The One Thing You Can't Forget As A Traveller
When travelling in a place far from the familiarities of home, it's easy for that bitter sense of overwhelming panic to set in. As you navigate a strange new city, the streets can appear menacing, the traffic life threatening, and the gawking locals about to spring on you at any moment.
As a female backpacker, I know I'm not alone in admitting how simple it is to fall into the perception that you are a walking target and to feel the need to be on the defence at all times, ready to spring into tae kwon do mode at a moment’s notice.
The bug bites from strange looking insects. The roadside vendor who grew exasperated when neither you or your travelling companion were able to communicate in each other’s language. The hostel worker when he narrowed his eyes as you attempted to charade your way to explaining that the air conditioner fuse had blown. The angry sounding stray dogs in the alley. The catcalling young local men on scooters as they whizzed by.
It is unfortunately true that you need to be on guard to a certain extent, but as a smart traveller, you’ll know ahead of time what areas of a city or regions you need to be on high alert. Protect your passport at all costs, and keep your money close when in those risk areas. But for the rest of your trip, you have to remember to chill out! Not all places you go require this amount of exhausting wariness. You need to be able to take in your surroundings without the constant anxiety of worry. The beauty of travelling to explore new places is the ability it gives you to let go.
Trusting you'll find your destination down an unknown path affords you the stark reminder that you are just one person in a world that does not revolve solely around you. If you let yourself, you'll see that people are just trying to get by, to live their best lives and find meaning in their own stories.
As a traveller you have to learn to trust. Trust that things can and most likely will go wrong. That you will get ripped off at some point or another. But that it's also not the end of the world if it happens and the risk is simply part of travelling, life lessons, and your story. To enjoy time exploring a new place, you must have the capability to roll with the punches. Be open to changing schedules, flexible plans, and okay with not getting to see or do everything you had planned. Chances are you’ll wind up discovering new experiences you hadn't thought of instead.
The family next door to your hostel that is keeping you from enjoying the peace and quiet is simply having a family dinner. Instead of being annoyed, take in their laughter and the opportunity to listen to their favourite music. What you interpret as menacing glares from loitering street vendors are actually people watching someone carry a massive backpack down a slick street, wondering if you are going to ask for help or directions. The world can be a scary place but only if you let it.
I have a friend, whom I love dearly, who would never attempt a trip at less than a four-star hotel equipped with servicing all her needs. To her, the idea of tossing a few sweat-absorbing outfits into a 60-litre pack and embarking to a destination with no plans in place or complete grasp of the language is unfathomable. My question is what lessons will she gain on that type of trip?
They say travelling the world makes you a stronger, more emotionally empathetic person. Having global cultural understanding doesn't come from staying in the same town for 15 years. It is knowledge you can only gain by seeing poverty first hand in third world countries or marvelling at the monuments left behind by each nation’s aristocracy that makes you grateful for the life you have to come home to once you decide to cash in that return ticket. It is wisdom gained by seeing how families share love for each other across the globe, in ways that are different yet still just as caring as the way your family shows you love.
Not much is guaranteed when you travel the world. Things will go wrong, you will lose some stuff, and find yourself lost more than once. But what you get in return is a genuine understanding that every person, no matter where they are, is just trying to get by and live their story. Trust that people are good, and in yourself, especially.