From the time he found out he would be a father, my dad always said I was going to be a girl and he was happy to have a female as his firstborn. Although, now don’t all you feminists get your panties in a wad, he raised me like a boy. He taught me to play baseball, took me to work with him and showed me how to pound nails, cut 2 x 4’s and lay shingles. He wanted me to be tough and fearless but made sure I understood how to be ladylike at the same time. He often quoted FDR from his inaugural address saying, “the only thing you have to fear is fear itself”. As a kid, I didn’t understand what this meant. According to Miriam Webster, fear is an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by the anticipation or awareness of danger. The definition didn’t help me understand the quote. E-notes tells me that “FDR used this phrase to motivate American society to remain hopeful instead of giving up. If we become too afraid, we then allow others to control us and we no longer have control of our own lives. FDR wanted to inspire Americans to respond to a bad situation by doing something positive and not allowing their fears to keep them from reacting at all”. I guess my dad wanted to motivate me to reach for my dreams and not to let fear of the unknown hold me back, that I was strong enough to control my destiny.
In August of this year, I will have spent most of the last 5 years living outside of the United States. I spent just over 6 months living in Paris and the remainder of the time in various cities in China. As you can imagine, I get asked a lot of questions, not just from strangers, but family and friends alike. One of the questions, when people find out I am living/traveling solo, is, “don’t you get lonely?” Well, I addressed that in my last blog, “The Highs and Lows of Solo Travel. You can read it here. The other question I get asked quite frequently is, “aren’t you afraid?” Simply put, no, not really, but I think I need to expand on that “no”. Insert a singing Doris Day here, I tend to have a “que sera sera” attitude, but there are some things I should worry about or fear. Let’s start with safety, that falls under something to cause fear, right?
I have a dear friend, yes, you Teri, who worries about my safety. She often reminds me that I am not always “careful”. Maybe often is an understatement, every time I travel, she reminds me. She is right about that and tells me not to let my guard down. Its become a sort of a joke between us. A joke I need to take seriously.
Living in Paris, I regularly walked home from the Seine back to Montmartre alone, late at night, often near midnight. Of course, machine gun-toting police are often seen all over Paris and that made me feel safe. Now, after living in China for so long, it does become easy to let your guard down. From 2012 to 2017, the Chinese government reported an 81.3% drop in gun crimes from 311 to 58. Of course, China has strict gun laws and it is illegal for a private citizen to own a gun. But, according to government statistics, police also confiscated 146,000 guns in 2018. This just means that I don’t really fear violent crime, not just gun crime, in China. Besides living abroad, I frequently travel to other countries in this part of the world. During my travels/living abroad, I can honestly say I only once remember having a feeling of real fear……Paris, New Year’s Eve, 2014. My friend Patty and I decided to brave the crowds and go near the Arc de Triomphe and Trocadero with a view of the Tour Eiffel for midnight. Pam decided to stay back at the hotel. Midnight is drawing near, I had a phone in each hand and was snapping photos as the clock struck and the fireworks went off. Patty let out a scream, my eyes started to burn, and the crowds were running in all directions. I honestly can’t tell you if I dropped my phones or someone grabbed them, but I lost them both. Patty took a direct hit in the face with tear gas that someone had set off in the crowd. Fear of being trampled set in and I knew we had to get out in the open. Guiding Patty, we managed to find a policeman who directed us to an ambulance that was on the scene. Thankfully, she ended up with no permanent damage to her eyes and other than 2 lost phones everything turned out ok in the end.
Other than that, there has been a couple of times I couldn’t locate my passport. Talk about fear, that was major panic mode!!
Of course, when arriving in a new country/city, I do try to make myself aware of my surroundings and usually inquire at my homestay or hotel as to whether there are any areas as a solo female I should avoid. As far as crime, the worst thing that concerns me is petty crime, pickpockets, grab and run, etc. Oh, and shady taxi drivers who constantly try to rip off foreigners. To hopefully avoid petty theft, I usually wear little or no jewelry. My bag is usually a crossbody which makes it more difficult for a grab and run. Luckily in most countries on this side of the planet, especially China, paying with your cell phone is normal and therefore I don’t carry a lot of cash. But there is more to safety than the crime.
