I am a klutz. Tripping, falling, all that I do on a daily basis. No big deal. But when you are in an entirely new country and solo travelling, your safety issues are multiplied. Who will take care of you when stuff goes wrong? Is there someone to turn to? Will you be left to die?!?!?!?!?! Hold your breath right there. I’ve been in so many dire straits and came out victotious. With scrapes, sure. But I live to tell the tale. And you apparently need to hear it.
Table of Contents
I'm really surprised by how much I'm shook by this: I did a little more research on the places I visited around #MountFuji in Japan and realised I was actually traversing the infamous #SuicideForest. You know the one where people hang themselves, strangely get lost or see ghosts? Yeah, I had no clue nor a map. I guess my own trouble ghosts kicked those ghosts' ass. After all, I get into all kinds of messes. But not that day. Thankfully. By the way, Japanese ghosts are called Yūrei and are usually harmless (they just have some unfinished business). Unless they are driven by revenge. Those are called onryō. So the moral of the story is: Always do your research in advance. Sounds like a no-brainer but isn't necessarily.
Don’t Let Worry and Anxiety Take Over
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been worrying. Anxiety is a constant companion. It might not be the most comforting, but it’s always there when I least need it. Have I locked the door? Maybe the last three times I tried it weren’t enough? Have I looked up the safety situation for women in my new destination as much as I should have? Maybe I should ask some more people… My mind is a constant danger zone. War and Piece is a short story in comparison.
But travelling with anxiety (and learning to cope with it) is one thing. Dealing with safety issues on a more rational level another. (If you are free from anxiety, you should still read on. This post is for everyone. Oh, and I’m jealous of you. Anyway, moving on.) It would be naïve to just rock up in a new country without prior research and assume you’ll be fine. It’s hit and miss. Most likely you WILL actually be fine.
The world isn’t the live poverty porn stream we get fed on TV. Strangers aren’t out to get you. I would need so many hands to count the many instances strangers have stopped and gone out of their way to help me. Genuinely wanting to help. Without wanting anything in return. Nada. (No, not even my kidneys. Still got them, thanks for asking.) I got offered free lifts from the middle of nowhere to my hostel door, to name one instance. (Or across a Croatian island.)
So I nearly got stranded on an island in #Croatia. Read the disaster story on my blog. www.travelonthebrain.net _____________________ #ABMLifeisColorful #travelcolorfully #AColorStory #citiesbycolor #usDScolor #wallcrawl #myunicornlife #popyacolor #colorhunter #passionpassport #theglobewanderer #bestvacations #GlobalYodel #travelbreak #globalroaming #letsgoeverywhere #alwayswander #Kurzurlaub #eatwelltraveloften #welivetoexplore #traveljournal #lifewelltravelled #awayewego #globejumpers @dream_spots #welivetoexplore #croatiafulloflife
Get Your Travel Preparation Just Right
The key to mastering your travel preparation (and coping with your travel anxiey) is research. But in moderation. Too much research can trick you into fake security. You might think you know it all. Maybe you even have a picture in your mind of how things will look like, how things are run.
It’s then that you start ranting when your taxi driver takes an impromptu siesta in Sicily. When the waitress walks off with your credit card. Or your bus driver starts driving across the border with your passport still outside. Don’t panic!
Before my study exchange to England, I devoured anthropological books on Brits. I knew A heck of a lot about pub culture, subcultures, various regional slang and when the animal protection laws were enforced. (Yeah I know, #nerdalert.) Boy was I confused when I suddenly had mostly Chinese students in my classes and consequently suffered a severe culture shock. I fought against adapting to this new situation, stubborn as I am. Luckily, I learned from this experience (and about Chinese culture).
It's normal to feel weird at times. A new girl checked into my hostel and she seemed nice. I recommended to her that she had out to the tubs overlooking the city for an epic sunset because the colors in the sky were ridiculously beautiful. She wasn't sure how to get there and I decided to accompany her even though I had made plans and didn't want to head out again. I thought, whyever not. How often do you get epic sunsets like this? It turned out that I saved her day. Even though she looked perfectly fine on the outside, she had been struggling with insecurity and loneliness on the inside. It was her first big solo trip and she felt like she has to make the most of it. See all the sights, talk to all the people, keep herself busy from staying to think too much. Introspection and an unfiltered stream of consciousness are a natural part of #solotravel and can turn you crazy if you let it. It's good to remind yourself that there are no shoulds and shouldn'ts. That's what society tells you, but the more you travel, the more you realize how prior are doing things differently, how cities have juxtaposing rules and expectations. I'm currently in Bulgaria and still can't get my head around nodding when I wasn't to say no and shaking my head when I mean to say yes. There is no right or wrong. There is just different. And that is perfectly fine. You do you and at the end of the day, you are only person you should listen to. #feetfollowheart #MonddayMotivation
And Get to Terms with Sh** Going Down
Still, I hate to break it to you. Life will catch up. Rain might ruin your beach days. Delayed flights will empty your pockets (and ruin your nerves). Rude customer service will bring you to boiling point. You might break a leg (literally). You might have to visit a Romanian hospital. Or get robbed and end up in a Bulgarian court. I’ve been there. And it never was as bad as it sounded. I was lucky.
