Must you be brave to travel independently?
This question arose for me recently when one of the younger members of my Chinese class (that’s a whole other article!) asked me about my trips to China, and expressed considerable surprise when he learned I had not travelled with an organised tour. He was even more surprised when he further discovered I had gone there myself, arranged flights, hotels etc. myself, and while I met my son there, I spent a few days at the beginning of the trip in Beijing at New Year again by myself. “How did you manage?” he asked.
It got me thinking – is it brave to travel alone? I have to say that I don’t think even my nearest and dearest would describe me as brave – foolhardy perhaps, occasionally impulsive, but never brave. I have learned not to let fear of the unknown hold me back, and thanks to technology, it is possible to research any destination, to be aware of the pitfalls, to know what to see, even to find out how to get there.
It would be silly to pretend I have never been anxious or uneasy, of course I have, but more often than not my fears have been quite unfounded. I make it a rule never to do or say anything I would not do or say at home. Thus I avoid dimly lit alleys, I sit in railway carriages with other people or with a corridor, I try not to drink too much, I don’t wander about strange places late at night by myself – in short, I’m careful.
The young person who stared this train of thought also asked how I managed not knowing the languages. The short answer is probably ‘with some difficulty’. I find that the further off the beaten track I travel, the less likely it is that I will find an English speaker, and for me this was especially so away from the tourist trails in China. Miming, I find, is universal, if occasionally slightly embarrassing. (Imagine miming an urgent need for the nearest lavatory!) What’s more, it’s a wonderful icebreaker – laughing and comedic moments are also universal. I have found that most people are invariably kind and want to help, and many young people are very keen to try out their English, even if their language skills are limited. For me, if possible, I always try to learn how to say ‘hello’, ‘please’ and ‘thankyou’ in the language of the country I am going to because I find it usually helps.
As you can see – you don’t have to be brave to travel independently, you just have to make up your mind you’re going to do it. Didn’t FD Roosevelt once say ‘we have nothing to fear but fear itself’?