand.

    Isn’t it ironic that we were all born free and “should” have the right to travel wherever we wish without restrictions, yet in reality we are actually born with shackles. The answer to this is right on our doorstep. If only we can open our eyes and see the light.

  5. Pingback: Dont worry Just travel » Blog - Travel information and inspiration straight to the point

  6. Craig B

    Interesting article; I also have worked out that there is no point in getting cranky and carrying on like a pork chop when travelling. I have also worked out that if I’m in a bad temper for whatever reason while travelling, I am simply better off going back to my room, having a nap, and simply read a book and take it easy for the rest of the day, whether I’m in the backwoods of Mongolia or in a party town in Philippines. I always feel refreshed the next day, and am in a better frame of mind. Also, manners and a smile work wonders, and occasionally you just have to say ‘stuff it’ and accept the situation!

  7. Allie

    You can apply that to situations within your own country as well. If you’re in a line at a grocery store and everyone seems to be their most annoying just to make you angry, it’s a good exercise of empathy to wonder how everyone else’s day is going. Maybe the woman who can’t control her kids just got done with a 70 hour work week. Maybe the cashier was just dumped by his longterm girlfriend and that’s why he’s being slow and lethargic. Maybe the old lady with the billfold full of coupons is living on a fixed income. All you have to do is look at it all from a different perspective–AKA one other than your own.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Allie – Well said. When we get upset and blame others, the chances are very high that what we perceive to be happening isn’t actually what’s happening in reality. Great comment!

  8. Vivian Randall

    I totally agree with you Earl, I think complaining all the time spoils the purpose of traveling and get new experience. Unfortunately many Americans love complaining hoping to get better service and customer service according to their own perspectives but this is wrong, we have to travel with an open mind to understand others and we really have to look only the good side of everything. One big mistake is taking everything personal or against us.

  9. Sarah Harvey

    Completely agree! Friends of mine are always complaining about one thing or another. It ruins everything! OK so your husband wants something he’s used to from back home. Well, he’s not in Kansas any more!

    Someone who gets hot and bothered about these kinds of things is probably having a hard time adapting to the new culture or environment, even just to a new way of doing things. That’s what travel is about, is it not?

  10. Brooks

    Several years ago our “group” was traveling home. Our international leg of the trip home was cancelled. A new flight number was created and several hours later our flight resumed. Meanwhile, a few of us, myself included, were huffing and puffing and all upset and jumping all over the gate agent to the point we made her cry. One of our travel buddies was the oldest and wisest and after the dust dust settled, he gave me some very important words to live by, “Brooks, my friend, it’s only a delay. Don’t get upset. Don’t yell and scream. Make the best of it. You’ll live longer.” Weeks later, and back in my routine, his words hit me. To this day I have lived by his advice when traveling and it has made it that much more enjoyable. I only wish I could find that gate agent and apologize.

  11. Alejandra

    You are so right. I was with my husband in Luang Prabang, Laos and he had a bad time there at a restaurant. He’s from Spain, and use to have a beer with his meals always. He was so dissapointed that he never had a really really cold bear in any country of Southesat Asia that we visisted, the way he’s use to. So he got this not-so-cool beer in Laos and he ask the waiter to exchange it for a really cold one. The waiter gave a strange look to my husband, and brought another one straight from the fridge. Wasn’t that cool yet. So my husband got upset and the waiter offered some ice. This was the top that my husband could handle and ask him to cancel the dinner order, because he refuse to drink not cold beer and it would tastes worst with ice. The waiter refuse to cancel the dinner, he argued that they were already working on those dishes and my husband has to pay even when not eating and drinking. So my husband ask to talk to the manager… What!!? What do you mean?! Was the kind of looking that he got from the working family inside the kitchen, and from all the other occidental clients that were enjoying their dinner there. To me it was so annoying to see my husband’s reaction. And I see his point. But I tried to make him think that in that town, or country, or part of the continent, or culture, they don’t have exactly that structure conception of service, in the way he was requesting to be treated. He said, that I was wrong, because that town is visited by so many occidental people from all over the world who would already showed the same reaction and would probably expected to have satified their needs in a reasonable sense or had canceled the ordered without needing to pay for nothing.
    I don’t think people goes to Laos and makes all this heavy situation at a restaurant. Or does it happpens? Is it understandable? i felt like in the middle of to opposite forces. How should I know who was doing the right or wrong thing?

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Alejandra – That seems like quite an inappropriate overreaction to me. The coldness of a beer certainly isn’t anything to get so upset about, especially when in the middle of Laos and I’m quite sure that no so many people have had the same reaction. Having that kind of reaction just makes the gap between traveler and local even wider when all he had to do is politely explain his situation and why he wanted such a cold beer and he probably would have received a much better experience.

  12. Kathy

    I hear ya! So many times we get upset for no real reason, unless it threatens your life there is no real point. Sometimes I find I get indignant at someone who is just rude, who doesn’t seem to follow a way that makes sense…. but then I stop and take a deep breath and realise what I am doing most likely doesn’t make sense to them either…. Travel has made me a lot more patient that is for sure!!!

  13. Paul Farrugia

    Great post Earl. The more I travel the less I get angry in these situations. I just go with the flow and enjoy what life throws me and if its a delicious chicken taco even better! 🙂

  14. Adam

    As much as it sounds like quackery, I believe in the law of attraction. So, what could being upset about things happening do except bring more things to be miserable about? So, therefore I think a positive mental attitude is key to having great experiences while traveling!

  15. Peggy

    Very true! Sometimes I get too caught up with my own world view and forget that every single person has their own perspective, formed by their own experiences, culture and history. Travelling helps remind me of this, through the exact challenges you have described.

  16. Tahlei's Travels

    Very wise words. I found it much easier to stay calm and avoid getting annoyed at silly little things while traveling solo, rather than with someone else. Most people are unfortunately prone to getting upset and it’s easy to be influenced by the attitude of those around you. Or maybe it’s just that my ex was a whinger and bad travel buddy!

  17. Karyn @ Not Done Travelling

    Ooooooh….this is a challenging one. 🙂 I absolutely agree, and I do always try to keep other peoples’ perspectives in mind, but I have found that it’s a lot easier to do in hindsight. If I’m at a vulnerable moment, such as being tired or having had a bad day, it can be downright impossible not to get upset when you come across a cultural difference like the examples you mentioned. However, like with everything that I’m learning on the road, I’ve found I just have to keep going. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep trying a little bit more to not get upset (especially in those vulnerable moments), and hopefully one day I’ll be a saint that travels the world in a constant state of peace not getting upset about anything at all. 😀

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Karyn – Well, nobody’s a traveling saint, that’s for sure. We all have our challenges and all we can do is, like you said, keep moving forward, trying to do the best we can.

  18. Katie

    Agreed! I am currently working on developing thicker skin as I occasionally find myself feeling frustrated over a situation that could be solved by a shift in perspective. Additionally, I find that when a shift in perspective can solve the “problem” it means that I am probably being self centered. So, two tips for more happiness: get your mind off yourself and develop thicker skin.


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