Attitude is essential. Instead of cowering in fright, I enjoyed (a little morbid) glee watching the CSI take finger prints of my thief. I was amused by the hospital staff trying to hunt down an English speaker. If you had told me this five years ago, I would have stared at you in utter disbelief. (And maybe silently looked up the number to the nearest asylum.) That could never be me!
Travelling to Australia by myself? Not me! Roadtripping the USA? Only in my dreams. Staying calm and collected during earthquakes in Japan? Yeah, so not me. And still, I was there. And I didn’t freak out. I’m not special. Or particularly brave. At times, I am incredibly naïve, for instance running into dodgy areas in New Orleans. (Never do that!!) Walking from Table Mountain towards Cape Town during a blackout. (I guess I am a cat with – no longer – seven lives.)
You don't have to move mountains but climbing them is a start. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Can't believe it's been a year since my whirlwind trip to the #GrandCanyon. I dropped my laptop in Costa Rica, hunted down a Phoenix IT person that would fix it in a day and made it to the canyon rim for the most spectacular sunset and just a little bit of snow. Adventure cove when you least expect them.
The 7 Commands for Travel Safety
- Get your essential information but don’t go overboard with research (e.g. location, directions, general safety situation)
- Know your travel preferences and stick to them (e.g. don’t book low end hostels if you are OCD)
- Ask locals for tips and advice and (e.g. where not to go, whether to drink tap water)
- Be inconspicuous and blend in like a local (e.g. don’t flaunt flashy outfits, wear comfortable shoes)
- Rely on your common sense and tap into your gut feel (no, I don’t mean hunger)
- Be well prepared (e.g. have your documents stored safely online, travel with a secret second visa card, have a fake wallet when in dodgy areas)
- Come with a backup plan (e.g. be insured always; if your money gets stolen, where could you still pay digitally to have a place to stay? Where is the nearest police station/what’s the local emergency number?)
- Bonus: Take a deep breath.
"Don't let the sunshine fall from the sky; just find the sunshine in your own mind." Zooey Deschanel – New Girl ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Happiness is an attitude. And beauty subjective. So much in theory. Let's practice. Today's #30DaysOfDemons challenge is to keep an open mind. Go for a stroll or a day trip and find something that at first glance looks ugly. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Maybe it's a ruin, a dilapidated house or an overgrown garden. Take a moment and find the beauty in it; trust me, it's there. Maybe use your camera to frame a certain angle and isolate it for your viewing. I'd love to know what you'll find.
Learn from (Other People’s) Mistakes
There is no way I suddenly would turn into this enlightened super adult and behave rationally with well thought out actions. (My parents would love that, wouldn’t they? Sorry.) That’s not me. I will get lost. I will lose things. I will run into trouble. But at the same time, I will meet the most amazing humans. I will find ways to get out of sticky situations. In short, I will find solutions.
When you travel solo, you learn to think on your feet. There is no one to rescue you. You need to do it yourself. Do you need to ask for help or do you have all that you need? What information do you need? Where do you need to go? All the best apps can only help you so much. In the end, you often need to think out of the box. Come up with clever ways. Get out of your comfort zone.
I have done it multiply times and it gets easier. But since I want you to be as safe and well informed as possible, I am sharing my tales and misadventures with you here on this blog. There are plenty of disaster stories. Not that I am proud of them. But neither am I ashamed. They made me into who I am today. They taught me self-reliance and confidence. And odd survival skills. And this I want you to have, too. So browse around and feel free to get in touch. After all, we’re all a #travelcommunity.
Articles on Travel Disasters and Me Rising Like a Phoenix (all dusty but glowing)
That time I ended up in a London hospital because of dehydration from stupidity
That time I nearly drowned over the Great Barrier Reef
That time I nearly stranded on an island in Croatia
That time I nearly got lost in the Yorkshire Moors (where Wuthering Heights took place)
Real life horror stories from my time in the Australian outback (part 1)
That time I nearly died from lack of hygiene in the outback
How (not) to celebrate the New Year in Lisbon [A Diary]
The worst travel day – just between Bath and Southampton in England. Geez.
That time my hostel nightmares turned into reality
The many times weirdoes cranked up their weird on me
That time I lost my phone sitting on a plane
That time I got terribly lost in Tokyo and had to survive on caramel cheese popcorn (for a few hours)
That time I was nearly mistaken for a terrorist on an airport
That time something was living in my bag and I freaked out
(to be continued)
Have you ever had stuff go wrong during your (solo) travels? I would love to hear your story (and that I am not alone).