We all find ourselves in trouble from time to time, especially when traveling abroad. On the road, any negative incidents can seem extra difficult — we are out of our comfort zone and without our usual support network. Sometimes we don’t even know how to contact the police (or if the police will help us).
Giving up and heading home might seem like the best decision when stuff hits the proverbial fan. But, life is going to happen wherever we find ourselves. You can conjure great strength in the midst of adversity that you didn’t even know was possible. Here are a few tips for how to avoid sticky situations, and what to do if it is already too late.
To Avoid Trouble
1. Choose Your Travel Mates Wisely
In 2009 I was a part of a film crew driving trucks around the globe. One member of the crew was always looking for a party and was also a magnet for unseemly company.
When he would describe his experiences to us after being out all night I often wondered how he managed to survive unscathed and thought it was only a matter of time before something happened.
In Puerta Vallarta, Mexico our luck ran out as I came upon him losing a fight in the street. My instant reaction was to intervene and before I knew it, the police were involved and we all risked a night in the local jail. Luckily, I talked us all out of it and Axel wasn’t hurt badly either. I resigned to be more selective with travel partners from then on.
2. Wait Until The Morning To Decide
One of my favorite activities in the world is swimming, which I love doing at night. However, the types of creatures that inhabit the waterways change with location and elevation.
On this particular trip, we had just descended from a cold mountain lake in Guatemala where I had taken refreshing dips at each opportunity. A few hours down the road we arrived at a new destination with another lake. It was a dark night already and we were now in more of a jungle environment, so I decided to wait until morning for my dip.
In the light of the new day, I put on my swimsuit and headed down to the lake, where to my dismay I saw multiple signs of caimans (essentially alligators), which eat humans.
I couldn’t see them at night and I probably shouldn’t have even come as close to the water as I did. Thankfully, I had decided to wait until morning and likely saved my own life that day.
3. Beware Of Mother Nature
I was staying at a nature retreat in Costa Rica during a massive flooding. When we arrived at our destination, the bridge across the river was nearly submerged. Reports were coming in of multiple deaths and some villages destroyed nearby. I was fascinated by the sheer power of the water as humongous trees floated by like toothpicks. I could tell the river bank had moved substantially since my arrival the day before, and yet out of curiosity, I approached the raging water to take a video.
As I began filming and narrating a section of the bank dropped away right in front of me and I was left standing with my toes on the edge of certain death. I quickly retreated and learned a valuable lesson about the fragility of my own life. I won’t make the same mistake again.
When Trouble Has Already Found You
4. “Stay The Course”
In 2005 I was living in Fremantle, Western Australia when my girlfriend at the time got in a car accident and broke her hip. I had not yet found work and was running low on cash.
I called my parents during a breakdown moment and they were sure that I was going to call it quits and head home. Instead, I buckled down and got a job. I had to cook all the meals, run errands, go to work (not to mention carry her up and down the stairs of the loft we were renting).
I also managed to find us another inexpensive car. She healed up eventually and we took advantage of our temporary home, going to the amazing local beaches regularly and exploring further into the outback with our vehicle.
We saved enough money to drive west to east across the entire continent, having a blast along the way before continuing our journey to New Zealand. Today, I am so happy I chose to stay the course in the face of adversity.
5. Breathe & Don’t Panic
In 2010, while living in rural New Zealand, I was hiking up a mountain with two young Swedes and a stray hunting dog. We were tramping off trail through thick brush when one of us stirred up an entire hive of wasps.
I found myself at the edge of a 20-foot cliff with jagged rocks below, and above me was a thicket of thorny bushes. The only way out was through the wasps or the thorns, as jumping of the cliff would most certainly cause broken bones or even death.
For a few seconds that seemed like hours I took a few deep breaths and steadied myself for the unavoidable trauma. As the wasps began to attack I dived into the bushes and crawled through them and then ran up the mountain out of their range.
Scratched, bloody, and very badly stung, I hiked down the mountain and went to the nearest hospital 1.5 hours away. I am grateful that I didn’t panic as I survived and even returned back to the woods shortly thereafter, much the wiser.
6. Chalk It Up To Experience & Laugh
The film crew I mentioned above needed to get from Colombia to Panama and there are no passable roads, so it required sending our vehicles on container ships from Cartagena to Panama City.
As for the crew, we decided to take the journey via sailboat. I was feeling uneasy about the captain we hired, as he resembled an actual pirate in both looks and demeanor. The Colombian Coast Guard flagged our boat and highly recommended that we postpone the trip for a day or two as a monstrous storm was coming. The captain shrugged and we continued on while he began to drink alcohol.
By the time it was my turn to take the helm, the storm was raging and he was drunk. He pointed to a heading on the compass, and then disappeared into the cabin for the night. The rest of the crew also decided stayed below and for over three hours I was alone in the pitch black.
I stared at the compass, desperately trying to stay on course as the waves tossed the boat around like a rag doll. I yelled for someone to relieve me, but no one came. I began to scream curses at the storm like Lt. Dan in the movie Forrest Gump. Finally, I laughed hysterically at the absurdity of my situation, relieving the tension of my deliriousness.
There are some common themes to the incidents above, like using common sense. Nature can be dangerous whether in the form of a storm at sea, river flood, caimans in the jungle, or wasps in the forest.
When you are abroad, the constant stimulation can be exciting and you may forget to keep your wits about you. Trust your instincts. If someone or something seems like a bad idea, then he/she/it probably is.
In most of the situations described above, I had a thought that something or someone wasn’t right, and I either didn’t honor it or couldn’t. Simply asking questions if something is safe, like whether or not swimming in the lake is ok, can save your life too.
The statistical truth is, most of you won’t find yourselves in extreme life or death scenarios when you travel abroad. However, if you do get into a sticky situation, stay in the moment, don’t panic and you’ll likely end up with a fantastic story to tell.
Craig Arthur Johnson is a humble student of life where there are no degrees, and a seeker of truth even when it challenges his current worldview. Part troubadour, part monk, and part shaman, he is a burgeoning writer and speaker, connoisseur, gastronaut, explorer, adventurer, martial artist, and yogi. Craig has never enjoyed the inside of “the box”. He can be located outdoors communing with nature, breathing mindfully, drinking spring water, soaking up the sun, and walking barefoot on hallowed soil. Connect with him at www.craigarthurjohnson.com.