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Dealing With The Unexpected While Traveling

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Over the course of the last four years, only a small fraction of the things which happen to me end up on my website. Most either don’t merit a mention or sometimes I forget to write about it.

Today something happened that I didn’t think twice about when it occurred. They were simple enough events but are the sort of things that petrify some people and keeps them from traveling.

My goal today was very simple: I was going to get on the train in the Czech city of Ceské Budejovice (Budwise) and go to Vienna. I would have to make one train switch near the border, but that was it. It should be pretty easy considering there is no border control you have to pass through.

The first problem occurred at the Ceské Budejovice train station. I went to purchase a ticket to Vienna but the woman at the window said I had to go to the international ticket window. Problem was, no one was at the window. In fact, there was a curtain covering the window. I waited and waited until it was almost time for the train to leave.

Not wanting to miss the train, I purchased a ticket to Ceské Velenice which is the border city where I had to switch trains. The schedule showed a 10 minute window where I could run in and buy my ticket to Venice before the next train left.

When I arrived at the Ceské Velenice station, the woman at the counter didn’t speak a word of English and I didn’t speak a word of Czech. I think she knew I wanted a ticket to Vienna, but kept pointing to her computer saying “Kaput. Kaput”.

Either way, buying my ticket didn’t seem in the cards. Eventually someone told me to go to platform 2 to get on the Vienna train. I told them I didn’t have a ticket, but they either didn’t understand nor care.

Once on the train the conductor told me I could just buy a ticket there, but there were two problems: 1) He couldn’t accept credit cards, and 2) I didn’t have any Euros.

So there I was on the train, in a foreign country with no ticket and no means of paying for a ticket.

This is the type of scenario that scares many out of traveling. In the course of 90 minutes I had to deal with language issues, money issues and booking issues.

I’ve spoken with many people who can rattle off a long littany of fears they have about traveling:

  • What if I can’t speak the language?
  • What happens if I get in trouble?
  • What will I do if I don’t have any money?

These are all valid concerns, but none of them should be deal breakers. Things like this happen all the time and they can be dealt with easily. The thing is, you don’t know how you will deal with it until you actually have to confront the problem.

When the ticket window was closed for me, I just got a ticket to a closer city.

How did I pay for the train ticket to Vienna? When we got into the station, I went with the conductor to the ticket machine and purchased a ticket for the same route going to opposite way. I handed him the ticket and everyone was happy. (Of course, this could have been avoided if I just had some Euros on me before I left.)

I’ve often said that the ability to adapt is more important than the ability to plan when traveling. The things I experienced today happen all the time to me. So much so that I usually don’t even bother to mention it.

Just the day before when I arrived in Ceské Budejovice, I had no idea where my room was in relation to the train station. I relied on my wits and experience and went to nearest McDonald’s where I knew I’d find an open wifi connection. I pulled up a map on my iPhone and got a walking route. If there wasn’t an open wifi connection, I would have had several other options including getting a taxi at the train station.

When confronted with unexpected obstacles, you will figure out how to get around them. Everyone does.

Don’t let fear of the unknown stop you from exploring the world.

  • 19 Comments... What's your take?

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Comments

  1. RiderWriter says:

    I’m late to the party here, but just wanted to tell you thanks for the inspiration! I love to travel but do get stressed, especially over successfully getting from Point A to Point B. And I’ve never even travelled in Eastern Europe… :-) I think a lot of people are just not wired for travel/new adventures, though. My mother thought nothing of taking the Trans-Siberian RR by herself, but my mother-in-law will not drive to the next small town in rural KY by herself. They both think the other is NUTS. My husband is a mix – not as bad as his mom (thank God!) but also not thrilled about crowds or going places he “might not like.” I wind up doing a lot by myself, or taking the kids. Doing my best to teach them the joy of the unexpected! :-)

  2. Ruby says:

    every trip is always a unique experience..thanks for sharing this…let me know if you happen to visit Bavaria, Germany…i wish i could travel a lot like you..have a safe trip always!

  3. Melanie says:

    What an awesome example of how something that holds most people back, can turn into such an adventure! Thanx for sharing that story!

  4. Michael says:

    I always say, shit happens and they happen often. It’s alright though.

  5. JenniferU says:

    I have so many stories similar to this from traveling in Eastern Europe – it IS a bit more of a challenge. But well worth it. I also think it helps to keep it all in perspective – so what, you miss the train? Will you sleep on the street? No. Are you in any sort of danger? No. Will someone offer to help? Probably (we had a train conductor drive us to an ATM once).

