“The word adventure has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong, that’s when adventure starts. -Yvon Chouinard
We travelers like to view ourselves as an intrepid bunch. Planning our next trip, we’re hungry for adventure—as long as it’s the kind of adventure we had in mind. The prospect of riding elephants in the jungles of Cambodia is invigorating, but getting stuck at the Siem Reap airport for fourteen hours sounds downright terrible. We love the idea of traveling down the Nile on a boat with the locals. But who wants to stay up most of the night with the boat’s exhaust fumes seeping into your room?
Remarkably enough, travelers should embrace miserable moments like these. They are what produce enduring memories, tantalizing stories, and help us grow—and produce the best travel writing.
A truly liberating travel truth—and a truth of life in general—is that the best experiences are the unexpected ones. The joy that comes from photographing a beautiful cafe you stumbled upon in Paris is a hundred times greater than snapping a trophy shot of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. And if the new Irish friends you made at the local pub will spend a day showing you around Dublin, you’ll have an infinitely better time than joining up with a pack of tourists.
Of course, these are the unexpected, glorious “good” experiences that typically accompany every trip. We’ve also got to consider the unexpected, beastly “bad” moments.
How should we think of these? Eventually, we should be grateful for these times and often we can look back on them with a smile.
At first it might seem implausible to celebrate the frustrating, ridiculous, and painful experiences on a trip. But you’ll find the stories of getting pickpocketed in Hungary, food-poisoned in Cairo, and completely lost in St. Petersburg are much more compelling and impactful than sunny tales with no adversity. When you’re in the miserable moment, you’re often thinking, “What am I doing here—why did I come?” Thankfully, the bad times inevitably lead to better times and you usually receive a number of side benefits in the process.
Did you get a bit trampled while running with the bulls in Pamplona? You’ll also get to experience the kindness of Spanish nurses and doctors and improve your medical vocabulary in a foreign language. Did you lose your passport while seeing the sights in Athens? During your wait at the local embassy, redeem the time by listening to how earnest young men and women are describing how they dream of studying abroad in your country if they could only receive a visa.
The best stories in life are about confronting adversity, enduring it, and coming out a changed person on the other side. The best travel writing should be viewed in precisely the same way—in fact, it’s a the perfect laboratory to be challenged and changed in a condensed period of time. Rather than hoping our travels will be filled with experiences that mirror our expectations, we should desire the unexpected. And when apparent setbacks, obstacles and failures arise, let’s try our best not to be disappointed. Instead, let’s recognize the real adventure is just beginning.
Which frustrations have helped you with your best travel writing? Post your stories below!
By Erick Widman