Why Travel Makes You a Better Person: Part Two
This is part 2, if you missed part 1, be sure to check it out here
In part 1, I went into detail about how travel is basically personal development on acceleration. Here are a few more of the reasons why I believe this plus a peppering of personal stories from my global adventures – hope you enjoy!
You learn to expect the unexpected – roll with the punches
When you’re in a foreign country, especially when you don’t speak the language AND even more so when it’s a very different culture to yours, you’re out of your comfort zone. You spend a good chunk of time confused, uncertain and often very scared.
The worst is on local buses. I remember getting a night bus from the south of Bolivia near the Chilean border. We’d just spent 3 days and nights traveling from San Pedro de Atacama desert (northern Chile, like being in the Flintstones) and were desperate for a shower. The last thing we needed was a night bus. We were sitting at the front waiting patiently for everyone to get on. They didn’t stop. I couldn’t believe we weren’t full yet. I turned around to see if there were spare seats left. Of course there weren’t. People were sitting in the aisles; they’d climbed onto the seats and rolled themselves into the luggage racks.
There were humans everywhere! An older woman sat at the feet of my then boyfriend, she had a cloth bag wrapped around her shoulders (traditional way of carrying goods in Bolivia). My boyfriend got up to offer her his seat when a hand tapped him on the shoulder. It was a seasoned traveller.
“Don’t give her your seat”
“What, why? She’s old?”
“These buses only move because we pay for them to move. No on else here has a ticket they aren’t even supposed to be allowed on. If you give her your seat she’s breaking the law. Plus, it messes with the whole eco system”
“But I feel so bad”
“Get over it, it’s not about how you feel. It’s just the way it works and it works this way”
It seemed so wrong at the time but I’ve come across similar situations in other countries. We can want to do the right thing by giving money, offering our place on a boat, paying more for something than we should. We think we’re being nice, but often we are toppling over the sensitive cultural eco systems.
At 7am we finally arrived at our destination, as people started to get off the bus the woman (at my boyfriends feet) cloth bag started to cry. Yes, cry! There had been a baby in there that whole time – we had NO IDEA!
Traveling makes you learn how to simplify & be CLEAR in your communications.
When you’re getting a long train or bus ride (especially at night) you never know if you’re going to end up at your destination and what’s going to happen along the way.
I remember getting on a local bus in Colombia, it was daytime, but there was such a storm outside it may as well have been night. My traveling companion, Natasha, and I were sat on the back of the bus. Our feet were on sacks of potatoes (or so we told ourselves to calm our imaginations) and behind Us were chickens in basket cages. We’d told the driver we were going to Santa Marta, we wanted to go to the National Park. After an hour or so we both drifted off. We hit a pothole and woke to find we were now traveling with 2 indigenous Indians (who’s attire resembled the KKK) and a fridge freezer. I kid you not. The fridge was bigger than the Indian standing beside it (I don’t think it was his) and it was leaning against the back door.
We had no idea where we were and if we were near our destination, we couldn’t reach the driver to ask because of the big fridge. We started asking the locals around us ‘Santa Marta?’ and they said ‘si’ so we got off the bus. Of course, they were going to say SI because the bus was GOING to Santa Marta. We weren’t simple, clear or specific in our communications. We ended up on the side of a road, in the pissing rain, beside the Colombian jungle, and it was getting dark.
We saw some lights in the distance and walked towards them, it was a makeshift hut selling beer and bread (what else do you need?) there were 4 men there drinking. We had a beer and discussed our best options to avoid death.
One of the guys came over to talk to us, he was wearing a warden’s uniform and it turned out he worked at the national park. Thank god.
We explained our situation and he said he knew the family that lived across the road (the only other wooden shack for miles) and he’d ask them if we could stay the night. We returned to debating whether are chances of death had just increased or decreased.
He returned with good news. We went over and found they had three kids and two dogs. Don’t ask me why but it always feels less likely you’ll get murdered when there are kids in the house. We left our bags there (and locked them together) took out our valuables and promptly went back to the ‘bar’. We had a great night
drinking beer and learning the local Bachata dance. The next day when we entered the park we were waved in for free. It turned out those guys all worked at the park and had radioed ahead to ensure we didn’t have to pay. If we had have been simple and clear in our communications on the bus this wouldn’t have happened. That said, everything we did when we got of that bus was highly risky.
