Go get lost!

Do you want to travel but fear of the unknown grips you?

Do you hesitate because you might get robbed?   or mugged?   or raped?   or murdered?   or maybe only lost!

Obviously I haven’t been murdered.  In fact, the only threats to my life have been from speeding transports on terrifying super-highways throughout North America.  But I have been robbed.  When I lived in Mexico, I woke up one morning to find that someone decided that they needed my bicycle more than I did.   Ditto for a beautiful table-top picture frame with two irreplaceable Hallowe’en photos of my son as Superman and Dracula!  In Canada, I was raped by an ex-boyfriend furious that I had broken up with him.  I’ve never been mugged but my estranged, alcoholic husband assaulted me soon after our separation, furious that I had left him.  In Kenya, while distracted by a fellow passenger on a combi bus, a pickpocket picked my pack in Nairobi (aka Nairobbery), snitching my wallet but thoughtfully leaving my passport!

And, I’ve been “lost.  But what does being “lost” really mean?

Some people never leave their home country.  Some never travel further than a few miles from their birthplace. Some express disinterest in travel. Some cannot afford to travel.  Others postpone travel until after post-secondary education, or after the children leave home, or after retirement.

But if you’ve answered “YES I do want to travel now but YES I am a little afraid,”  consult a travel agent.  Especially for your first adventure, it is important to realize that every traveler has experienced fear of the unknown.  Understand that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Check out package tours for countries or regions that interest you.  Sign up alone and meet new friends or travel with friends from home.  Your travel agent will do everything possible to ensure that you have a great time.  The agent and their representatives abroad will become short-term surrogate parents.  The agent will confirm that you have a passport with an expiry date at least three-to-six months after your return home.  They will ensure that you obtain visas, if necessary. They will make all arrangements for your entire vacation before you leave home.  Flights, ground transportation, dining, accommodation, sightseeing itineraries, as well as coping with unexpected glitches will be the responsibility of the tour guide.  Everything is arranged. Arriving to the bus on time is your sole responsibility.  Getting lost has been factored out of the equation.  But so has the opportunity for enjoying those serendipitous moments!

So, let’s pause a minute before you arrange this type of travel.  After a couple successful journeys, do you really need to have a tour guide (aka babysitter) holding your hand for the duration of your vacation?  Consulting a travel agent to book flights is an excellent idea (you’ll have another pair of eyes to monitor any scheduling changes to your itinerary) but the internet makes it possible for anyone to arrange airport pick-up and accommodation (recommended for your first one or two nights in a foreign country).  If you’ve decided upon a country where the locals do not speak English, it might be important to arrange transport though not necessarily on a bus with 40 other people.   I love the challenge of learning so I’ve learned to speak Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and French to help me travel safely and independently – and meet the locals.  I learned a few basic words of Thai and enough Vietnamese to order food and find bathrooms.  But when my husband and I went to India, we arranged a car with a driver.  This was the right choice.  Not only did Jaipaul speak Hindi, a lifetime in India allowed him to cope with congested traffic, motorcycles, bicycles carrying entire families, slow-moving elephants, lumbering camels, sacred cows that MUST be avoided at all cost, and my personal favorite: pedestrian cross-walks across major 10-lane highways! (Try to get this picture by imagining hundreds of people crossing the Toronto area of Highway 401 while ALL the vehicles wait patiently for 5 minutes.)

Of course, even with a guide it is possible to get lost.  Somewhere in the remote desert of northern Rajasthan our beloved Jaipaul had to ask directions to get to our first destination, Alsisar Haveli, a private mansion converted to a hotel.  None of us knew exactly where we were, so therefore we couldn’t possibly know how to get where we were going but – does that mean we were lost?   While it is true that we didn’t know how to get to our destination from our present position, we all knew we were in the state of Rajasthan heading in more-or-less the correct direction.  So if we weren’t lost even though we didn’t know where we were, what is “getting lost”?  What should you do if you get lost?  Should you tremble at the thought? During my years in commercial aviation, we pilots were never lost.  We were merely “temporarily disoriented”, a logic-driven approach (admittedly driven by the vanity of pilots unwilling to admit imperfection).   Situations were evaluated rationally.  We understood that fear was a normal reaction to a potentially hazardous situation.  Critical thinking prevailed.  Panic was abnormal.  Panic was counterproductive.

How does “being lost” contrast with “temporarily disoriented”?  How do these concepts relate to panic and fear?  Though being lost is possible, more probably you are not really lost.  Just like our experience enroute to Alsisar Haveli, you are likely not far from your intended destination. To believe that you are lost, without hope, is a dysfunctional response that engenders panic.  To realize that you’re close to your target but perhaps have taken a wrong turn is to be temporarily disoriented.  If being astray has endangered you, you should be afraid (but remember: fear is normal).

This paradigm assumes you are not a single female leaving a drinking establishment at 3AM to walk home alone or travelling by private rental car at night, and recognized as vulnerable by desperados who now have you captured and blindfolded.   It also infers that you are not travelling in a war ravaged or natural disaster zone where country landmarks, structures, and road signs are FUBAR (F-up-beyond-all-recognition).

And you need to realize that, just like at home, most people are not deranged lunatics or escaped convicts.  Take a look at these photos of smiling faces that have greeted me in my world travels.  Think about your fear this way: when you meet a new person or encounter a stranger on the street in your home town or your home country, are you immediately stricken by panic, convinced that this person is a rapist, robber, or murderer?  (If you answered yes to this question, the fear of travel is the least of your worries.)

What should you do if you become lost aka temporarily disoriented?  Let’s clarify several points.

1.    You know your departure point, your destination, and the linking route.

2.    You have plotted your route on a map, perhaps the one in the guidebook you purchased and perused before leaving home. Maybe you’ve highlighted routes and points-of-interest in yellow marker for easy reference.   Perhaps you’ve marked the page with a sticky-note to avoid standing on the street corner ruffling pages frantically searching for data, succumbing to a state of confusion guaranteed to heighten tension.

3.    If you knew your position a few minutes ago, straying far is inconceivable.  Remain calm.

4.    Draw a circle of uncertainty.   If passersby offer assistance, refuse assistance politely with confidence, stating that you are merely reading about an historic landmark.

5.    If you remain baffled, go into a nearby store to contemplate without distractions.  If doubt lingers, query the shopkeeper for advice.  When you assume the initiative, you remain in control.

6.     Now, armed with directions, you’re on your way!  Depart, undaunted.

Fulfill your travel plans but embrace serendipity.  Welcome the happenstance that introduces contrast into your life.   Learn a few basic words in a new language.  Make those foreigners your friends.  Go get lost but remain calm!