Another Travel Skill You Need

lost in thailandA few months ago, I responded to an email about what I thought was the most important skill a traveler needed. I said adaptability. Without the ability to adapt to the constantly changing conditions of the road, a traveler is not going make it. There are so many highs and lows on the road that without being adaptable and flexible, you are going to end up being frustrated all the time. You’re going to get aggravated, angry, upset. It’s going to be unpleasant. You need to know how to just adapt and go with the flow.

But adaptability is not the only skill that you need on the road.

Another important skill that goes hand-in-hand with adaptability is patience. Without patience to accept the changes you’ll encounter, you’ll spend most of your trip annoyed and irritated.

Many unexpected things will happen to you on the road. Buses run late, trains get delayed, hotels get overbooked, and flights get canceled. If you spend any time on the road at all, something will wrong. Murphy’s Law is never wrong.

Our modern busy life creates a lot of pressure and anxiety. It’s always rush, rush, rush. In that environment, it’s easy to get worked up and annoyed over the smallest incidents. You have to make a meeting but you’re stuck in traffic. There’s a baby crying on the bus. Your mortgage is due. Your car payment is due. You have a million errands to run. It’s very stressful. And it’s easy to take that frustration with you on the road.

After a life in Boston, I developed a lack of patience. Boston is fast-moving city, and we have no time for distractions. When I first started traveling, I was frequently annoyed. Patience is not my greatest virtue. I wanted people to get out of my way – I had things to see. I had escaped the rush of Boston only to find I was rushing the thing I wanted to take slowly.

After two years of travel, I still struggle with it sometimes, but it is another skill you learn on the road. It is also one that you can use anywhere in life.

As a traveler, it’s important to develop patience. You didn’t come this far to get frustrated and turn around. You came to see the world, relax, and escape the high-pressure life back home. When you find yourself getting irritated, think, I’m on holiday. Every day is Saturday. What’s the rush? Take a deep breath and put things in perspective – you’re a nomad. You have nothing but time.

One of the things I’ve learned on the road is that things always resolve themselves. Just relax, smile, and wait – your problem will work itself out. My hostel last weekend was overbooked, but I simply asked if they had any other beds in a different type of room. They did, and the problem was solved. I got stuck on the runway in London for one hour. I could have been really annoyed and irritated, but what’s the rush? I’ll get there eventually.

By cultivating patience, you’ll be able to enjoy the little things more and come to see irritations as growth opportunities – not hindrances. Relax. It will work out. The best travel skills are ones you can use on and off the road, and the ability to have patience is certainly one that is useful anywhere.

  1. Gillian

    Good advice. I think I am patient and adaptable, but there is nothing like the unfamiliar and being tired and hungry to push it to the limits. A deep breathe and some quiet reflection can usually get me through.

  2. Hey Matt,

    Great topic.

    This is SO overlooked with some of the people I have met and/or traveled with while abroad.

    *Patience* when you are being graded differently on your paper in another country, and don’t understand why you didn’t get an “A”. *Patience* when they don’t serve every drink freezing cold with ice cubes. *Patience* when they don’t even have ice cubes in the cafe to begin with. *Patience* when the waiter in France doesn’t answer “yes” to the question, “Do you speak English?”

    If I didn’t have patience during these moments I would have been stressed out and anxious througout my study abroad, instead I adapted to how things were, and my time turned out to be pretty nice :)

  3. Theresa

    This is something I’m always working on. Patience is not my virtue, and I think I just have some kind of aversion to the word even. So I’m working on being more “zen” about things.

  4. Erica Johansson

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. Patience is one of the most overlooked skills to have when traveling. When we relax, accept the situation and take things as they come, everything becomes so much easier. So what if a baby is crying on the bus? Worse things can happen! So what if the train or plane is an hour late? At least it wasn’t canceled.

    Sometimes it can actually be good when we don’t get exactly what we want or things don’t turn out as we had hoped, ’cause we can discover something else instead. Perhaps we meet someone we wouldn’t have met if the train was late, or find a cool store, or get a new idea to an article (about dealing with frustrations on the road) etc.

  5. Monna

    Nice! I am facilitating a session with new teachers at our school on Friday… it’s about adapting to their new culture (Barcelona and Spain in general). I will remind them about being patient. In 2008 it’s starting to seem like an old-fashioned idea but it really is at the core of enjoying one’s new culture or one’s travels. Thanks Matt!

  6. Spot on. I actually think travelling trains people to be more patient (maybe that is the adaptability bit) and learn that slowing down a little makes for far more enjoyable and stress-free travel.

  7. Another good skill is escapism. SO many travellers become consumed by travel, and when you meet them in a bus or a bar they bleat on about “travel, travel, blah blah, travel”. Sure, we all love to travel, we’ve all been there, going there and bargained for the t-shirt but the traveller who has learned the art of escapism (not, I hasten to add, Houdini style) is much more appealing to me than the patient one doing The Lotus by the pot plant. If they can conjure up a conversation about their life, pre-travel and involve themselves in one of your own then they have superior skills in my experience.

    Let’s be honest, some of our most neediest moments for patience have been while listening to the backpacker who travelled round South America last year, who did everything anyone else had done and more, and better, and cheaper, and then he married her. “And then I did this, and this and rah-blah-blah…” Nigh on every other person hearing him drone on, will be draining the resource of patience much more than when they had to stare out a local street chancer.

  8. Well said! I have a hard time with this one too. I would add preparedness to your list of skills needed. You can’t prepare for everything, but preparing for most things will definitely reduce stress levels.

  9. Anthony

    The one thing I remember from 6th grade math, besides getting detention, was this “patience is a virtue”. That is what my teacher would say to us, while slamming a gavel at the same time lol. You have to be patient, otherwise, you try to rush things and they lose their importance.

  10. Ah patience – not always my best virtue but one I try to work on. I do believe if you can’t change your situation, changing your attitude shifts the energy from – to +. Definately something to be said about not sweating the small stuff. Perspective is a useful tool!

  11. So true Matt! Great article, and as someone who also spent a good amount of years in Boston too, I have to agree completely!

    I’m (finally) on the road again (just for a couple months), and I was just talking with someone yesterday about needing to gain back that great patience I had when traveling years ago. A 3 hour wait until the next train? No problemo. I have this great book I’ve been meaning to chill out and read… Thanks for the article. :)

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