I was warned, nay, harangued incessantly, by well-intentioned yet overly concerned friends and relatives about how dangerous my grand jaunt around the world would be. If I heard “You’re just a girl. You can’t travel alone!” once, I heard it 1,000 times. After I’d had enough, I cranked up No Doubt’s “I’m Just A Girl” on my iPod and tuned all the well intentioned yet absurd concerns out.
I’m a big girl. I’ve lived in big, bad cities all by myself and traveled (almost) around the world with just the tiniest bit of damage to my body. With a little common sense and some faith, most days, the world keeps on spinning and I make it safely to my bed without incident.
Despite all my preparation, wherewithal and common sense, I have experienced the rotten underbelly of travel quite a few times. Sometimes bad things do happen while on the road, just as they can happen outside your front door or at the office or at the supermarket back home.
About 10 years ago, I was robbed of my wallet (and my handmade baby blanket) in San Francisco and subsequently became the victim of some pretty hefty identity theft a few months later. That was the first time I ever remember something terrible happening while on vacation; hysteria ensued. In 2005, I inhaled a bit too much tear gas at a protest our bus came across inadvertently in Bolivia which brought on a wicked painful sinus infection. On a business trip to Dallas, I narrowly avoided injury when a crazed man chucked a brick through the floor-to-ceiling window of the restaurant I was dining in, shattering glass all around me. Last summer, a friend and I were drugged unconscious at an upscale restaurant in Cancun, and then my wallet was stolen at the Orlando Airport on a business trip the next month. As you know, I wrecked my bike & my camera in Bali, was scary sick in Thailand earlier this year, was groped by more than one drunken reveler in Spain, and once, I broke my toe while leading a press trip in The Bahamas. (Those pirate caves can be tricky in the dark.) I don’t really think heartbreaks count as travel travesties, but I’ll chuck mine into this already long list for good measure. And without getting into too much detail, my worst travel experience had to be the time one of the journalists on my trip had a heart attack and died on a remote island while I held his hand.
All this background to say – when my wallet was lifted from my bag by a wily pick-pocketer on the subway from the Athens airport to the city center back in May, my cache of sucky past travel experiences is what kept me from losing it. Yes, I’d just changed my $400 USD to Euros so I was out a sizeable chunk of change and my driver’s license, precious irreplaceable student ID, dive certification, credit cards and prescription medicine were tucked inside, too. Really though, when I looked back over all the travel dramas I’d experienced, the incident was just an inconvenience. I had to file a police report, which took a few hours out of our already short time in Athens, and of course had to find a way to replace all my cards.
But do I regret going to Athens because of it? Not for a minute. Do I regret going to Thailand because I spent most of my time laid up in bed? Nope. Do I regret going to San Francisco and losing my blankie? Well, maybe a little on that one…
What can you do to make sure nothing bad ever happens to you? We all know the answer to that… absolutely nothing. Whether you’re in the backyard or at a UNESCO World Heritage site 10,000 miles away, the proverbial anvil can always fall on your head. (Like the time I totaled my car about 60 seconds from my house.)
The choice we have is do we want to live a life defined only by our own four walls where we could be robbed (or worse) at any time, or is it worth it to experience all the colors and flavors and personalities the world has to offer, knowing that the path might get rocky (and lonely) and we might lose $400 bucks or consciousness or a toe here and there?
You know my choice. What’s yours?