HINT: I now always have the exact address I’m going to written in the local language. I also always pre-load it on Google Maps on my smart phone because you can see where you are in relation to your destination even when offline.
It makes you more street wise and better at measuring risk
- There are some classics that all travellers know.
- Never change money at an airport (worst rate in the country)
- Never keep your money & cards all in one place (always separate them into
- Never let anyone see where you keep your passport
- Never get out of a cab at the same time when all of your bags are in the a min. of 2 places)
Never hand anyone money – ALWAYS count each note into their hand or back (taxi driver will just take off with all your stuff). Traveling solo? Always have your bag beside you if you can. with a flash of the hand they’ll either make ½ your money disappear and tell you that you didn’t give enough (happened to me with a New York taxi driver) or they’ll replace it with counterfeits, tell you its fake and demand real money whilst putting your original notes on their pocket.
But you don’t just inherently know these things, you learn these, often the hard way or by listening to someone else who learned the hard way
Because you’ve been in precarious situations it helps you avoid them in the future. In Brazil when I was living and working there a friend of mine was waiting for the bus outside our office. Two guys on a moped drove by and sliced the strap of her bag and drove off with it. Problem was they also sliced 3 inches of her arm and she spent the next 5 hours in A&E.
I soon learned in Sao Paulo to never carry a laptop, ideally carry nothing. Never use your phone on the street, always walk close to the wall or far from the pavement edge. I met many a drunken fool in Rio who thought they were safe in Lapa.
Don’t expect the rules of your world to be the same as the world you’re visiting. Respect the fact that you are a foreigner and as such are also easy pray. I met a guy in Nicaragua who was there visiting a friend in jail. He had been inside for 6 months for being drunk and disorderly and fighting with the wrong someone on the street. Central America jails are no picnic. They don’t feed you.
The only way you’ll stay alive is if you have friends and family who come everyday to give you food. I spent 6 months traveling solo through Central America from Mexico back down to Brazil. You’re never truly alone unless you want to be though. I travelled with an ever-changing group of between 4-12 people. Twice we went to local jails to bring food (tacos) to foreigners. People we didn’t know but knew they would need any type of help they could get. When you’ve seen people get things wrong it makes you much better at seeing potential threats. It makes you a more effective risk taker.
This also makes you a better adventurer
The culmination of being a better risk taker and generally a bit braver also makes you, by default, an adventurer. A friend of mine was going through a separation, which may have lead to divorce.
She’d been married for 4 years and with the guy for 10 before that. She’d led a relatively safe and secure life. Which is fine. But like I said before, we grow when we are uncomfortable.
She did what many people do when their world is falling apart, she cranked it up a notch and went ‘F@ck it! I’m going traveling. Problem was she’d only ever been on holiday with her husband. She hadn’t even stayed in a hostel before.
I always worry about the ‘F@ck it! I’m going travelling’ crew because they’re usually running away. The exact wrong reasons to travel. I took her to Madrid for the weekend to teach her some hostel etiquette. When, where and how to easily make friends without being a weirdo. How to take a shower when all your things are at the other – side of the building (always have a carry bag for shower things & flip flops to get from A to B).
After that I kick started her of on her 6 week trip by doing 2 weeks in Argentina with her. She was in strange place (as we all are after a break up) so I introduced a rule to inject some ‘play’ into the proceedings and to gently nudge her out of comfort zone and into the world of traveling. The rule was simple “we’re not allowed to say NO unless it’s a risk to our safety” (mantra No 1 safety first, fun second).
This rule led us to eating with fisherman in a tiny restaurant in a back alley in la Boca, Buenos Aires. We were then serenaded by an old man and his guitar. It led us half way up a mountain in Mendoza with a group of new friends to watch the shooting stars. We had dinner and drinks with the Semillon at the end of a wine tasting tour just because he asked us. We did many things we would never have done if not for that playful rule.
I invite you to add it to your weekend travel or next time you want to shake things up a little and do something you haven’t tried before.