The first time I traveled internationally, on my own, without my parents was a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada. After I booked the trip, I remember being happy and excited but not scared. Fast forward to a few days before departure and I was a nervous wreck.
I am aware that bad things have happened in the world, they are happening now and they will continue to happen. I am also aware that travel can be dangerous especially for a young woman. I am not naive. I am open-minded but trusting and laid-back enough to not let fear get in the way of enjoying my life but I know how to watch my back and be alert to any dangers that may arise. I know not to walk in dark alleys alone. I know not to leave my drink unattended. I know not to get in cars with strangers. I know how to make sure I am not being followed when I return to my hotel room. What I don't know is why so many people try to scare the living daylights out of me right before any trip I embark on and run every possible bad scenario through my head to the point that I think a world war will break out before I even get on the plane.
Many people think I am reckless. No, most of them will not say this to me, but the sentiment is written all over their faces whenever I tell them I am about to embark on another solo journey to some far-flung place to participate in what they deem to be “death-defying” activities – things like surfing, trekking through rainforests and jungles, jumping off waterfalls, hiking around volcanoes and ziplining. Ok, maybe I can see how all that does sound a bit reckless to some people but, from my point of view, I am living my life to the fullest and not letting fear get in the way of me trying new things. Yes, the zipline could snap and send me falling to my death, I could drown or get eaten by a shark while surfing, I could be snatched by a puma or other predator while trekking around the jungle and a volcano could erupt while I am walking around it but the odds are slim and I most likely will never experience any of these things in my lifetime or on any of my travels. To me, not living my life, not trying new things, not embarking on new adventures is reckless. I guess everyone is entitled to their opinion and everyone’s perception of recklessness is different.
I’ve traveled to some places that are considered to be dangerous. Take Mexico for example. There were advisories in place warning vacationers against traveling to Mexico when I decided to go. I was well aware of the violence occurring in various parts of the country but I was not going to let it stop me from going. I chose an area that was, at that time, almost untouched by the drug cartels and violence occurring elsewhere. But, of course, once my family and friends got wind of my travel plans, they tried to change my mind against going to such a dangerous place where I could (key word here - COULD) be kidnapped, beaten or murdered. In the weeks and days leading up to my departure, they sent me videos, articles, pictures and anything they thought might change my mind about going. They wasted much of their time watching the horrific tales coming out of the country on CNN and scared themselves more than they scared me. I still boarded the plane but images of armed drug cartels storming into town and shooting up my hotel remained in the back of my mind. Once I arrived and saw the beauty of the place and the friendliness of the people, I forgot all about those images and enjoyed my vacation that saw me venturing quite a distance from my hotel on public transport and on foot. I saw no violence, no armed drug cartels, no muggings and no kidnappings. The only armed people I saw were the tourist police carrying rather large and menacing-looking guns but as long as you don’t bother them, they just sit around on stoops, smoking cigarettes and keeping to themselves. Even when I traveled to Cuba, my family and friends were worried even though the country has one of the lowest crime rates in North America. In fact, the crime rate in Havana must be fairly low because the only weapon I saw police officers carrying were batons and the only “crime” against me as I walked those city streets was the odd cat call. I hardly consider “hey pretty lady, would you like a flower for your hair” a crime or even offensive for that matter. Right before my departure for Costa Rica this part April, my mother slipped me some cash and told me to stash it somewhere safe in case “someone kidnapped me and wanted ransom money”. Again, I witnessed no crime in that country and came back in one piece like I always have and always will and presented my mom with the gift I purchased for her with her ransom money.
I must say, I’m shocked at some of the things people have said to me about my desire to travel and to do so alone. Actually, I should say, I used to be shocked but now I am more aware of some of the reasons why people may say these things. I have heard it all. One of my all time favorites is “shouldn’t you be finding a career, settling down and finding a husband and having babies instead of traveling the world and being so irresponsible”. First of all, since when does traveling the world mean someone is irresponsible? If anything, I am being responsible because I am learning about the world, I am opening up my mind to things beyond my backyard, I am learning about new cultures, I am learning about how people live and work in other parts of the world and I’m building excellent life skills including learning new languages, learning new skills (I most recently learned how to surf in Costa Rica), learning to be independent and learning how to interact with all types of different people from different backgrounds. What employer wouldn’t want someone who is worldly and experienced in so many aspects of life? What future husband wouldn’t want a woman who is independent and self-sufficient? And what future children wouldn’t want a mother who is adventurous, fun-loving and knowledgeable about so many things?
