I get lots of accusations of being naïve, being very lucky, having zeal of stupidity, having indefatigable bravery or just being crazy. Why? Because I travel, because I see the world and I do it by staying with strangers, by going off the beaten tourist trail, by hitch hiking and by trusting total strangers. I disagree with these statements, I have fear like any other human it is just that the people who say these things to me, be negative or positive, are people who share one thing in common with each other and not with me. They have not seen the world, they have stayed in their bunkers of safety and have always been to afraid to leave.
Plenty of things stop us from doing the things we love, some of them are physical, but most, if not 99.9% are just in our mind. And the biggest barrier is fear. Don’t get me wrong. I have fear, I am afraid when it is rational and I know it is dangerous, and I am also irrationally afraid when I find myself on the side of a cliff looking down to certain death below, even when death is impossible, it still scares me.
Rational fear: Well let’s look at the stats. When I was in Nagorno-Karabakh, a land of endless forests and mountains and almost no people I had to travel through a forest road at midnight. Echo was with me and she was afraid, I wasn’t. Why not? Because of statistics, because of the odds of having something bad happen to me. I had been warned that in the forest there were snakes, wolves, and bears, and assumable some zombies and dragons too. This place is nearly 4,500 square miles, 11,500 square kilometers of wilderness, pure and unadulterated, anything could be hidden in its mountains, forests, caves, and valleys. Scary right, all the animals, the unknown, and the darkness of night?
Na. The odds were in my favor that the animals wouldn’t attack. Yes, bears and wolves do attack people, but rarely. I’m not going to bother giving you the stats, because they are so low, only very few and unlucky people get attacked by these animals. But beyond being not terrible unlucky, I had other reasons not to fear. This is how I rationalized it: It was midsummer so all of the animals would have plenty of food, so they wouldn’t need to snack on me. Next I was on a road, a paved road that wove down a cliff side not really the safest places for these animals nor a good hang out spot for their prey. I assumed pack animals like wolves would have needed plenty of room to ambush and attack us. So the cliff alone made fear of wolves impractical. As for bears, even if one did show, the odds are that they will just go away. Usually that is what happens. If one would have come, we still had another advantage, two people traveling together with huge backpacks, we would have very easily looked bigger to the bear then it thought of itself.
Snakes as the cliché goes are “more afraid of you then you are of them” and that’s true, the times I have encountered snakes, the snakes have always ran from me. In fact I once chased on deep into the forest for fun (I wasn’t being naïve I just wanted to keep the snake away from people, mostly to protect the snake.). It was about 5 feet long, but I was bigger than it. Think of it from the snakes perspective. If a giant was trampling over the trees toward you, would you run to him and attack him with a tiny knife? No, you would get the hell out of there. So because of this I always think snakes wont attack unless I put them in a situation where they have no other choice.
So overall I might have looked brave or stupid, but in reality I was neither, I was just someone trying to live rationally and see the world while I am young.
What about people? But what about people you might be saying, are they not the most dangerous animal? They can be, but usually you are safe because the others will keep you safe.
David picked me up when I was hitchhiking in the Netherlands, he told me this story : He was in Dakar, Senegal sitting down at a bus stop when two locals came up and sat on either side of him. He felt uncomfortable but they were not aggressive, they just chatted with him about the country, what he was doing and kept the conversation friendly. One of them picked his pocket, but while this was happening plenty of locals had been watching. When the “bad guys” picked the David’s pockets the locals noticed and charged in. One fled, only getting punched and kicked a few times, the other was beaten badly until David came to his rescue and got the locals to stop hitting him with the promos that David would take the guy to the police. David did and the police roughed up the guy even more before throwing him in jail. Stealing from anyone, especially foreigners, is widely frowned upon. You have the safety of the crowd to protect you in most cases.
A similar story is about my friends Jack and Tamera. They are world travelers, squatters, and all around fantastic people who can play same damn good ukulele. They were camping in Nepal and fishing at a spot a little boy had showed them. They took a nap with their fishing poles still in the water and when they woke up, the poles were gone. These poles were cheap by western standards, just a few dollars, but for Nepal they were expensive, they went to a local village and asked if anyone knew anything and mentioned the little boy who showed them the area. The other kids answered that he had the poles and that they would help Jack and Tamera get them back. The kids took them to the field had them hide behind some bushes then while they waited for the boy to came. When he arrived the boys confronted the thief, he confessed and then they brought Jack and Tamera out, the boy was afraid, lead them to the poles. When he gave them back the children told Jack and Tamera to beat the child. Beat him? Yes the other kids expected the boy to be beaten for what he did. Luckily Jack and Tamera were not ones for violence and simply wanted the poles back, so they didn’t beat him.
I can relate dozens of stories to you from friends, from visitors, from many people, but overall the message is that the world is safe. Although it is true that sometimes bad things do happen. I’ll tell you a story but first I want to stay that if you do things correctly, if you stay smart and safe then you will be just as safe in any country. If something does happen, do your best to keep yourself safe, you are more important than any amount of money.
Michael, a great friend of mine and a world traveler who has seen as much of the world as me was in Cambodia. He was out with his girlfriend in the park late at night. Three guys came over, one grabbed him, the other showed a knife, and Michael gave up and let them take his money. They left, he was alive, ok, and had lost all the money in his pocket – 7 dollars. The experience scared him, but he is still a world traveler and doesn’t regret it or losing his money and looks at the experience as a learning experience. The advice he gives to avoid this situation is to stay alert and in well-lit places, more light, more people, the safer you are.
So if you are rational and aware you are safe. Most fear as I said comes from misunderstanding. When I went to Cambodia my mother said “Oh, be careful Eric, there are landmines there!” There are landmines in Cambodia, but only in the most remote of remote places, and all the field with landmines on them are well marked. Yes there is still the chance of stepping on an unmarked landmine, but the odds of that are about the same as being stuck by lighting 2 or 3 times.
Irrational fear: You might be agreeing with me, or maybe you are thinking I’m crazy and that reality is more the statistics and taking smart actions. Maybe you’re like the many who say things to me like “how can you stay in a hostel, they are dangerous, haven’t you seen that movie “hostel””. Of course I haven’t seen it. Horror moves of all kind just depict an unrealistic world. Horror movies and maybe all movies in general get people to watch them by being unrealistic, fantastic and scary.
For example: Hitch hiking Everyone tells me it is dangerous, no one more so than my grandmother. She often tells me it is dangerous, what is her evidence for this? She never went hitch hiking, doesn’t watch much news. Most of her knowledge comes from movies, movies where hitch hiking is usually used to introduce the victims of a horror film. I say most of her knowledge because she also knows about hitch hiking because 3 or 4 times a year my grandfather picks up a hitch hiker and brings him home. Dozens of strangers have stayed with her many times, and none of them have ever done anything wrong to her. What does she say about this? That she was lucky? Ok I can’t disprove that she is lucky, but Can I really say I am lucky? From Feb 2012 till Nov-2012 I hitch hiked 13,000 miles. Never even one time did I have any problem. No one hurt me, threatened me or did anything that I saw as a problem. Maybe there are bad people out there, but if there are, they don’t pick you up. Only awesome people give you a ride.
Fear: Have I ever felt afraid. Of course, when I am in a situation where te odds are not in my favor I try to get out of that situation. When in High School my breaks blew out of my car and I was headed to a busy intersection at 35mph without breaks I was afraid. When I find myself stuck on a mountain side without a guaranteed way to make it to a safe location, I feel fear. But even when I do feel these fears I do all I can. I think the situation over, and do my best to save my life. So far, I have been successful.