10 common travel problems and how to deal with them
If you travel for long enough you'll experience all these problems and more. You'll also learn that every problem has a solution. Here are 10 of the most common travel problems and ways to avoid them.
When it comes to travel problems, I've experienced them all!
When you commit to a life of travel you have to accept that it won't always be a smooth operation. Some trips go perfectly without a single problem, but many don't. Some things you can prepare for, others you just have to react to.
The best solution to most travel problems is preparation. Sometimes you'll need to be creative and resourceful with your solutions but this is also one of the joys of traveling.
You can't prepare for every eventuality, but no problem is insurmountable.
While the situations and specific circumstances may differ, there are common problems that happen to all travelers eventually.
We'll discuss 10 of the most common travel problems and ways to avoid them.
10 common travel problems and their solutions
1. Getting lost
Some people have fantastic spatial awareness, others not so much, but most people have got lost at least once in their life. It can be a horrible feeling — your heart beating faster as the panic starts to rise. You can get lost anywhere: a supermarket, airport, town center or in the wilderness.
With modern technology this is one of the easier travel problems to avoid. In the past you'd need a map for each country. Nowadays almost everyone has a smartphone. Before you leave, download Google Maps and then download the offline map for whichever cities you'll be visiting. The offline maps are tiny — normally between 20 to 50mb.
With the offline map on your phone you can browse even without an internet connection.
A word of warning though, this is not a foolproof plan! If your battery dies the plan comes crashing down. A pen and paper may be ancient technology, but they don't require batteries. Write down your destination just in case.
The most important thing is to not panic. If you can, take a seat and take some slow breathes. Strangers are generally nice and helpful so, if it's safe to do so, ask for directions. If you don't speak the language you can show them the written address (it's not advisable to flash your phone around).
2. Getting mugged
In nearly 20 years I've only been mugged four times. Two of them were in my hometown, minutes from my house.
Some countries are more dangerous than others. It's important to check for any government warnings before you visit. It's also advisable to check Facebook groups and other forums for the opinions of other travelers.
A word of advice though — don't believe everything you read.
If I'd listened to every bit of advice about South America I never would have got on the plane. I've read hundreds of horror stories about Brazil yet I lived there for over a year without a single problem.
There are lots of articles about how to stay safe when traveling, but what should you do if you actually get attacked?
The first thing you need to do is report it to the police. You'll need a Crime Reference Number to claim on your insurance. If you're traveling with Worldpackers, your host will know the nearest police station and be able to help you with any translation issues.
Once that's done it's time to deal with the emotional side. After I was attacked in Chile I became quite emotional. I was attacked after leaving a bar, beaten up and robbed. For days afterwards I didn't want to leave the hostel and I was suspicious of everyone in the street.
I questioned myself. Why me? What did I do wrong? Was it my fault?
It wasn't my fault. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It took me a while to accept it, but it wasn't my fault. It wasn't personal. They didn't know me. I was just a random tourist to target. Once I accepted that it was just business for them I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. That may seem silly, but it's an important emotional shift to make.
You're allowed to feel anger, rage and frustration, but you have to learn to let it go. They're destructive emotions. The majority of the world are awesome people. Don't let a few idiots ruin your journey.
3. Losing your phone
This may seem like a silly one to add to a list of travel problems. Why not a camera? Laptop? Bag? Because most people do everything through their phone.
I had a phone stolen recently in Argentina. Without it I couldn't:
- tell the time
- top up my prepay debit card
- find the nearest police station
- alert my family that it had been stolen
- access my travel e-tickets
- cancel my contract
- tell anybody about it because my translator was on my phone
I had to use the public computer in the hostel, which then caused all kinds of security alerts with my online accounts. Logging in from a foreign computer usually requires answering additional security questions, and then they helpfully offer to text a code to your phone.
Not helpful when the phone is lost!
