Look both ways before you cross the street. Don’t take candy from strangers. These sayings, children’s fairy tales, and other cautionary stories are shared as warnings against potential dangers. Yet exploring the world often means ignoring sage advice, throwing caution to the winds, and having faith that things will turn out fine. Here is some well-intentioned advice you may have heard from your mother and others that you probably shouldn’t listen to when traveling:
“Don’t talk to strangers.”
Do I even need to explain this one? Of course you’re going to talk to strangers! That’s the way we hear about which hostels to avoid, the free snorkeling event next Saturday, or that island hike you don’t want to miss. If we didn’t talk to strangers, whether in-person or online, we would be uninformed and have a boring time. So yak away!
“Don’t get in cars with strangers.”
You can see a “stranger-danger” theme here, but not only do they not need to entice me with candy, I am often the one flagging them down for a ride. Sometimes hitchhiking is the only transportation available. Like the time the bus from Israel dropped five of us off on the side of the road, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, in Egypt. The only way to go further was to climb into a car with a strange man who was supposed to deliver us to one of the encampments on the beach in Sinai. After hours of driving, we came to a white sand beach with a view of Saudi Arabia across the Red Sea. For a few dollars a day, I slept on a rug in a beach hut, snorkeled, lost a pair of pants but won a rag rug playing poker, ate food prepared by the camp women, and danced to music played nightly by the camp men.
“Don’t sleep with strangers.”
Granted, this is a step further than talking to or riding with strangers, but if I never slept with them, I wouldn’t stay in hostels, couch surf, or have gone on a private yacht cruise from Boston to Provincetown. How did that happen? I answered a Craigslist ad.
New to the city and without a car, I was looking for a way to explore. Clicking on the “events” link, I saw an ad asking if anyone would like to sail to P-town. As P-town is known as a charming, coastal, party destination, I expected to see a picture of a man in a tub with a toy boat over his…anchor. Instead, there was a picture of a yacht and a story about a couple and their final sail of the season. Friends had to back out, so the couple was looking for someone to go with them to help offset costs. For four days, I went sailing, sea kayaking, rode a bicycle through sand dunes, saw the (colorful) Provincetown sites, and yes, slept in a bunk next to relative strangers.
“Avoid arriving at your destination at night.”
It sounds like a nightmare: arriving after dark, fumbling for a flashlight, trying to not wake other people, not knowing where the toilet/drinkable water/your bed is. That said, if, for instance, you’re heading to an empty house, bringing your own water, and have the keys and a sheet of instructions from the owner, I absolutely recommend arriving at night so you can wake up to the view of the Pacific Ocean lapping at the edge of your property, and watch the fishing boats leave the harbor as the sun slowly rises. In short, if you can ensure you’ll be reaching somewhere you’ll be safe and sound, take the opportunity to be surprised with the view on your first full day in your new location.
“Cut down whatever you’ve packed by half.”
Yes, you can probably buy whatever you need wherever you’re going, and lugging your suitcase, backpacking backpack, tote bag, and motorcycle helmet through multiple airports is a pain in the wrist, arm, shoulder, and back–not just the ass. Why did I bring so much to New Zealand? Because I believe in preparing for what you want to do.
NZ is known for its outdoor adventure sports, hiking trails, and campsites. It’s also known for its expensive outdoor gear. Prior to leaving, I traded my old stuff at a local shop for store credit, using that to purchase new, lightweight gear. Once I had a car in NZ, I ditched the suitcase, piled my camping equipment and motorcycle gear into the trunk, and took off for parts unknown. Pack according to your priorities: I said no to heels, but yes to a bag of skincare products. There’s always room for what’s important to you.
Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, or in other words, there’s a lot of valuable guidance, not just from your gut, that you should listen to. Some advice I do take when I travel: make a travel budget, back up important documents, and always carry a pocketknife, lip balm, and a lighter. And, even though I’m ignoring some things my mother taught me, she has started listening to me, using some of the networks I wrote about in my first Pink Pangea article while planning her next trip to Portugal!
All photos by BrocheAroe Fabian.