How to keep a sense of humour when travelling

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Keeping your sense of humour will ensure that you remain calm and respectful, and will help make your trip as amazing as you had hoped

Sometimes – not often, but sometimes – travelling proves better in theory than in practice.

This might be when you arrive in your cheap hostel room in Delhi to find rotten prawns in the shower, or when a random guy in Nairobi blatantly tries to distract you so his friend can get in your bag, or when the bus that’s meant to pick you up is three hours late leaving you alone on a Cambodian roadside at three in the morning.

In those dark moments, it’s easy to succumb to anger or frustration, but it’s important to resist. Keeping your sense of humour will ensure that you remain calm and respectful, and will help make your trip as amazing as you had hoped.

To help you, we asked Peter – our resident travel junkie – for his top tips for keeping a sense of humour on the road.

1. Expect your plans to go awry

There’s a saying that even the atheist in me appreciates: “Men plan. God laughs.” This is more true than ever on the road. Even military precision planning can be foiled by an unexpected accident or event.

Perhaps Macchu Picchu will be closed during the 10 days you’re in Peru, or maybe Christ the Redeemer will be covered in scaffolding. Sometimes, it’s just sod’s law and there’s nothing you can do about it. If you expect the unexpected, you’ll be less disappointed when it happens.

This is not to say you shouldn’t plan at all or take precautions – I’d always advise that you take out medical insurance, get your jabs, watch your water and keep online photocopies of all essential documentation – but just be prepared for it all to go belly up.

2. Accept that locals will try to make money from you

On several occasions, I’ve felt extremely frustrated with the locals. In Marrakech and Delhi in particular I found myself treated like a pure dollar sign. People were constantly aggressive, constantly shouting, constantly trying to sell to me or fleece me.

I found it deeply grating but, taking a step back, I realise that it’s rather precious to think of yourself as a conduit to cultural exchange. More often than not, you’re just a tourist traipsing through their country.

For you it might be a life-changing trip; for them, it’s just another day at work. Accept that they’re trying to make a living and that you’re a lucrative source of income.

3. Ease up on the diet restrictions

My girlfriend and I were recently in the Norwegian wilderness in a small cabin rented through Airbnb. Our lovely host had gone to the effort of making us some homemade Thai chicken curry to welcome us into her home.

The only problem? My girlfriend is vegetarian. In three years, I had never known her to eat meat or even anything that had touched meat, but on this occasion, she took a few scoops of curry (artfully leaving out the meat) and proceeded to eat what was on her plate.

I was super-impressed that she had just knuckled down and ate, so not to offend the host. In Norway, she may have got away with refusing the meal but in a tiny rural village in China? Perhaps not.

If you follow a strict diet, you may struggle with certain parts of the world so I’d advise that you learn to relax the rules.

4. Earplugs and wet wipes

I always take earplugs while my girlfriend won’t travel without wet wipes. The first protects me from all sorts of situations in which normally I’d go postal. The latter is useful when we find ourselves without running water.

Figure out what your must-have items are and make sure you’re always well stocked.

5. Ask yourself if you’d prefer to be at an office desk

Sometimes, you’ll be fatigued with no comfortable place to wait on a 6-hour layover. You’ll be hungry, smelly and ratty, and all you’ll want is a comfortable bed, hot running water and some decent TV.

At times like this I ask myself if I’d rather be at an office desk. Would I rather wake up the next morning and the one after and the one after, and squeeze myself on a train and sit at a desk for eight hours?

The answer is invariably no, which cheers me up even at my most fraught.

6. Remember that it’s just stuff

The only mishap I’ve been genuinely upset over was when my camera stopped working on a remote island in the Maldives. The stunning scenery made for beautiful photography but all I had was a crappy camera phone.

It took a day of sulking but I got over it. You will lose stuff or break stuff or have stuff stolen, so it’s important to remember that it is just stuff. If you have your passport and most of your money, then you can keep travelling and that’s far more important than stuff.

Good luck!

Our new book, Don’t Offer Papaya: 101 Tips for Your First Time Around the World, is available in paperback and on Kindle from $3.99.

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