Even the most carefully-planned trips face obstacles.
At some point—whether it’s a delayed flight, bad weather, or illness—an unexpected challenge will occur.
The difference between the trip you look back at fondly and the trip you look back at with distain is how you handle these problems.
Those who know how to overcome travel obstacle end up having exceptional experiences, while those who don't return home disappointed and discouraged.
Fortunately, by following a few simple steps anyone can learn to overcome—and even welcome as an exciting growth opportunity—travel obstacles.
Most of the time our lives are fairly comfortable these days. Technology allows us to customize much of our day-to-day existence to fit our precise preferences.
At home and in our cars, we control the temperature around us—ensuring that we’re never too hot nor too cold. When we’re hungry, we quell our stomach pains by ordering a wide-variety of cuisines directly from our phone. And when we’re bored, we choose from a near endless-stream of content to watch on our laptops or TVs.
To some, this may seem like a personal utopia: reality changing to meet your whims at any moment.
Yet, the closer you look at it, the more you begin to realize how this power can be problematic.
We’re setting ourselves up to expect full control in life. We’re training ourselves to desire complete comfort. We’re forgetting how to handle compromise, uncertainty, and disappointment.
This is especially true on the road, when most everything is outside of our control. Without the systems in place for control we have at home, it’s easy to feel lost and overwhelmed when faced with an obstacle while traveling.
But know that everyone faces these same challenges. Despite what you might think from viewing their carefully curated Instagram feeds or Facebook profiles, everyone else is struggling with obstacles of some kind—whether at home or on the road—regardless of their life circumstances.
Ultimately, it’s how you respond to these obstacles—whether you attack your problems with energy and ingenuity or you cower in fear and despair—that separates the incredibly successful from the ordinary.
You have the power to transform yourself from fragile to antifragile—to not only survive obstacles but to thrive because of them.
And while it’s not necessary to leave home in order to learn these skills, traveling is a great way to practice these skills in a relatively low-stakes and fun environment.
How to Overcome Travel Obstacles
Overcoming travel obstacles is really an exercise in overcoming yourself. It’s a matter of rewiring your brain—changing how you interact with the world.
And you can do just that by following this simple ten-step process.
1.) Know that obstacles are a good thing
The first step in learning to overcome travel obstacles is learning to that obstacles are a positive thing.
Say what? How can discomfort, fear, and challenge be good?
Let me explain.
If you want to strengthen an arch, you have to put weight on it. Only through the tension of weight do the stones bind together and become an arch.
Often resistance is necessary to create strength.
If we want our travels to help us grow mentally and emotionally we need to confront obstacles.
Anything worthwhile will have some resistance.
And the same holds true for trips that are too easy. Avoid challenges and you won’t grow. As Frank Clark once said, “If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.”
2.) Prepare your mind for obstacles
One way you can make overcoming travel obstacles easier is to prepare mentally for them.
Before leaving home, create a list of potential problems you might face. Then write out how you would ideally respond—both in thought and action—to each of these situations.
Describe in detail your feelings, doing your best to imagine yourself in that circumstance. That way, if these problems do occur, you’ll already have worked your way through them.
For instance, prior to traveling to Iceland in March it would be useful to imagine planning a day at a brewery in Reykjavik when a sudden blizzard causes the cancellation of your bus trip on the Golden Circle.
While you cannot predict every travel obstacle, by taking the time before leaving home to walk through the most common problems you turn the unexpected into the prepared-for.
3.) Correctly identify your obstacles
Uncertainty is uncomfortable. If you don’t know what obstacle your facing, you cannot overcome it.
Only when you have an idea of what you’re facing can you respond accordingly.
The most effective way to identify an obstacle is to run a Root Cause Analysis:
Step 1: Define the problem.
-What do you use happening? What symptoms are there that the problem exists?
Step 2: Collect information.
-What proof do you have that a problem exists? How long has the problem existed? What is the impact of this problem?
Step 3: Identify possible causal factors.
-What sequence of events lead to this problem? What conditions are allowing this problem to happen?
Step 4: Identify the root cause(s).
-What is the real reason this problem is happening?
Although the Root Cause Analysis may seem complicated when written out, it’s a quick and easy way to clearly identify your obstacles in real life.
4.) Begin to see things objectively
Our perception can be a source of great strength or great weakness, depending on how we choose to look at things.
If we’re subjective, emotional, and short-sighted we make our problems get worse. In contrast, if we’re objective, rational, and calm, we can see things for how they really are and act accordingly.
Situations in and of themselves cannot be good or bad. They just are. The statement “It is raining in London” while not uncommon is also not inherently negative or positive. Our perception and our judgment is what turns this into a good or bad thing.
Pay attention for when you start to turn objective observations into subjective opinions in life or travel. Try to stop automatically putting labels on things.
It’s amazing how many obstacles simply disappear if we decided to stop instantly labeling things as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
5.) Be mindful of your emotions
Obstacles make us emotional. That’s part of being an animal (it's easy to forget that we, as humans, are still animals).