Fear of injury…….In most Asian countries, traffic can be a nightmare. Scooters, cars, bicycles all zooming around traffic circles and through intersections. Just crossing the street in Saigon you feel as if you are taking your life in your hands. Basically, you just hold your arm out and walk, the traffic will slow down (a bit) and go around you. It is also a good idea to look for locals crossing and walk with them. Sidewalks or I should say lack of, can be a problem. Many of the SE Asian countries, Thailand, Bali, Cambodia, etc. lack sidewalks. I often like to walk from my homestays to places of interest versus renting a scooter because I can see more this way. That being said, you often must walk on the road. This can at first seem a daunting task, but I’ve gotten used to it. Ahhh, scooters…..my greatest fear with scooters was in countries where they drive on “the wrong side” of the road. No offense to my friends in those countries, but I am a bit worried about riding on “the wrong” side should I decide to rent one. I guess I should have had a fear of parked cars when riding a scooter. Sure enough, in my own town, Dong’e, where we drive on “the right side” of the road (most of the time), I was “hit” by a parked car door and that’s how “I Survived a Chinese Hospital” and a broken back. It was the perfect storm.
Food safety…..never ever drink the water. Bottled water is cheap and plentiful. If buying from a street vendor or somewhere off the beaten path, check to make sure the seal hasn’t been broken. Occasionally water bottles are refilled and resold. If you buy a beverage in a can, wipe off the top or use a straw. Cans are often left in areas where rodents and other animals walk on them, pee and poop on them…you get the idea. Be wary of ice, most of the time I avoid it. No one likes street food more than I do. Be cautious, be observant. Look for the vendor that has a good turnover, where the food hasn’t been sitting out. I have been bitten by the food poisoning bug a few times, it’s not pleasant. Food safety is a concern albeit, a small one.
Fear of becoming unwell…..In my bag, I usually have liquid bandage for small cuts, Advil and other first aid supplies. Before leaving the US, I had any shots my doctor deemed necessary. I also asked for an antibiotic to take with me, just in case. Not knowing what other health items would be available, I brought antacids, anti-diarrheal, OTC cold medicine, Neosporin, etc. Luckily, other than a couple colds a those few bouts with food poisoning, I haven’t experienced being unwell.
Fear of natural disasters…..My last trip to Bali was shortly after a major earthquake had killed hundreds on the neighboring island of Lombok. While I was in Ubud, I experienced several days of tremors that woke me in the middle of the night because the bed was shaking so much. Natural disasters, I have no control over, so nothing to fear, right?
Fear of language barriers….fear of the food….fear of the religion……fear of cultural differences……I personally don’t consider these fears but more paranoia. If a person has these fears/paranoia, most likely they won’t be traveling out of their comfort zone. These are things I embrace as I live and travel abroad. They are things I can’t wait to experience, that help me grow.
I have discovered the world is full of kind and caring people. Many are willing to help, comfort, assist and befriend a stranger. I say again, no, for the most part, I am not afraid of being alone in foreign countries. I will always have some concerns and a few worries but that is natural. I try to carry myself with confidence, become aware of my surroundings and take precautions when necessary. I have the smart traveler app and am enrolled in the STEP Program. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is a free service that allows US Citizens living or traveling abroad to receive the latest security updates from the nearest Embassy or Consulate. Plan ahead, be aware, take precautionary measures, research your location and ask the locals questions. Also, I make sure someone, usually my brother, knows my itinerary right down to the details….flight times and airline, address and phone number where I am staying. I check in periodically with a text and a selfie. Being the social media whore, I am, I’m fairly certain if I dropped off Facebook for too long someone would become concerned about my safety. Don’t let fear hold you back from exploring this amazing place we call Earth.
Confession…..my biggest fear…..my biggest fear is that I won’t have time to see and do everything on my travel bucket list.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Thanks, dad and mom, for raising an independent female who isn’t afraid to chase her dream and for giving me a brother who supports me in all of my craziness.