I’ve Done Some Dumb Things in My Travels. Glad.

Looked scary. Wasn’t.

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.

On the road between Mexico City and San Miguel de Allende

34 comments

  1. Wish I had your _sang froid_, Kim.
    Keep it up as long as you can!
    Keep shining light on us all!

  2. You are a courageous traveller. Courage isn’t the absence of fear… it’s the ability to proceed forward when you’re scared.

  3. It was fun reading this, Kim, knowing in advance you’d survived everything! I admit I was worried when you were in North Korea. (Thinking: Kim! Follow the rules, please!) This post brought back many memories, mostly from the year and a half I spent in my 20s backpacking with a friend through Latin America in the late 1970s. I spent an average of $4 a day, so lots of hitchhiking, sleeping in backyards in a pup-tent, and meeting memorable people who were kind, friendly, and generous. Many countries then had military governments, there were curfews, and in Argentina, they were executing “subversive delinquents,” who happened to be professors, attorneys, and others. Everyone was stressed and fearful. We never should have gone there. In the north, we were camping outside a city. One afternoon at a bus stop we were forced into a car by some type of secret police with submachine guns, and taken to an unmarked station. They interrogated us all through the night, and in the morning I claimed to need my medicine, although the only medicine I had was malaria medicine. To our amazement, they drove us to the campground. The other campers thought we’d been killed. Forty years later, I returned to beautiful Argentina and found nobody was fearful, everyone was warm and welcoming. It’s so sad knowing that they are suffering so much with the ongoing pandemic.

  4. Well, since you asked, Kim: Your post brought back a memory from Segou, Mali, when a dear friend (architect from NYC) came to visit me. It was Christmas day, 2001, and we were walking in the center of the city, my friend taking photos of the fascinating architecture. A policeman stopped my friend and grabbed his camera. I swung into action and ripped the camera out of the policeman’s hands. My friend and I spent Christmas in jail. Fortunately, a friend of mine there happened to be the wife of the mayor…

  5. Vivir la vida ! Carpe diem – enjoyed your “dumb things” and other travels vicariously 🙂 Liking riding that horse in Mongolia !!!! Your blog helped to inspire my permanent move to Mexico as a digital nomad in Dec 2017.. Thank you and abrazos!

  6. I so love reading your words, adventures & travel philosophy. Thank you so much for sharing your adventures! I’ve certainly had some adventures, many would call questionable, but I felt very safe anyway! Once outside of Glacier National Park, a girlfriend & I were hitchhiking with big backpacks. We got picked up by some native Americans in an old pickup truck. When I realized that they were drunk, I drove the truck! We safely got to our destination!

      1. I’ve been especially traumatized by the case of five adult male [sex] tourists from Portugal to Fortaleza/ Northeast Brazil where I lived at the time. They were lured to their deaths and robbed on the first night of their arrival. After their families in Portugal did not hear from any of them, the Federal Police found their bodies buried in the sand on the beach not far from my workplace.

      2. And yet for every tragedy we learn about, I believe there are thousands of happier stories we don’t hear about — where people survive terrible circumstances because of the kindness of strangers. There is so much humanity in us if the handful of criminals and politicians would get out of the way.

  7. Wow. Those are great adventures. Ive done stupid things like hitch hiking, getting lost on a trail, and walking through places by mistake where I should have been killed. But somehow it all worked out.

  8. Brought back lots of memories! 1) being taken off a train by police in the middle of the night on the Russian/Estonian border because my visa had expired at midnight; lost and alone at the border but getting to Tallin was another adventure; 2) quietly watching Israeli agents with a masked Arab informant inspect the yard of a family I was staying with in the occupied West Bank looking for stuff in the homeowner’s garage that he was hiding from Hamas. Got in and out of Israel and Jordan without that trip showing up on my passport. Got through Israeli checkpoints by hitching a ride in a UN peacekeeper’s little blue Jeep; 3) in France hitched a ride with a Middle Eastern man in pouring rain in the town of Genevieve-du-bois after completing my pilgrimage to the grave of Rudolph Nureyev (it’s amazing) and got lost trying to get back to the train station. I figured he was ok because he had kid car seats and baguettes all over his car. Love traveling!

      1. I’m high on sugar that’s why! I don’t know where exactly that is Kim, it’s nice to know you’re happy, m home right now, we should catch up during one of our travels sometime.

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