My next favorite question that is often asked of me is “where do you get all the money to travel so much”? I always have a hard time explaining this one to people because most people in the developed world just don’t get it when I explain to them that I am not materialistic so I have extra money to travel instead. I explain to them that I do not pay for cable because I don’t watch TV, I do not eat out because I like to eat healthy at home, I do not pay for a gym membership because I run, walk and bike outside 365 days a year, I do not shop unless I need something and I only occasionally splurge on something I want, like a piece of clothing, an ice cream cone or a latte instead of the plain ol’ coffee I usually drink. Material things do nothing for me. I can have all the material things in the worl, but what is the good of them if I am sitting between four walls, going nowhere and doing nothing with my life? I like to travel and that is where I make my big splurges. When I explain this to most people, they look at me like I have ten heads and yet, they are the ones who will look at all my travel pictures on Facebook and say how lucky I am to be able to afford to go to such places. Well, duh…That’s because I don’t spend my money on trivial material things that hold me back from living the life I want! These same people go to the mall three or four times a week to buy things they do not need, they buy a new 800 dollar phone every six months, they eat out at restaurants several times a week and spend hundreds of dollars a month going out to bars and clubs to stare at a wall and drink until they fall over. I buy new clothes once a year and occasionally search through thrift shops the rest of the time, I have had the same cell phone for four years, eating out is a picnic at the beach and my entertainment comes in the form of watching the sun set, laying on a beach and watching the stars, going for a walk in the woods or spending time with family and friends. And still, even when I point this out, they do not get how I have enough money to travel.
“Don’t you get lonely or afraid when traveling alone?” This is the next most common question I am asked and the answer is always no and no. I have traveled with people before. The last time I traveled with someone, it was an utter disaster. That person drank from sundown to sundown the entire time we were away, acted like an idiot and almost got us in huge trouble on several occasions. I know not everyone is like this when they travel, that is just one example of why I prefer traveling alone; I don’t have to put up with anything like that! I also don’t have to worry about traveling with a party pooper who doesn’t want to do anything or someone who would rather sleep all day. I can go where I want when I want, I can eat when I want and it is easier to meet other people when you are traveling alone because just being alone is a conversation starter. People are always curious about me being alone in a strange new place. Many people express admiration at me being such an independent and unafraid single woman traveling alone. Others want advice on how they can do the same. I have been told by some people that I’ve inspired them to take their first solo journey abroad. Others simply tell me that I am crazy, foolish and, you guessed it, irresponsible. Apparently, I should be taking better care of myself and not putting myself in “so much danger”.
Yup, I’ve heard it all and, although I’m used to it and expect these questions to be asked, I still can’t help but wonder where all this hatred towards my love of travel, my free-spirited attitude, my love of life, my sense of adventure, my lack of material possessions and my need to learn and experience new things comes from. I mean, first of all, the way I live MY life should not be anyone else’s concern anyway, right? Wrong. In this society, apparently, it is considered the norm to want to control every aspect of everyone else’s lives except your own. Perhaps it has nothing to do with control at all. Maybe these people are jealous because they don’t have the nerve to do the things they want to do and they envy me for jumping at every opportunity to enjoy my life and live it the way I want to. Maybe these people are addicted to watching television and buying material things and want to stop but can’t so they use me as a punching bag to make their lives look better when what they really want is to be doing the things I do. Or it could be that they are so in awe by my unique lifestyle that they just don’t know the proper things to say. I choose to live my life the way I want to live it and my way is not a conventional one; I made the choice to live and not simply exist – the work, eat, sleep, repeat until I die lifestyle is just not enough for me, I need more, I need to be living every moment to the fullest and I have found ways to work around that need so that I can have that life. And anything that is different rises curiosity, judgment and…fear. I do believe fear is a big factor in the way people react to my lifestyle. Fear of the unknown, fear of letting go, fear of moving on, fear of change, fear of dying, fear of anything that is not familiar. And that fear is what keeps people where they are even if they are not happy and that fear prevents many people from living the lives they really want. In some ways, I guess I have no fear, at least not when it comes to living my life to the fullest. I will risk facing the unknown, I will risk loosing everything and I will even risk death if it means I get to do something I want to do and live my life the way I want to live it. This, to me, is the ultimate freedom and with any amount of freedom comes risk.
Fear of travel is a big thing these days. With wars going on in many countries, terrorism and crime rates skyrocketing everywhere, it is no wonder many people would rather cower in their own homes. People have this assumption that they will be victimized in some way while traveling and that nothing bad could ever happen to them at home. I’ve traveled in a number of different countries and in some places that were considered to be dangerous and nothing ever happened to me. No one even attempted to victimize me in any way while I was traveling outside of my home country. I lived in Canada my whole life, the country is said to be one of the safest in the world, especially on the east coast where I live and over a span of three years, I had three police files open for various crimes that were committed against me (stalking, robbery, vandalism to my car and property) and the only time I was ever robbed was on the front porch of my house…at home, where everyone thinks they are safest.