Driving along the southern coast of Iceland, we were finally getting to experience the magical terrain we'd been dreaming of for years. We dropped some G's (relative to previous backpacking trips) on a sweet car and drove the rough terrain to sweet waterfalls and epic mountains.
On our 3rd morning, we woke up to pouring rain. Our tent was soaked and it leaked through to our mattress and sleeping bags. "We'll deal with it", we thought. The rain continued all day. The ground was incredibly muddy and slick. We had plans to do various hikes that day and clearly we weren't going to be able to do them. So we continued driving... jumping out of the car here and there for some photo ops. We couldn't keep the water spots off our lenses to get clear photos. We also didn't have a great way to keep our cameras from getting wet since we had no plastic bags. Despite our rain jackets and rain pants, we were getting soaked to the bone. Shoving our cameras deep in our jackets didn't seem to be keeping it dry anymore.
We got to a super famous scenic outlook and jumped out, excited to take photos. Suddenly Jesse's camera stopped working. It wouldn't focus, was making strange noises, and wouldn't take a photo. We travelled all the way here for an epic adventure and suddenly his camera stops working 3 days into our trip. He was distraught to say the least.
Our most prized, bucket-list-worthy trip had turned into a disaster.
How did we get out of this mess?
After a few hours and an intense dry-down, Jesse's camera miraculously started working again. You can't imagine how grump-tastic he was until then. From then on, we left our cameras in the car when it was raining and instead chose to take few photos with our phones (we had waterproof cases) for memory's sake. Our mattress, tent, and sleeping bags never dried out - we slept on a wet mattress for the next 14 days; a story we will have for the rest of our lives. And our rain jackets never dried out until we finally caught a day of (mostly) sun. All in all, it was a trip of a lifetime and we both have incredible photos to prove it.
What you can do
So let's take a step back for a moment - what can we do when everything seems to be going wrong and we're waist-deep in the adventure of a lifetime?
Obviously, we can do the best we can to be prepared, but there will always be oversights, accidents, or weather that can dampen (pun intended!) the trip.
First and foremost, this is not for life-threatening situations. Those need to be handled in a completely different way (something I won't go in to). This is for when you get rained out, get food poisoning, break your camera, or twist your ankle. This is for when you have expectations of an incredible trip that are suddenly not met thanks to an unforeseeable event. Basically, this is for the "bummer" moment in your trip. Here are some mental thought processes you can utilize to help you through the situation:
1. Reflect: What can you learn from this?
My dad and his long-time girlfriend recently flew out to visit me for a week. On the first day of their visit, his girlfriend tripped and fell on the sidewalk, breaking her kneecap. Well you can imagine all of our plans went out the window. It was a total bummer. And now she's stuck in a cast for a few months.
The takeaway? She was wearing clunky platform sandals - an odd choice for a vacation where you're going to be doing quite a bit of walking. I guess we all learned from that to make sure we're wearing basic comfortable shoes when we're out of town. Sure, this could have happened with any pair of shoes, but the clunky platforms aided in catching her shoe on the uneven sidewalk and sending her down.
Think about what you can learn from a mishap. Should you make sure to always bring a jacket? Or always invest in travel insurance? Sometimes the answer isn't so obvious, but there's usually always something there.
And remember - life is a series of lessons. Somehow and in some way, we have to learn to take all of these lessons with gratitude. It might not be the truth you want to hear right now, but distance yourself from the moment and you may find this brings you peace.
2. Reassure: This is how you were meant to experience this place.
We were warned about the unpredictable and ever-changing Iceland weather many times before our arrival, but that still didn't mentally prepare us enough for how much of a bummer it would be to experience places in the sopping wet pouring rain. That was not exactly how I imaged our trip would go. And it prevented me from getting all of those epic insta-worthy photos I had planned.
Bad weather happens. Bummers happen.
Fate, whether you believe in it or not, has it that whatever is happening was meant to happen. We can't change it. We just have to endure it. Let that bring you some peace of mind. So take it for what it is - a bummer - and assume that it's your unique story to tell in the future once you overcome it. Like sleeping in a soaking wet bed for 14 days in freezing temperatures below the Northern Lights.
3. Grow: Did you overcome something?
Whether you realize it or not, sometimes not-so-great situations help us grow. Were you forced to overcome one of your fears? Did you handle a situation you didn't think you were capable of?
Think of this as a moment to acknowledge that growth and be thankful for it.
4. Know: Bummers happen to everyone.
It's easy to scroll through Instagram and see the perfect travel photos and be envious. Some trips are perfect, some trips are perfectly imperfect, and some are total bummers. You have to know that everyone has experiences like this. Everyone experiences total bummers - even the "it" girl who's flouncing her perfect dress along the white steps of Santorini.
5. Do: What modifications can you make to your trip?
In situations where there's nothing you can do, take a deeeep breath. Relax. The world will not end. You will make it through.
Once you get to a calm mental state, think about what adjustments you may need to make to your trip. For instance, in my example from #1 where my dad's girlfriend broke her knee, we completely rearranged our plans. Instead of doing day trips and strolling through vineyards, we stayed close to their hotel and would plan little outings for meals, sweet treats, etc. We ended up having some super memorable meals and trying some places I've been wanting to check out for years!
Although the trip might not end up being exactly as you had planned, sometimes spontaneity brings it's own excitement. Keep yourself open to changes and new experiences - you'll be sure to still have a great time.