The more primitive parts of our brains are what respond first when faced with external stimuli. Only later does the rational, pre-frontal cortex get to have a say in how we perceive things.
You’ve certainly experienced this before. Think of a time when you’ve heart a noise and assumed it was something scary only to realize it wasn’t something serious. This is a defense mechanism that’s generally quite beneficial for us. It’s better to react as if that rock is a bear until we know better than to risk getting eaten.
Often, the worst thing to happen is not the event itself, but rather our emotion-fueled response.
When we lose our head, we then have two problems, one of which was completely unnecessary.
To overcome obstacles, you need to be mindful/control your emotions. That doesn’t mean to deny your emotions. Rather it means to not allow them to automatically dictate what you do. Stay steady no matter what happens, no matter how much external chaos there is.
When faced with an obstacle, give yourself a moment to step back and process the situation. If you can, meditate for a few minutes, for for a walk, or take a nap.
Our bodies and brains have a great ability to subconsciously process problems and find solutions. All you have to do is allow this system to do its magic.
6.) Look for the good in every situation
If you see obstacles as signs that the world is out to get you or a definitive statement that you’ve failed, then you already have. You’ll be too overwhelmed with painful thoughts and feelings to do much.
Fortunately, you don’t have to view obstacles as wholly-negative things.
Travel obstacles on their own are neutral. It’s how you interpret them that matters.
Everything that happens when traveling—be it a sudden illness or a missed flight—is a chance to grow, even if the growth happens in a direction we did not anticipate.
Even if we fail, it can still be useful. Defeat is just another chance to learn. It took Thomas Edison thousands of tries before he successfully found an effective filament for the lightbulb—something he only discovered because he paid attention to his past mistakes. The only way to truly fail is to refuse to learn from our obstacles.
So with that in mind, why not interpret obstacles as positive events and give yourself a little extra strength and happiness?
Find the aspect of an obstacle that will help you grow. That’s the hidden gift. That’s the hidden good.
7.) Accept your constraints
At home we get used to our constraints. We accept that in our home society we’re able to X while Z is off limits.
We we visit far-away lands with differing customs and norms, the specifics of these constraints change. We lose some of our freedoms—perhaps we no longer can watch Netflix at night—but we gain others—the freedom to avoid meetings, the freedom to swim in the ocean, the freedom to try new things without inhibition.
The sooner travelers accept these new constraints, the better—especially when they feel like obstacles. Just as denying a doctor’s diagnosis won’t cure an ailment, neither will denying reality make the situation better.
In fact, sometimes constraints can be a good thing. Having boundaries forced upon you when traveling gives you an opportunity to practice detachment, patience, and the restraint of urges.
8.) Embrace flexibility
Flexibility is important when confronted with an obstacle while traveling.
Be open to different ways of reaching your goals. Think outside the box.
There are a lot of ways to get from point A to point B. The route doesn’t have to be a straight line; you just want to get to your destination.
If we become obsessed with finding the perfect solution, we can easily overlook the viable path right in front of us. In the end, the solution that works is right.
To help you find solutions, write down some of the ways that you know won’t work. Then think about all the other options that are left.
Also, be comfortable reevaluation your goals once you’ve gotten more information. Ask yourself regularly if this is something that you really want to accomplish? While reaching goals is admirable, doing so just because you set them (even in the face of new information that makes them irrelevant) is fool-hearted.
Finally, be flexible in your expectations. Know that not every obstacle is surmountable.
Sometimes you come across problems when traveling that are simply too big or too dangerous to overcome. That’s OK.
Be flexible here and let yourself practice a new virtue or sill, like learning how to accept bad things or being humble.
9.) Think beyond yourself
When you find yourself in a particularly frustrating position or facing a seemingly-unfair obstacle, one of the best ways to build moment and inspire action is to think beyond yourself.
Ask, “If I cannot solve this problem for myself, how can I at least make this benefit others? How can my situation help people in the future who might find themselves in a similar circumstance? What good can we salvage from this?”
Asking and answering these questions can often eliminate our personal fears and troubles. When we focus on the needs of others over our own, we no longer have any time for heartache or despair.
Whether your goal becomes to help others or to simply provide a good example, a shared purpose gives you a shared strength.
10.) Remember you have the final say
As helpless as it can sometimes feel when faced with obstacles while traveling, always remember that you have the final say.
No matter what happens, you can control how you respond. When your return flight is cancelled for the third day in a row do you throw a fit or do you plan another way home?
You—and only you—has say over your will.
Life is full of unexpected obstacles. What separates those of us who achieve versus those of us who just dream is our ability to handle this adversity. This is doubly true on the road, where we lack the blanket of comfort we find at home.
Fortunately, overcoming travel obstacles is something anyone can learn to do. By following the simple, ten-step strategy outlined above, you can quickly turn any obstacle into an opportunity to learn and grow.
Armed with that power, the only thing that can ever stop you is yourself.
Eager to take the next step towards achieving your travel goals? Download my FREE guide The Traveler’s Mindset: How to Mentally Prepare for Journeys of Adventure and Growth!