Make sure you:
- know all your passwords
- update all your account details before leaving
- have a backup email address to receive those annoying security codes
This is one of the more common travel problems as mobile phones are big business all over the world. Your shiny new iPhone could be a year's worth of wages for a local.
The solution is to use common sense and not wave it around in public. As with all valuables, keep them out of plain sight and, wherever possible, on your person or locked in a safe.
4. Getting sick
Sickness comes in many forms when you're traveling.
- Travel sickness
Travel sickness is caused when signals from your inner ear don't match up with your visual signals. For some people it happens every time they travel. Others only suffer on certain types of transport. I used to hate buses. The smell of the engine and the rocking motion would cause me to hold my breath. This was a problem for any trip longer than 30 seconds.
If you don't have travel sickness medication then there are a few things you can try. First I would try and limit the stimulation. Looking out the window at the passing buildings made me worse, so I would focus on the chair in front and focus on my breathing.
For other people the opposite is true. Distract yourself and take your mind off the feeling, either via conversation, music, counting things out the window, etc. Replace the sensory malfunction with another sensory input.
If you can get access to fresh air and a drink of water then hopefully you can calm the feeling and focus on other happier thoughts.
- Jet lag
This is one of the lesser travel problems. While many people use jet lag just to mean tired, it is an actual condition. It's caused when your natural body clock gets out of sync after crossing time zones. Your body still thinks it's one time but the world is operating at a different time.
When I flew to Australia I was woken at 2am by the flight attendant with my dinner. A Thai green curry at 2 o'clock in the morning might sound great after a night of partying, but not when you're stuck on a plane. For the flight staff it was the normal dinner time, but my digestive system didn't agree.
Symptoms of jet lag can include tiredness or restlessness and an inability to sleep. There are a few different approaches to getting over it. You can either try and sleep it off, but this could mean missing time at the start of your trip. I prefer exercise. When you get to your destination try and be as active as possible.
Go out, walk a lot, get lots of fresh air. I don't recommend alcohol as this can mess with your body clock even more. If you arrive in the middle of the night and can't walk around, relax. Meditate, read a book or something which doesn't involve lots of stimulation.
- Insect bites
While some bites can just be itchy or a slight annoyance, others can be quite dangerous. If you're going to a place where mosquitoes or other bugs are known to bite, wrap up. Better than any repellant is a layer of clothing. If you do get bitten try not to scratch. Easier said than done, but this can lead to worse problems.
I am a magnet for biting insects, from fire ants in Costa Rica to mbutu in Paraguay to mosquitoes anywhere in the world. When I step off the plane, it's insect party time. I always carry a good, non-toxic repellant plus some essential oils to treat the itching for when I do get bitten.
It's also important to know the active times for the insects. They vary around the world so get local advice, but most mosquitoes are active from dusk and dawn. Try to avoid being out at these times. If you are, make sure you're covered up or wearing a good repellant.
If you get bitten and start to feel sick, seek medical advice immediately.
Even if it's cloudy, wear protector! Check the weather conditions before you travel and especially the UV levels. A cloudy sky can still produce dangerous levels of UV, and that's what does the real damage.
Apply 30 minutes before going out and then every two hours afterwards. If you're swimming or sweating then go crazy and do it every hour. The saying "less is more" does NOT apply to suncream!
The effects of sunburn can be horrendous. I was unable to walk for two days after thinking I was safe on a cloudy day. It felt like I'd been hit by a car... it was absolute agony for 48 hours.
If you have access to aloe vera, use it! It works miracles for sunburn. If you don't have any then keep the burn cool without applying ice directly. Or even better yet, don't get sunburn! Prevention is much less painful than treatment. Sunburn is one of the travel problems with lasting effects so try and avoid it at all costs.
- Food poisoning
Food poisoning is a travel problem that can strike at any moment. Symptoms can include nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting or diarrhea. If it's bad then it can hit you within hours of eating or drinking the contaminated thing. Anti-diarrhea tablets can be a lifesaver... literally.
