Everyone’s heard the stories. Girl gets kidnapped in foreign country, family back in the U.S. (because they’re usually American) left in agony and disbelief. How could this have happen?
After four months of travel, I now understand that sometimes it’s okay to talk to strangers. You can sense when something is okay or not. This is my completely reckless (but mostly completely safe) behavior in Southeast Asia.
1. Get on the back of a strangers motorbike
I told myself there was no way I was riding on the back of a strangers motorbike. But eventually I got annoyed with paying for tourist cab prices in Bangkok and hopped on for one of the craziest rides or my life.
Why it’s scary: 1) Hello stranger, I hope you’re a good driver. Have you ever been in an accident? Ah right, you don’t speak English. Well I don’t have travel insurance and if we wreck I will have no money to cover medical costs. My family will be pissed and I will probably have to fly home to tend to injuries. Also, please don’t kidnap me. I have no idea where I’m going, I’ve never been there before but I hope you don’t know that. Everything looks the same here. I swear we’ve passed this building before… are you trying to confuse me? It’s working. I hope I get there safely and don’t end up in a box in another country. Self, I know your backpack weighs 60 pounds and you don’t’ have a free arm to hold on to the little Thai man in front of you but please, just don’t fall off 2) No helmets 3) I hope no one pulls up next to us and steals my stuff off my lap like I’ve heard before
2. Walk down a dark street alone, at night
I was at a bonfire with some other backpackers and wanted to head back to the hostel. “What are you afraid of?” my friend had asked me before I set off. She looked at my in disbelief when I told her I was scared to walk home alone. I couldn’t give her an answer then but now alone and armed with nothing but my little pink pepper spray keychain, my mind was racing with the possibilities. The small town had closed down and there was only a dim light in the quiet street. I don’t think there was anyone else out at 2 a.m. but building shadows were too dark for me to be sure.
Why it’s scary: We’re fed unhealthy portions of scary stories in the U.S. You know, the kind about the girl who gets taken, raped and cut into tiny pieces. Strangers are enemies and no one can be trusted. In reality, there is nothing to be afraid of. Sure it was spooky. I was on super hypersensitivity and my heart was racing but no one was out to get me. Besides the only actual threat of stray dogs, it’s only mind games with yourself that you have to conquer.
3. Pet street dogs
Every once in a while you’ll meet a traveler that’s worrying about how they’re going to get their next shot. They were bit by a stray dog and now they have to make sure whatever city they’re going to will have one of their four doses of rabies. Stray dogs – they look like angry lab mixes and they’re everywhere. Walking down the beach at night, guarding my hostel while I came in late, sitting next to you on the floor at dinner, roaming around the city streets, random trails to hidden waterfalls… I was so exhausted from the turmoil of crossing their paths that I once turned around and walked two miles out of my way just because I saw a dog ahead of me.
Why it’s scary: 1) Rabbies?! No thanks 2) Gnarly dog bite? None of that either 3) The Asian standoff – being face to face with a drooling stray dog that’s never been washed that wants your insides for dinner.
4. Drink the tap water
Everyone will tell you, “don’t drink the tap water!” Well when you’re lying in a hostel bed hungover with no water bottles around, your common sense leaves the building. So what, the tap water comes out of the rusty faucet with a yellow tinge. It tastes like burnt plastic. It has floaters. Meh, I drank it. At first, with a Steripen Ultra. But then, in small batches straight from the tap. Most people go to 711 and buy a torpedo of water for 50 cents. There are purifying systems you can purchase at camping stores that will do the trick. Just plug your nose when you sip and don’t look down.
Why it’s scary: 1) Cholera 2) Giardia 3) Hepatitis 4) Malaria 5) Anemia 6) Botulism 7) Dengue 8) Typhoid 9) Polio 10) Lead poisoning 11) Trichuriasis 12) Onchocerciasis 13) Cyanobacterial toxins 14) Dracunciliasis 15) Japanese encephalitis…
5. Sleep at a locals house
6. Walk through the jungle at night
One misconception about Thailand in particular is the We took a trail that wandered through the jungle for 45 minutes before opening up into our camping area. but instead we took the back way through the jungle. With only the help of our cell phone light we wandered up and down mountainside on a dirt path. Imagine how alive we felt when we turned the cell phone light off and enjoyed the sounds of crickets, ants crawling across leaves, tropical birds and far away monkeys!
Why it’s scary: 1) Lions 2) Tigers 3) Bears
7. Let people know I was traveling alone
This one’s oddly obvious.
8. Swim in the “fresh” water
My tropical disease doctor had warned me against this. The advice didn’t stick long. Within my first week I was swimming in waterfalls and dipping into crisp rivers. A month later I was swimming in the Mekong River (not advisable).
9. Not wear bug spray
10. Not take malaria or typhoid medicine