I can't even count the number of times I've been asked in the past few weeks if I'm worried about traveling alone. My answer is always no. But the truth is that I never gave it a second thought. I just looked online, bought a few single plane tickets, grabbed a few single bus tickets, booked a few single hotel rooms, and packed my bags. I'd like to think I'd act the same way, whether going to Mexico or Mali. But I'm sure that's not true.
I've been in plenty of danger. I've been mugged. I've been robbed. I've had thieves drop into my house in the middle of the night. I've lost almost everything I've ever had. But these days when I travel I am not scared. I wasn't even scared when I was nearly yanked out of a tuk tuk last year in Cambodia, because the motorcyclist alongside me grabbed for the purse wrapped around my leg. I was much sadder about what I had lost than scared. I was mad. But not scared.
I remember the last time I was scared while traveling. There are so many instances (most had to do with being afraid I wouldn't find a way back to my village in Honduras in time for nightfall), but the one that sticks out the most was back almost ten years ago. Becky and I were traveling via vanpool from Copán to Antigua, and had to stop in Guatemala City. It was VERY early in the morning; so early it was dark outside. We were stopped in Guatemala City - and I was scared. I don't remember why I was scared. I think it was because I was supposed to be scared - Guatemala City is a dangerous place. Or so I had been told. And that was why I was scared. I was so scared I was shaking.
But nothing scary happened. It was all in my head. We left Guatemala City with no problems and headed along to Antigua for a great rest of our trip (and a kick ass view of the ruins at Tikal). So then why was I so scared? And why don't I want to go to Mexico City? Or San Pedro Sula? Or even Tegucigalpa, which used to be my preferred get-away destination?
Because we are told these places aren't safe. We're fed statistics from the U.S State Department, such as, "theft, armed robbery, and carjacking are the most common problems encountered by American citizens. No area is immune to daytime assaults, including the upscale shopping, tourist, and residential areas in Guatemala City." No one is safe. That's very scary to see in print. But is Guatemala City any less safe than my home city of San Francisco? My intuition tells me it's not.
And that's what I really rely on when traveling; my intuition. That sense of direction, body language, intent and meaning that I pride myself on being able to decipher from all types of folks. In my family, we call this "common sense" and it is one of my dad's most highly prized attributes. He loves common sense people; we can figure out any riddle, read between the lines, and change our body language at the first hint of non-comfort with people.
I asked a stranger to take my picture at Uxmal, Yucatán.
Thus when I travel alone, I am not really alone. I have my travel partner along with me; my common sense. This is my ability to travel. My ability to go it alone and figure it all out on my own. So perhaps the next time someone asks me if I'm scared to travel alone, I'll know the answer is "no". My common sense (and the kindness of strangers - this still exists) will pull me through.