Before traveling anywhere I always pack toilet paper. I consider it almost as important as my passport. That may sound dramatic but I've been in some sticky situations before. If you develop food poisoning then you'll understand.
While I mentioned diarrhea tablets earlier I only use them as a last resort. This is your bodies way of clearing the contaminate from your body. Let the body clean itself. This may mean a day or two by the toilet, but at least you'll be clear afterwards.
Drink plenty of fluids but avoid dairy and alcohol. Once you start to feel a little better then start with soups or broths and build back up to solid foods.
5. Not speaking the language
This is a travel problem I've lived with for years.
Not being able to communicate with the people around you can lead to all kinds of emotions:
- Loneliness (see below)
Hopefully you noticed how that list went from negative to positive.
While being unable to speak the local language can cause lots of negative emotions, it can also be the catalyst to greatness.
Body language, sign language, gestures and smiles. They are all powerful ways to communicate. Use every single one of them. If you're afraid of speaking new languages abroad, don't shy away from meeting new people because you don't know words. Use these other forms of communication as an ice-breaker.
Study languages as much as you can before you travel. It's an incredible form of respect that will be appreciated worldwide if you make the effort. Even if it's just a few words or phrases it will help. There are hundreds of apps, guides and language programs you can try.
The best way to learn a language while traveling? Speak. It can be slow, painful or lead to lots of laughter. It all depends on what attitude you approach it with. While some languages are much harder to grasp than others, a lack of words is a travel problem with an easy solution.
Loneliness is not one of the travel problems which affects everyone, but when it strikes it can be the worst problem imaginable.
There's no single trigger. It doesn't just affect people who suffer from depression or emotional people.
No matter how strong or independent you are, loneliness can set in and ruin your trip.
It's important to be aware of your feelings. A sudden change in circumstances can really change your attitude to traveling. If things start going wrong and you don't address them then they can spiral out of control.
Being apart from loved ones for an extended period of time is the classic reason, but it can also be as simple as missing a birthday or having nobody to share a special moment with. These small things can add up and really weigh on your mind.
If it gets to a certain level you could be tempted to cancel your trip and go back to your previous life. Traveling asks you to step out of your out of your comfort zone and, without enough positive reinforcement, it can become overwhelming.
There's no easy cure for loneliness. Humans are sociable creatures by design so the easiest solution is to reach out. The saying "You're never alone when you're traveling" is mostly true. Unless you're way out in the wild then chances are you'll be able to speak to somebody.
Speak to your Worldpackers host or other travelers.
I'm not saying pour your heart out or cry on their shoulder, but you can if it helps. Depending on your emotional state it may only require a smile, hug or a beer with like-minded people.
If that doesn't help then contact the Worldpackers support team. They're all experienced travelers who've lived the travel life. They've all experienced these travel problems and can offer assurance and support. When you're traveling with Worldpackers experiences, you're NEVER alone.
7. Running out of money
This can be a major problem which you'll definitely want to avoid.
Unexpected things do happen though. Things break, unexpected charges come up, plans change and emergencies happen. It's impossible to account for every eventuality.
Before you travel research the country you're visiting. You want to have an idea of the general cost of living so you can budget properly.
Save as much money as possible, and always try and have an emergency fund which you don't touch. This can be a credit card or savings account. It should have enough money in for a return flight — that's the last resort should an emergency happen and you need to return home.
Traveling can be expensive so make sure you read about how to save money while traveling, and it's also worth thinking about making money while you travel.
Unless you have a huge amount of money saved up or you've mastered how to travel on a budget, it can disappear quite quickly. The Worldpackers Academy has some great material about creative ways to make money while you travel.
If you're a traveller on a budget, check out our travel hacking tips.
8. Missing a flight
This all depends on whose fault it was — yours or the airline.
If it's your fault, there's very little that can be done. 99% of the time this is one of the travel problems with a simple solution. Always arrive in plenty of time. If you think there's even a possibility you won't make it then check the rescheduling rules for your ticket. If you do miss the flight and it was all your own fault then it's time to beg.
