Adapting to Change on the Road

| December 1, 2009 | 7 Comments
decisions Adapting to Change on the Road

The backpacker must readily and easily be able to make quick decisions in response to changeable events and unexpected circumstances.

Change is a constant companion to the backpacker. Hence, the key to long-term success on the road is often the ability to adapt. “Adapt to the pace of nature,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson “her secret is patience.”

As a backpacker, being patient, flexible and resourceful is an advantage. It’s well understood that you will experience day-to-day difficulties, delays and frustrations in the course of your travels; because you’ve chosen to travel long-term, chances are you’re likely to face adversity. The greater your flexibility and resourcefulness, however, the greater your ability to put yourself in accord with changing circumstances while on the road.

Adaptable travellers accept change as inevitable and exciting and in so doing, remain agile and flexible in the face of constant change. In short, they necessarily display a high tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty. As a backpacker and long-term traveler, you must be prepared to make compromises and to adjust to changing circumstances.

Spontaneous, long-term travel involves confronting the unknown on an almost daily basis, where the information you have at hand is patchwork or often incomplete. It goes without saying that what’s around the next bend in the road will be difficult to predict and yet choices must often be made promptly and decisively.

Some backpackers relish the excitement and opportunity presented by these unknowns and can expose themselves to unnecessary risks—as happened to me in Vietnam (check out my post entitled Down and Out: Scammed in Ho Chi Minh City). On the other hand, some people are paralyzed by a lack of certainty and fail to act decisively. They prefer an itinerary devoid of spontaneity and risk (see our recent piece entitled Round the world in 29 days? No thanks!). The sweet spot, of course, is somewhere in the middle, where the traveller rises to the challenge and deals with uncertainty by taking rational, measured risks.

Weighing risk, of course, is difficult if a traveler suffers from a lack of information. However, other resources can be brought to bear on their situation, such as instinct and imagination. Hence, the longer one spends on the road, the better prepared they will be to adapt.

The veteran backpacker is aware that as events unfold and the outcome becomes clearer, their plans may require modification. Of course, making a decisive choice when necessary without knowing the big picture or having all the facts at hand can be stressful.

The backpacker, therefore, must readily and easily be able to make quick decisions in response to changeable events and unexpected circumstances. He or she must be able to effectively adjust their plans or priorities to deal with variable situations.

As a backpacker you should keep in mind that things rarely present themselves in black or white. With this awareness you should refuse to be paralyzed by indecision or uncertainty. Indeed, change is a constant companion when on the road.


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About the Author ()

For nearly ten years now, Daniel of Two Go Round-The-World has explored how travel captures our imagination and engages our deepest emotions. One half of the duo that maintains the widely read Two Go Round-The-World blog, Daniel treats his subjects not only as works of art but also as symbols of the cultural and political forces that inspire them. His latest book, The Physics of Flocking, gathers his favourite writing featured over the past two years on Two Go Round-The-World in columns like 'Looking Back' and 'The Whole Picture'—along with new reflections.

Comments (7)

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  1. KewlGadget says:


    Expect the unexpected. lol I have always wanted to backpack Europe. Loved the article. Keep up the good work.
    Kewl Kat


  2. Re: lack of information. I try to ask as many locals as possible, then average the answers. Sometimes it actually works ;)

  3. Jane says:


    As a backpacker we should keep it in our mind that things rarely present themselves in black or white.Thanks for the awareness more power to you !

    • Dave says:


      How true that is as when I was confronted with a 6 week delay going to Oz, forgot to factor in the rainy season in my itinerary, I looked at alternatives & am now in Bangkok taking a TEFL course as a constructive way to fill the time.

    • Daniel says:


      As I mentioned elsewhere, Dave, I’ve got a stack of lesson plans for teaching ESL/TEFL that you’ll likely find useful. They’re a few years old, and Korea-centric, but there’s a wealth of stuff you’ll be able to mine from them when it comes time to teach. Look forward to seeing you back in TO!

  4. Samui Boy says:


    Great article and so very true. It is easy to pick the seasoned backpacker, he or she is the one that looks like they are carrying their life on their back and always looks a little weary. However, do not be fooled, as these people have met and are the very essence of what traveling is. They generally know how to negotiate, meet and greet without providing too much information and they also know how to have loads of fun. I know I have been one!

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