I’ve been traveling now for 10 months and have seen many spectacular sights, most of which I’ve written about here on Life As A Human. Recently, I’ve been faced with a few challenging situations. Traveling alone on the other side of the world could have easily created a sense of desperation. To tell the truth, I’ve felt some of that desperation. But in this blog, I’ll describe those challenges (mini-crises actually) and how I handled them. I’ll also give some advice that will be useful to anyone thinking about setting out on an extended trip of their own. All of the problems I faced could have been resolved in a straightforward manner if I were at home, but proved to be far from the case while traveling abroad.
I bought some Adobe software a few months ago and have had nothing but trouble installing it. After 15 hours of calls to the Adobe Customer Support Centre over the course of a month or so, an agent finally recommended I contact the Apple Technical Support Centre for help. The Apple expert there recommended I re-install my operating system. He assured me several times that all my files and emails would be safe. That turned out to be totally bogus!
As soon as I started downloading the new operating system I faced my first crisis – none of my software worked and I lost all my saved emails. This was a crisis for me because I use my computer to earn my daily bread and pay for my travels. Without it, I am stranded. Now I was faced with the task of completely rebuilding my system from the ground up and I needed help fast.
My first step was to buy the AppleCare program for $300. That allowed me to go to the Apple Support Centre in Bangkok and ask for help. Unlike North America, however, the Bangkok centre does not back up the software and data before re-installing the operating system. Since I had my data on an external drive, I wasn’t worried about that. The Bangkok centre reloaded my OS, but then I had no application software. It took me days to re-install all the software. Of course, the software vendors were now offering their upgraded versions. This meant I had to pay new license fees and buy new books to learn how to use the new versions of software. The whole effort cost me a minimum of 100 lost hours and about $600 Canadian, and that was just to get back to where I was before I followed the Apple guru’s advice (I have still not solved my problem with Adobe.)
Motor Scooter Accident
I rented a motor scooter to run around Koh Samui, Thailand (a veritable playground for adults). I loved the scooter until I fell off!!! Motor scooter accidents are minor irritations for those in their twenties but can prove to be serious for those in their seventies! I couldn’t move my right arm and I feared the worst. I made a quick trip to the Koh Samui Hospital.
The service there was superb. I wandered into the emergency department and was seen within 2 minutes. The nurse set up an x-ray for my arm and 12 minutes later the work was done. Within 10 minutes of coming back to the ER, the doctor saw me to tell me that my arm was not broken, only sprained; I should wear a sling for a few days and then I should be back in action. Then I was faced with the hospital bill. Be sure to sit down before you read on! The total bill came to $28 Canadian (about $20 US) for the whole visit. I almost laughed when I paid the bill. A foreigner visiting a Canadian hospital would likely be hit with a fee of $150 just to walk through the door. In the US, it could be an order of magnitude greater. The Thai hospital didn’t look as spiffy as a Canadian hospital but its staff struck me as every bit as educated and professional. I have to take my hat off to health care in Thailand. At the same time, I wonder about the high costs and long delays we suffer in Canada.
Lost Debit Card
About a week ago I lost my debit card so I called my bank, the Bank of Montreal. I knew they would look after me. Well, I was in for a shock. First, the bank cancelled my card, which was fair enough, but there was no way in hell they would mail me a new one. Instead, the BMO Customer Service agent asked me to go to my own branch to get a replacement card. When I pointed out that I was on the other side of the planet, I could tell she just didn’t get what I was saying! She just told me once again to go in and pick up a card. An alternative would’ve been to ask the branch to give a card to one of my friends. I would have to call the branch to ask for that clearance. This sounded like a great alternative – until I tried to act on it.
When I called my branch, my call was routed to voicemail, not a person. I left my name and number and was confident my branch manager would call back the same day, as promised in the voicemail message. I waited all night (that means day in Canada) but never received a call. So, I learned that calling your bank branch and expecting a call back is a sure sign of being out of touch with reality.
Well, I was confident there was another backup plan – I could use the online banking service to send money to myself wherever I was. After all, the web site was proud to state that it sends money all over the world via Western Union. Again, this proved to be false. I was just about to leave Thailand to visit Myanmar, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Unfortunately, the BMO online banking service does not permit Western Union transfers to those countries (apparently if I were going to Namibia things would be fine.) If I still had hair on my head, I would have pulled it out by this time. BMO’s ultra-conservatism forced me to send money to my friends in Canada by Interac and ask them to trot over to a Western Union office at their convenience to send money to me. This reminds me of the days we had rotary dials on our phones.
So, what are the take-aways from all this?
First, I would say that you can never imagine all the setbacks you’re going to face. I never imagined that I would face three heavy hits in 30 days or that these would be the hits. You can’t avoid the misfortunes that come your way, you just need to be resilient enough to deal with them as they come up.
A second lesson is that you need to put backup plans in place before you leave home. I had the foresight to sign up with Carbonite to back up my data before I left home. However, I didn’t sign up for the AppleCare program. I also should have given a durable power of attorney to one of my friends before I left home. Now I have to handle that with a lawyer in Thailand, mail the power of attorney back to Canada, and wait for my good friend there to handle things on my behalf.
A third lesson learned is that you need to be resilient. Don’t operate at the edge of your potential – leave a buffer. When things go wrong, don’t give in to the temptation to become frustrated, no matter how great that temptation is. It just doesn’t help. Instead, figure out what steps you need to take and start taking them promptly, regardless of how long it will take for them to play out.
A fourth lesson is that the things I feared would befall me, never did. No one has attacked me on the streets or the beaches. Vendors have never set one price and then charged another. I have never gotten sick from the food. I have never found myself without a place to sleep for the night or gotten so lost I couldn’t find my way home again.
My advice: don’t spend too much time worrying about what might go wrong. Just make sure you are able to handle whatever comes your way when it does.
Photo from Flickr – some rights reserved