This is the number one question I heard regarding me travelling in Asia alone. And it’s not just me. All the travellers I talked with confirm the same; we are ALL getting this question again and again. And let me tell you the secret – we HATE it! 😀
But I understand the concern behind. It’s actually a good question which deserves to be answered, so I decided to dedicate my first forever procrastinated blog post to answer it. Here we go:
Q: Aren’t you afraid when travelling?
Short answer: No.
Long answer:… make a quick cup of tea and read on!
I am really not. It’s not like I am missing some fear causing gene, not at all. I know very well the feeling of the fast heartbeat, short breath and shaky knees. Sometimes I feel like this even when I set off for a new trip. But it’s the feeling of excitement, filled with optimism and curiosity for endless options that might come. Most travellers will confirm to you that there is simply not much space for worrying left.
Why? Because we have already been there before. We have already stepped out of the comfort zone of our cosy apartments with hot showers and drinkable tap water. We have already made conversations with strangers who don’t speak the same language, don’t have the same culture and value different things. And we loved it! We discovered a space where magic really happens. A space you can discover only if you make a leap into unknown.
The more you travel, the more you realise that people are generally good. I am not saying that all the people you will meet will be the new Mother Theresa, or that no one will dare to take advantage of your confused state of mind as you try to get used to calculating in new currency or figure out how local transport works. But on the road, you usually meet open and warm-hearted people who appreciate you as a visitor in their country and value that you are taking a time to discover their culture. Locals with a genuine interest in you and the country you come from. People who invite you into their house and share their life story with you, expecting just a smile and friendly thank you.
We forget this. We forget that people are good. When we stay home and watch the evening news full of catastrophes we might get really scared. We might start feeling that world is divided into the small and relatively safe place we call home and a big bad scary world outside of our city/country/continent. So that’s why travelers aren’t scared. We have already experienced first hand the hospitality and warmth of strangers, the helping hand when we needed it the most. We could see that the news stories are often as far from the reality as possible.
OK, enough of a general talk. Here are two examples from my travels where things went quite wrong. Surprisingly, foreign countries had a very little to do with it.
EXAMPLE 1 – Everything went wrong
One of my first solo trips led me to India. It was the first time I was backpacking alone for a full month. It was also my first time in real Asia so I was stubborn and I wanted to see it all. Staying in any one place for just 1-3 days and using long night transfers to get to my next destination, I visited 7 different Indian states and travelled more than 4,000km by bus and train. Everyone warned me this will not end well and that at least one of the following will go wrong:
- Indian food will give me food poisoning and I will be very sick without anyone to help me
- There will be a problem with the transfer and I will not get where I need, resulting in all my plans falling apart
- People will not be nice – someone will surely rob or rape me
And guess what? All of these really did happen (from rob or rape it was the rob part)… but not in India! Everything bad happened in the travel time between leaving India and arriving home to Slovakia.
While in India I mostly had positive experiences, people were really nice and friendly, helping me when I needed and no one tried to rob me or hurt me. I made it to all my transfers in time, even if it meant waiting at the station for a few hours for a delayed train. And the food! The food was delicious! I ate by the side of the street, I ate on trains, I ate in train stations, I ate in local people’s homes, I ate with my hands, and I did it all without having any issues. I understand that some people may have more sensitive stomachs than mine and come back few kilos lighter, but I came back with five extra kilos! (Still worth it for all the delicious food)
So what happened as soon as I left India? My last food in India was Thai. I was in my experimenting mood and wanted to try a different taste of Asia before I leave. Soon I found out this wasn’t a good idea. I had become used to Indian cuisine little by little but this was the first time I had Thai. It was delicious and I ate too much (resulting in not being able to eat anything with hot coconut until now). I felt a little funny after finishing food but it was a high time to get to the airport. Once I arrived I took my place in the long queue for the immigration desk and I felt how my stomach is getting worse each second. By the time it was my turn, I must have been green. I knew I couldn’t hold it much longer. I was seriously worried I was going to let it out all over the serious officer as he was taking my picture, but luckily he finally said I can go. The doors behind him opened and I quickly scanned the area for the closest toilet. It was about 20 metres away. That was way too far so I just made 3 big leaps to the closest bin and vomited there. I did not care about embarrassment at that moment, I was just happy it was over…
It wasn’t. I took my window seat on the plane, and shortly after take off they started to serve the food. The smell of it brought back all the sickness and I spent most of the time running back and forth to the toilet. The person that had the aisle seat was very happy to change with me so he could get some sleep (it was an 8 hour long night flight from Mumbai to Zurich). Soon things got even worse. The medication that the crew gave me seemed to not be working, I could not drink anything and started to be dehydrated. I was exhausted and could not get any sleep, and soon vomiting become just a half of my problem. Let’s just say that toilets in planes are very well designed for this emergency, because while you sit down and suffer, the sink is still close enough to…
Well, the nightmare finally stopped when we arrived to Switzerland where I was changing flights to Hungary. Carrying my backpack one step at the time, I made it to the second plane with a sweet vision of finally falling asleep soon. Wrong! My new plane neighbour was a middle-aged, over-talkative woman who was just unstoppable. So I gave up and talked to her. It was a short flight anyway and I would be able to fall asleep when I was in the last part of my journey – a train from Budapest (Hungary) to Bratislava (Slovakia – where I live).