Airlines have no obligation to help you if it was your fault.
All you can do is explain to the staff in a calm, reasonable manner what happened. Don't shout at them. As emotional as you may be, it wasn't their fault. They're just doing their job, so don't be rude to the airline staff.
If you can get on the next flight, all good. If not, and you may not be able to fly for a while, it's time to start thinking about the additional things you've booked. Are you going straight to a Worldpackers host? If so, message them and make them aware of the situation. If you have an Airbnb, hostel or tour, do the same. Don't let the missed flight snowball and ruin everything.
If it wasn't your fault you missed the flight, now you have options.
Different countries have different rules. Speak to the airline staff and, once again, be calm and reasonable. Some airlines will offer compensation, a free hotel or a free upgrade. It all depends on the individual situation.
I missed a flight transfer in Panama and ended up with a free stay in a 5-Star Hilton Hotel. Admittedly it was only for 5 hours, but it was a nice surprise.
A missed flight isn't the end of the world. Take it as a travel lesson to learn from.
Keep reading: The most helpful 26 tips for first time travelers
9. Baggage not arriving
This is one of those infuriating surprise travel problems. You check your bags in, get the boarding pass, enjoy the flight and then your bags don't arrive with you.
This happened to me and I was devastated! Luckily it happened on the return trip so I could just go home and wait for the bags to arrive. They eventually did three days later. If it happens on the outbound flight it's a different story.
According to AirfaireWatchdog, "On average, airlines lose around two bags for every 1,000 passengers, and that includes bags that are temporarily misplaced."
That's a disturbingly high number. Certain airlines are better than others so do some research before booking your flight. Even with all the research in the world it's still possible to be the unlucky one. There's absolutely no way to predict it.
While you can't predict the future, you can be prepared.
Take a change of clothes in your carry-on luggage. I also always carry my toiletries bag with me. This way if my big rucksack goes missing I have something to change into and a way to freshen up.
It's a huge inconvenience, but you can survive.
If your bags don't arrive be sure to speak with the airline staff and find out the procedure. You may have to phone them or they call you.
Some airlines deliver misplaced bags to your hostel while others need you to go and collect it. Before you leave the airport make sure you know the exact procedure, they have your details and you have theirs.
10. Breaking up with a partner
A common travel problem is the breakdown of relationships. As we mentioned before, travel takes you out of your comfort zone. This can lead to stress and frustration. If you're traveling with a partner this can be magnified.
It doesn't matter if it's a girlfriend, boyfriend, best friend or family member, disagreements happen. When you're living in each other's pockets 24/7 there are more opportunities for these disagreements to happen.
The anticipation of traveling is an incredible time. Whoever you're going with, it's an exciting time to plan, look at photos, make bucket lists and fantasize about the incredible adventures to come. The reality can be quite different as you discover hidden personality traits and different approaches to problem-solving.
My advice for traveling with a partner is to be honest and to compromise, but don't compromise your happiness.
If you really want to do something or go somewhere and the other doesn't, talk about it. The breakdown of most relationships occurs when there's a lack of communication.
It may not work for all travel partners but don't be afraid to separate and meet again a few days, weeks or months later. That short break could be the spark you need to rekindle the fire. For romantic partners I recommend brutal honesty. The second a problem arises, talk about it. Don't let anything fester.
Read my guide to couple travel for more detailed information about taking your relationship on the road.
That concludes my list of the most common travel problems and ways to avoid them.
Every problem has a solution. If you travel for long enough you'll experience all 10 of these and more. Does that mean you should avoid traveling to avoid these problems? Absolutely not!
The benefits of travel far outweigh the negatives. Once you've had these experiences you'll be better equipped to handle whatever life throws at you, either on the road or back at home.
These 'problems' will make you stronger, more resourceful and much more resilient.