‘People don’t take trips – trips take people.’
– John Steinbeck
‘Anything that can go wrong, will’
– Murphy and a certain famous law
When I embarked on my travels this time three months ago, my friends and family had absolute faith in me and my abilities to survive overseas.
This is why I am currently in possession of The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Travel by Piven and Borgenicht (great name). Equally reassuring was the disclaimer on the inside of the book that ‘we do not guarantee that the information contained herein is complete, safe, or accurate’. So if I ever did need to control a runaway camel, crash-land a plane on water or treat a severed limb, I would always doubt the five minutes training I’d conducted by reading this book (in all seriousness though, it’s very interesting and worth a read if you’re ever at a loose end). Amongst these nuggets of wisdom is also nestled ‘How to Foil a UFO Abduction’ – the main piece of advice being to ‘Firmly tell the EBE* to leave you alone.’ Solid.
And The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook has become a kind of ironic travel companion as I quickly realised that Murphy’s Law was going to become an integral part of my daily vocabulary. (NB: interestingly, this is not to be confused with Muphry’s Law: a deliberate misspelling of the original, and which states that ‘If you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written.’ This is brilliant and highly appropriate as it was originally coined by an Australian.) The best way I’ve found to deal with these situations is simple: keep smiling. It sounds a bit ridiculous, naïve and ‘let’s-frolic-and-catch-rainbows-because-we’re-so-joyful-and-blindly-optimistic’, but it’s true. I’ll admit that this might be counter-productive in a few cases, namely ‘How to Survive a Riptide’ or ‘How to Cross a Piranha-Infested River’ (you’ve got a few other things to concentrate on), but I am a firm believer in the healing effect of humour. It solves almost all (whereas gaffa tape just solves all – see below).
- Smiling helps reassure people that you’re in control which in turn reassures you.
- Smiling is just as infectious as stress
- On our first morning in El Questro, after breaking down and being rescued at midnight the night before, I had to break the news to 20 passengers that our truck was still stranded on the side of the road. Grinning, I opened with, ‘As you’ve probably noticed, the truck is missing.’ I got several laughs and a ‘Look at her cheeky face’ for my troubles.
- Smiling releases endorphins
- See, Science says it, so it’s not just in your head (although technically it is because that’s where the chemical reaction takes place)
But I digress…
What I did notice while perusing the contents page and dipping into such scenarios as ‘How to Jump from a Moving Train’ (wait for a bend, pad out, jump, brace and roll) and ‘How to Build a Shelter in the Snow’ (which is incredibly difficult in Australia), was that there was no entry for ‘How to Save a Birthday on the Side of the Gibb River Road’. While admittedly this is a very niche issue, I have encountered it 100% more often than the other scenarios in this book. For this reason I have endeavoured to provide my own entry in the hopes that it may be included in any future reprint (hint hint).
1. Break down.
This is a very important aspect of the ‘being stuck on the side of the road’ situation. Preferably try to choose a spot with a lovely view and when there are several hours of daylight left. We decided to go for a blackened burned off clearing in late afternoon, but that’s just us.
2. Make a birthday card.
They say that gaffa tape solves all. Never doubt this.
Gaffa tape borders add that glamorous silver finish to your card as well as giving the paper some vital structural integrity.
3. Keep the birthday girl away from the inside of the truck while 20 passengers sign the card.
This can be especially challenging when said birthday girl does not speak much English and people keep mysteriously disappearing into the truck for minutes at a time. Make sure you have several people on truck-watch to prevent a premature discovery.
4. Remember birthday candles and cake.
This is the only part of the plan that you must remember in advance. Birthday candles are difficult to come by on the side of the road. Back up options include: leftover sandboard wax in the truck door or twigs from the bush, but neither are ideal. Baking is also difficult.
5. Light candles.
Slightly more challenging than expected when you’re outside and it’s a bit breezy. Large metal mixing bowls make great windbreakers.
6. Sing Happy Birthday
With enough gusto to convince you, the birthday girl and everyone else that this is the best birthday ever and spending it anywhere else is completely overrated.
And to be fair, I’d say there are definitely worse places to celebrate a birthday than on the side of an iconic Australian road under a sky strewn with stars and with everyone arrayed around a crackling fire. And, as our resident birthday girl was reminded several hundred times by the end of the trip, she will certainly never forget when she turned 12.
*An ‘EBE’ is an ‘extraterrestrial biological entity’ for those of you unaware (we are clearly nothing if not politically correct).