I found one train compartment with six seats all for myself, set the alarm clock and finally laid down… just to be awoken in a few hours by some weird movement next to me. I opened my eyes to see someone leaning above me trying to steal my backpack. I shouted at him, he shouted something back in Hungarian and ran away. I had no time to analyse it as my exhausted body was protesting and asking for more sleep. I lay on my backpack just in case he came back and fell asleep again… to wake up in Czech Republic!
How was this possible? I set the alarm but it didn’t ring! Or was I so exhausted that I just ignored it? Probably. I slept the entire ride through Slovakia just to wake up in the next country. And with perfect timing the inspector came and asked to see my ticket. I told him the whole story: about travelling the long way from India to home, about getting food poisoning from Thai food and almost being robbed… but his heart was not softened and he just tells me: “No ale nemáte jízdenku!” (But you don’t have the train ticket!).
I was sick and exhausted, I could still smell little pieces of vomit in my hair and I just wanted to be home in my bed finally. Although this is not typical for me, I was on the verge of tears. But I held them back and asked him what my options were. He said I just had to buy a little more expensive ticket now. I took out my money but he wouldn’t take Euros or credit card, he only wanted Czech Koruna. As if I had planned to visit the Czech Republic!!! Since I didn’t have it, he had to give me a much higher fine payable later in the train station. I had to save hard for my backpacking trips and this was really not acceptable for me.
I went to the next train compartment to ask people who get off at the same station if they could lend me the money for the ticket, and I would give it back to them from the ATM at the station. This did the trick. The inspector left me alone to go and check on other passengers and never came back. Pheww. Now I only needed to buy a train ticket from the Czech Republic back to Slovakia. There was no direct train at that time so I had to take two. I met my friends in the second by coincidence – at least I could be sure they would make me get off at the correct station this time. Ufff, that was a long way home! But it made me realise that you really don’t have to be scared of visiting exotic countries. Most of the small disasters can wait for you at home as well.
EXAMPLE 2 – Hitchhiking
After returning home from my second Asia trip (this time visiting 10 different countries in 7 months), I had something special in mind. Again I flew to Budapest (Hungary) and decided to take the train to the border to Slovakia and enter my country after such a long time by foot, crossing the bridge from Hungarian Komarom to Slovak Komarno. The timing could not be better; the sun was just rising and it was breathtaking. I was looking at the sun going up above Slovakia and it was the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen in my life. It was really special.
But how to get from border city Komarno to the Slovak capital – Bratislava? The last 100km. I decided to finish this adventure with hitchhiking. I really like this way of transport and have used it abroad many times to travel thousands of kilometres. Now I wanted to see how it is to hitchhike in my own country. The first car that stopped had two seats in front and big space for frozen products in the back (I’d rather not name the company). I started chatting about my travels in Asia with Peter, the driver with a strong Hungarian accent, when I noticed he turned away from the main road. I asked him why he changed roads. He said he just needs to deliver few products to the village nearby and if I don’t mind small delay, if I am not in too much hurry. So I said it’s okay. As we drive through the empty fields, he puts his hand on my thigh and squeezes it. I can’t believe this! After all this time abroad the last place where I would expect this is at home. Are my returns to home cursed?! I shouted at him and let him know very clearly I was not interested in any of this. I requested for him to take me back to the main road again and he did. He wished me a nice rest of the day (thanks Peter…) as I left the car. I felt shaken and had doubts if I should continue hitchhiking. But a goal is a goal. My stubbornness kicked in and I stuck my thumb out on the road again. An older man with a kind face stopped. He was thrilled about my trip in Asia and wanted to know as much as possible during our short journey. He asked me what was the strongest experience while my travelling. I thought for a while and then started to talk about the Tibetan sky burial I witnessed, during which vultures are left to eat the body of the deceased. When I was in about a half of the story he started to cry. I stopped talking and the car fell quiet. As he pulled himself up after some time, he told me about his son’s suicide that my story reminded him off. He also said he wished more people were fulfilling their dreams. Maybe then there would be fewer suicides…
For more than two years I was working for a company which, besides travel and company events, organised stag dos. I could tell you at least one hilarious/sad story (depends on your point of view) for every day I spent there. But one particularly stuck in my mind. It was a group of around 10 completely wasted English bachelors (sorry Tom). After returning to their apartment after long night, they decided it would be really funny to throw all their furniture (including a big wooden wardrobe) out of the window. From the sixth floor! Imagine that. Luckily, no one got hurt; there was no one passing under the window at that moment and no one fell out of the window. The biggest harm was that the apartment provider stopped working with our agency. But it still got me thinking. You never know which day is your last. You could be walking along, and the next thing you know a wardrobe lands on your head. The only thing you can influence is how you spend the days you have. So don’t let fears prevent you to do anything you want.
In the end I must admit – I really do get scared sometimes. But it’s the fear of not living my life to its full potential that scares me the most. And this fear helps me to push through all my other fears.
How do you feel about this? Do you have a similar experience? Do you have some fears and what helps you fight them?