    Also just in general for the language barrier fear, I’m a big fan of some old-fashioned tools – pen and paper. When in Bulgaria last year we arrived in Town A via bus and I immediately went in to the counter, said the name of Town B, wrote down the date I wanted to leave town (in European order) and tapped on my watch. The lady wrote down the departure times so we could plan our next move. It worked beautifully.

    Enjoy Vienna! So much to see!

  6. Anthony says:

    Adaption to your surroundings is one of the best things that you can learn when travelling. Your circumstances change on an hourly basis. Especially when you are on a transit day. Many times we have been stranded at bus or train station waiting for the non-existent transport only to find that we have to stay in a small little town with no form of accommodation. I can totally relate that sometimes it just feels normal to adapt to changes in your itinerary on a daily basis. Glad you made it to your destination Gary.

  7. Travellyn says:

    I agree we are never sure of just how capable we may turn out to be unless we give it a try! A recent trip to Germany proved even if you don’t speak the language, with a bit of sign language, a map of where you want to go, people are usually ready to help and usually very willing. Travel is a great adventure!

  8. SHarper says:

    Ahhh, I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of a stranger’s help to figure it out…unless you get lucky like you did and your street smarts are just that good :).

  9. Kara says:

    I love this. Stuff happens when you travel. Chances are, there is always a solution.

    Reminds me of when I was 19 and flew from the U.S. to Switzerland before studying abroad for a semester. I got nervous when they didn’t show up at hostel at appointed time (this was WAY before wi-fi and iPads and even cell phones). I sat tight, and they showed up 4 hours later. Turns out, clocks sprung forward that morning, they didn’t know it and they’d missed their train from Italy. No biggie. They took the next one. All was well.

  10. A simple story with some extremely valuable insight/advice. A colleague once told me all FEAR is, is False Expectations Appearing Real. Now as cheesy as the acronym was, it has stuck with me, and this tale is just another reminder of that.

  11. Vaco Vitae says:

    Great post! While I am a happy wanderer, and certainly not afraid to encounter any travel circumstance., I have to admit that experiencing the above would have stressed me out. Not freaked me out, mind you, and the anticipation of it wouldn’t have stopped me from getting on the train. But, AFTER it happened, I confess the stress might keep me from fully enjoying the day.

    Then again, the chances of my anal retentive self not having any Euros on me are slim to none.

    This post is a great reminder to even seasoned travelers to roll with the punches!

  12. Mike Cotton says:

    I view it as the old age problem of only speaking English – when confronted by a foreign language just speak louder and say the English word over and over again with a slight accent.

  13. Kristian says:

    Very good points in this post! As you say, any problems that come up you will usually find a solution naturally, its part of the beauty of travel really.
    It reminds me of last year trying to get from Krakow to Lviv – like you I ended up at some random border town, nobody could speak English, but eventually I got to Lviv by somehow hitching on a battered bus full of what seemed to be smugglers and their wares (via a disused petrol station in a forest somewhere).

  14. MaryM says:

    Reminds me of the time I went to New York City and the subways flooded on the day we were going to see the Blue Man Group. Our connecting train was not available due to flooding, so we had to walk to another station (thankfully underground so we didn’t get soaked from the rain until after the show). Then, we had to take two more trains to get to the theater. Thankfully, I had the subway maps on my Palm so I was able to figure out an alternative option pretty quickly.

  15. Donnyboo says:

    This is the perfect blog for me to read before I leave on my travels in June. I’m a Solo female traveller with lots of worried friends and family who are constantly asking me, “but what if” and yet after reading this, my spirits were lifted. I personally thing that common sense, a smile and a strong hand shake can get you through most things in life…thank you. X

  16. Gary,

    I agree with you, these situations come up constantly when traveling in foreign countries. I find solving the problem is all part of the adventure of traveling. Dealing with these types of events will inevitably make anyone a more confident traveler.

  17. I was hoping you’d have to work as the train conductor to pay your way!

  18. Frances says:

    I completely agree with you that adaptability is the way to get around a lot of situations, both in traveling and in life. Everyone is afraid of travel, of getting the better job (me included XD), following a dream just because we have never experienced it. But I guess the problem is we underestimate ourselves. As humans, we can reason and can be very resourceful when the need arrives. So I guess what I am trying to say is that fear stops us from doing a lot of the things we want, but if we are just a little brave and go after what we want, we can achieve anything.

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About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
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