I didn’t think much of it at first. His face was somewhat pale and the ever-present smile had been replaced by a slightly anguished expression. He mentioned he was cold but how could this be? We were in the middle of the hot and humid Cambodian jungle. Maybe it was just exhaustion from a long day of exploring Angkor Wat? I figured if we just rested a while, we’d be OK. Then 💩 happened. Literally. The next few hours were spent assisting him back and forth from the toilet to the bed through what seemed like endless cycles of diarrhea and vomiting. My co-traveler had just gotten smitten with a serious bout of salmonella poisoning.
It dawned on me that we needed medical attention pronto. I also realized that the nature of our flight to Bangkok the next morning had just changed from a scheduled tourist visit to a medical imperative. The fun part of the trip was unquestionably over – likely, the entire remainder of the trip was about to end. After hunting the streets of Siem Reap for a midnight tuk-tuk taxi in the pounding tropical rain, I was finally able to get my friend to a local medical clinic. My hope was that they would be able to stabilize him long enough so we could make our one-hour flight to Bangkok where we could get advanced care.
When 💩 hits the fan
Let’s face it, 💩 can happen to all of us when we travel. In a stressful situation, seemingly little things become major sources of frustration. You miss the train because the connecting bus was late. Or you arrive at your hotel late at night only to find out they have no record of you nor a room for you. Or, as in the salmonella case above, it can be quite scary. Over the course of many personal and business travels, I have come up with a way for me to handle the situation when 💩 does happen.
A) Accept the inevitable
While we often have little control over the event, how we decide to react can have an impact on the ultimate outcome. I choose the word “decide” deliberately because we are generally able to assert a level of control over our own reactions. The key for me has been to proactively accept that things will go wrong: items may get lost, connections may be missed, crowds may be there, cab drivers will be jerks, etc. If you set off with the mindset ahead of time that unpleasant things can happen, then they won’t be so unexpected or frustrating when they do eventually happen. With enough practice, my reaction has turned from “WTF that is unacceptable!!” to “That sucks but c’est la vie.” I’ve also found that when I reacted positively, the person I am dealing with is also more likely to help me salvage the situation. Or at least, not make it worse.
B) Minimize the likely
I don’t mean to imply that we resign ourselves completely to fate. We can plan so that we minimize the risk of things going wrong: only carry the minimum necessary items so there will be less to lose. Don’t check any luggage on a plane. Have photos of IDs, credit cards, documentation, your itinerary, your doctor’s contact and other important information accessible on the cloud. Travel with a “burner” phone that you don’t care about if you lose. Know where embassies, medical clinics and city tourist services are. Don’t ever let your gas tank drop below 50% when traveling. Or your phone battery, for that matter. Never, ever get drunk or high when out in a strange city. Buy travel and trip interruption insurance if you can afford it. The list goes on….
C) Make a plan
Had I listened to my own advice above, I would have known when I arrived in Siem Reap where the medical clinic was and I would have grabbed a card from one of the many tuk-tuk drivers who constantly accosted me throughout the day, just to make sure I had one if I needed it.
The point is that you can’t prevent 💩 from happening, but you can minimize the likelihood through proactive preparation. And you’ll be mentally ready once it occurs. Rather than burning an eternal hole in your mind as a wasted trip, you’ll look back on it as an enriching experience.
Random 💩 that’s happened to me over the years
We all have our stories. Here are some of the random incidents that come to mind for me, though there are more I can’t think of at the moment. With a decided note of sarcasm, I’d like to thank the following persons, animals or things for enriching my travel experience:
- The rival gangs trying to kill each other in Umtata, South Africa, where I got caught in their direct crossfire at a petrol station.
- The security person at the airport in Reykjavik, Iceland, who, upon reading my name, asked me in dead seriousness if I had a bomb hidden in my luggage. (btw, fuck you lady.)
- The Moroccan fraudster who conned me into handing him my ticket to the ferry to Spain, then tried to extort me to get it back. Only, I managed to steal it back from him and outran him to the ferry.
- And when I returned from Morocco to spend the next two weeks on the toilet….
- Budget rental car in Boston for renting me a vehicle with expired plates, only to have the Royal Canadian Mounted Police detain me for a few hours until they satisfied themselves that I was not on the run from the police in the US.
- The merchant at the Xi’an market who tried to pull a switcheroo on my purchase. (I learned to watch merchants carefully after a guy in Istanbul pulled one of these on me.)
- That elephant who decided to block the road to the night camp at Kruger Park. By the time I checked in, night had fallen, leaving the rangers absolutely furious.
- American Airlines for sending my bags to Buffalo when I was flying to Orlando. (Srsly, wtf American?)
- The policeman in Lesotho who assured me that the “shortcut” road was in perfect condition and I ended up taking 12 hours longer than the original road, only to end up lost in the South African Transkei in the middle of the night.
- The Bulgarian border police, machinegun slung over the shoulder, who relentlessly and menacingly tried to taunt me into giving him a reason to arrest me. (Scared 💩-less as I was, I just continued to stay humble and smile.)
- The random ATM machine in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia that charged my debit card but failed to give me my $300 cash. Ugh.
- The Prague police man who falsely accused me of not paying the subway fare. He threatened me with arrest unless I paid him a Euro 100 fine (he never gave me a ticket so this was clearly just money in his own pocket.)
- The teller at the currency exchange in Bucharest whom I caught trying to short change me when I noticed that she didn’t provide a receipt. After repeated demands for said receipt, she relented and handed me an additional Euro 20 which she had covertly held back.
- The cabby in Brussels who realized I had no idea where I was and that I had a bit too much to drink, so drove me the “scenic” route back to my hotel.
- The guy in Istanbul who tried to steal my wallet from my backpack. I reflexively swung around and threw a punch at his face. (In hindsight, this was an incredibly stupid move. Luckily, I missed and he ran off. Had my fist connected with his nose, the ensuing trouble would not have been worth the hassle.)
- The stray pit bull late at night in a dark Beijing alley who decided he wanted to play tug of war with my shoe. While I was still wearing it. And there was no one around to call him off. Fortunately, it was my shoe he was after and not my foot.
- The black, windows-tinted car in Tijuana that deliberately sideswiped us three times on the highway, trying to get us to pull over for, what I can only presume, would have been an armed robbery.
- Mistaking Gate 51 with Gate 15 at the airport and just barely making it on my flight back to the US. Still among the most dumbass moves I have pulled.
I’d love to hear your stories in the comments.
My friend, by the way, recovered in Bangkok but made the sensible decision to end his vacation early and return home. I also want to take a moment to sincerely thank the staff, nurses and doctors at the Reak Smey Angkor clinic in Siem Reap, who clearly went out of their way to provide him top-notch medical care.