The Parthenon: just as impressive in the rain.

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We all love to romanticize traveling: the fun, the adventure, the escape. The perfect vacation, when nothing can go wrong. But then, inevitably, something does. If you love to travel, you know there are times when things break down or don’t go your way. But those are the times when you learn the most. Here are a few lessons picked up on my own travels:

Attitude is everything

One fall break I ended up in Athens with exactly one day to see all of the sites. Just as I got there, it started to storm. I had a vision of this ruining my only chance to see the places I’d heard so much about, making the whole trip miserable and disappointing.  But in that instant I forced myself to decide that that wouldn’t happen. I was on a crazy Greek adventure, and if it was raining, then I would explore in the rain. And I had a great time, to the surprise and mild suspicion of everyone I met, despite the rain and the wind and the cold and even my damp, squishy socks. You often can’t control circumstances, but you can always choose your response to them.

Traveling companions are everything else

There are people who I get along perfectly well with at home, who I refuse to travel with. Part of this is just traveling style—if one of you wants to relax and be spontaneous and the other wants to plan everything and see everything, your companion can become the thing that’s going wrong. And when you get lost or miss your train or lose your wallet, the attitude of the person you’re with can matter just as much as your own. Will your friend be negative and pessimistic or, even worse, start blaming everyone else? Or will she calm you down and remind you that it’ll all work out?

But sometimes you have to do it yourself

Then there are the times when things went wrong and I had no one to rely on but myself. Foreign countries will force you to be more self-reliant and to do things you never thought you could. You can’t just call someone or Google it, and maybe you don’t speak the language and there are basic things you don’t know about your surroundings. You have to ask for help in sign language or find a map and read it or figure out a new system of currency or transportation. You’ll realize how much you’re capable of when you’re forced to just do it. 

How to do better next time

Sometimes there are things you could’ve done to make your trip go better. Instead of blaming yourself, remember that those are the things you’ll do better next time. Now you know, and next time you won’t put your phone in an outside pocket, you’ll bring an extra pair of dry socks, and you’ll wear comfortable shoes and a jacket. Oh, and you won’t trust the illegal street vendors.

The stories we tell

When everything is going horribly wrong, or crazy, or just weird, take a picture. I’m serious. It’s hard to remember at the time, but often the things that go wrong are the things that make the best stories later. Think of the scrapbook captions! “This is the face I made when I realized I had made a wrong turn three miles back.” “Mike getting attacked by a raccoon.” “Sarah trying to ask about llamas in Spanish.” You might just find the are your favorite stories of all.  

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