After two months in Southeast Asia, I have come back home and in all it’s familiarity, it is strange. I still ride the same bus, but the number on it has changed. I sleep in the same bed but it’s been moved into my friend’s apartment where I’m living this autumn. After two days, I am still pretty jetlagged and coming down with a cold. Still, I realised I hadn’t updated for a while (and I guess being busy watching the new season of Bojack Horseman doesn’t count as a very good excuse), here’s something I wrote last week but didn’t get around posting until now. (Oh, and hey – I’ve got loads of stories, pictures and ideas from my trip that I will be posting about in the upcoming months, but if you have any questions about the trip or posts that you’d like to read, let me know in the comments!)
When we travel, we bare ourselves to the possibility of serious injury or even death. Sure you might meet your early demise at home, choking on a piece of fried chicken or slipping in the shower, but when you travel, you find yourself in exhilarating, adrenaline-fueled situations on almost daily basis that you rarely experience at home. They don’t make you sign waivers for nothing!
When I was eighteen, I was a reckless traveller. I plunged headfirst into opportunities without giving a second thought to the danger within them. Hitchhiking was an adventure; bungee jumping made my blood boil with excitement; getting into water with numerous jellyfish just a premise to a story. I read the articles about the girl dying on a bungee and the boy who barely escaped a serial killer with a taste for backpackers just as everyone else did, but they were always things that happened to other people. I would look back at some of the things I’d done and shrug: it could’ve ended badly, but it didn’t.
In a few short years I have become more aware of my own mortality. I walk slowly to avoid potholes on the road, I don’t smile at strange men, I lock up my belongings, I floss, eat vegetables and do yoga. I look at the escapades of my eighteen-year-old self and wonder how I pushed through without a scar or a scab. The danger of death terrifies me, and it makes me act accordingly. At the same time, I miss the attitude of the person who I was when I first flung on my backpack: open-minded, ready for anything, dancing the thin line between carefree and careless. She didn’t consider death to be an option when she got on a boat or a plane or a motorbike. She didn’t worry about injuring herself because she never did. For that time, she felt immortal.
Of course the best way to travel is to find the balance between the careful and the reckless. As many dangers as travelling might present, the chances of a serious injury or death are very slim, even though omnipresent. It is important to be aware of the risks – but even more important to not let fear stop you. After all, you can be the most careful person in the world and still get hurt without your own fault. I know I did.
I took a snorkelling trip outside of Hoi An, Vietnam, a few weeks ago. The first spot where we anchored was infested with small jellyfish, whose sting was at worst annoying. However, I got stung pretty badly on my arm (imagine a nettle burn) and decided to head back to the boat to douse myself in vinegar. I headed towards the stairs on the back of the boat, but as I saw that someone was getting into water there, I changed my course and swam along the side of the boat towards the side steps. Then, a heavy blow to my neck. It kept me under, my arms were thrashing the water wildly, in confusion and panic trying to find which way was up. All I could see was white. One panic-ridden thought flashed through my brain: is my neck broken?
Turns out that the captain of the ship (not even another guest – the bloody captain) had backflipped over the board without making sure that no one was swimming underneath. A few people on the boat saw me coming and tried to stop him but he was gone too fast. After I was helped back on board, I sat on the ship shaking and rubbing my neck, trying my hardest not to break down. The overwhelming need to burst into tears struck me every time my brain presented me with another option on the menu of coulda-woulda-beens: broken neck; brain damage; paralysis. But as days went by and the stiffness on my neck started to disappear, I also understood there was nothing I could have done to prevent the accident. It was the captain’s mistake, and whether I got hurt or not was out of my hands.
Fear of injury should not prevent us from travelling or participating in extreme sports. It is not worth living a life that is filled with jumping at shadows and fearing for the sky to fall; it rarely does. Fearlessness doesn’t need to mean careless stupidity, and carefulness doesn’t need to mean cowardice. What you can do is make sure that you don’t get hurt on the account of your own stupidity. Choose reputable tour companies, don’t speed, and familiarise yourself with the shady areas of the city (so you can avoid them!). But in the end you can’t factor in other people’s mistakes or forces out of your control, so you might as well enjoy your trip the best you can.
Have you ever got injured while travelling? Are you scared of injury?