People ask me whether I feel safe when I travel. Maybe I could be kidnapped in Nairobi or mugged in Mexico City. But I have always felt safe, partly because life is full of risks, whether we’re sky diving or sitting on the couch eating processed foods. And, well, my enthusiasm sometimes clouds my thinking. I am mostly careful but looking back on my 5 years as a nomad, I’ve done a few dumb things. They weren’t risky like living in a war zone, but maybe I wouldn’t do them again. Anyway, they were worth it! You know why? Because they gave me more evidence that people are good.
Here are some examples:
Getting a ride from a stranger on a deserted mountain road in Nepal. When I was trekking alone through the countryside near Kathmandu, I started hiking up a mountain road to visit a Buddhist convent. About half way up the mountain, a young man on a motor bike stopped to say the road was full of banditos and guerillas, and offered me a ride back to town. I had to decide in the moment whether he telling the truth. He was! And I had a fun ride on the back of a motorcycle.
Staying in a $25 hotel room in Cairo. When I was in Egypt, I wanted to stay in a hotel room with a view of the Giza pyramids so I could see the evening light show, but I didn’t want to pay $300 for a room at a major hotel. So I got a $25 hotel room that was quite funky and in a neighborhood most (all) tourists would avoid. Fortunately, my hotel manager was looking out for me. He gave me a second lock for my door and told me several times he would make sure I was safe. I was!
And here’s my million dollar view of the pyramids.
Following Caravan migrants through the mountains in Mexico. In 2018, I went with a friend to southern Mexico to support the Caravan — the thousands of migrants who walked together from Mexico’s southern border to the US. One day, we hired a man with a truck to haul food and water to people walking through the mountains where, that week, several migrants had been kidnapped. After about an hour, the Mexican Federales stopped us. The Federales are powerful people in Mexico and we were illegally transporting a couple of migrants in the back of the truck. So when an officer approached the truck, our driver was trembling. Knowing the Federales were unlikely to hassle a *mature* white woman, I jumped out of the truck to explain what we were doing. The Federales said they were checking to make sure we weren’t kidnappers and thanked us for helping the migrants. “Cuidate.”
Here’s the truck.
Taking the stairs in North Korea. During the week of Kim Jung Un’s investiture in 2011, I went to North Korea with a couple of friends (you can only go there on a tour approved by the Korean government). Every step of our tour was highly regulated but I didn’t get the memo that said we had to take the hotel elevator. One morning, I was so eager for a little exercise, I walked down five flights of stairs to breakfast. Five minutes after I arrived in the lobby, our Korean tour guide, Mr. Kim, was negotiating with the North Korean military about whether my breech of protocol should be investigated. I didn’t know what they were saying, but I could see that Mr. Kim was sweating and breathing hard, and I knew Mr. Kim’s fate was tied to my own. After they let us go, he smiled at me and said “Everything is fine. You should not worry.” And he gave me a bouquet of flowers on my birthday.
Here is a crowd of North Koreans who took the elevator, attending a military parade.
Hiring a random tuk-tuk in Cambodia. When I was in Siem Reap, I wanted to visit a village outside of the city known for its hand-woven textiles. I hired a tuk-tuk to take me there even though my hotel manager advised hiring a licensed guide. The tuk-tuk driver dropped me off in the middle of a jungle. I had no cell service or map, and no idea where I was. I walked for an hour until I met a couple who served me lunch and took me several miles on the back of a motor bike to a ferry headed back into town. Better than a weavers’ village.
Here is my BFF on the motor bike.
What dumb things have you done? And what have they taught you about people and their lives? The world’s got your back.