Aug 19 2011

The fear of traveling

Peggy McPartland

Is it safe? Aren’t you afraid? But you’re a woman. And blonde. Isn’t it dangerous?

These are the same questions I hear over and over again when I talk about traveling.

There’s an overwhelming fear that something bad will happen if you leave home. And it’s not just about going to another country, but even to a larger city in the U.S.

People are afraid of being robbed. They’re afraid of being kidnapped or assaulted. And they’re afraid of being outside of their comfort zone.

I’m often told how brave I am. And it surprises me every time.

The interesting thing is that I typically feel every bit as safe traveling as I do in my own home town. Everyone’s always amazed to hear that.

I’ve had incredibly positive experiences when I’m traveling. People really seem to look out for me. They’re curious about me and what I’m doing. They want me to like their country as much as they do. It’s important to them that I’m having fun and safe.

My first solo trip was to southeast Asia. I spent five weeks traveling alone and never once experienced anything even remotely threatening. Of course, I use caution and common sense. But that’s important whether I’m traveling or not.

The people I met were incredibly kind and helpful. Even when we had difficulty communicating in our different languages, it didn’t seem to matter. There was an amazing feeling of camaraderie and trust.

I’d been home from my trip less than a week when I decided to go for a walk in my neighborhood. It was a beautiful, snowy night and I was home in Seattle.  Sounds safe, right?

Unfortunately, I ran into three men who’d been drinking and began harassing me. One of them was particularly aggressive and didn’t leave me alone until his friends called him off. He had a look in his eyes that left me pretty scared and I don’t scare easily.

I was less than two blocks from home. Not half-way around the world, but in my own neighborhood.

While it may feel safer to just stay home than to head out and experience the world, it’s an illusion. You are no safer at home than anywhere else. That’s not to say you should be fearful at home either. Things can and do happen anywhere but it’s important to remember that’s not the norm.

So no, it’s not dangerous. I’m not afraid to travel. Actually, quite the opposite. I love the freedom of travel. It opens my mind and heart in ways that I can’t even begin to experience by staying safely at home.

Whether it’s in your own neighborhood or around the world, most people are just like you and me. They’re kind, helpful and generous. It doesn’t matter what part of the world we live in, we’re all much more alike than different.

So set aside those fears and spread your wings. The world is yours to explore!

 

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Photo credit: Digital Latte Photography


Jul 14 2011

That’s not an obstacle, it’s an opportunity

Peggy McPartland

As my long-awaited trip to Thailand drew near in the fall of 2008, political unrest began brewing. Traveling solo for the first time was pretty scary on its own without adding any more challenges! I decided to throw myself fully into this adventure after being assured the country was still incredibly safe.

There were minimal signs of conflict when I arrived in Bangkok. It was an immense relief although I wondered if there really was something to be concerned about that I just wasn’t seeing or if it was simply overactive media reporting.

I traveled throughout the country over the next several weeks enjoying the incredible beauty of Thailand while keeping up with news reports. The animosity between the two political parties began to build and increase, although the protests remained non-violent.

My plan was to fly to Siem Reap, Cambodia to visit the legendary Angkor Wat after exploring Thailand. Unfortunately, by the time I returned to Bangkok, the political conflict had escalated. Protesters had taken over the downtown government offices and the airport. There were no flights in or out of Bangkok and riot police encircled the government offices.

I was thankful the protests were peaceful but decided to head south for a few days to see if the tensions would ease.  I didn’t want to be caught in the middle of things if they escalated further.

I hung out on the beaches near Ban Phe before heading east to the gem center of Thailand, Chanthaburi, where I experienced the frenetic chaos of gem trading.

I toyed with the idea of catching a bus from Chanthaburi up through Cambodia to Siem Reap since the airport was still under siege. Several travelers who made the journey strongly discouraged me from making the 15 hour bus trip on rugged roads. I was incredibly disappointed as I’d dreamed of seeing Angkor Wat.

My thoughts turned to Koh Chang, a beautiful island in southeast Thailand. I arrived on Koh Chang on the last ferry of the night, hot, sweaty and tired. My backpack seemed heavier than it had in weeks. I stopped at the first guesthouse only to find it full. The second was no different. Nor was the third nor fourth nor fifth.

I became increasingly frustrated, hungry and hot. The heat and humidity were overwhelming and I simply didn’t know what to do.

I stumbled to yet another guesthouse, dropped my pack and burst into tears, asking if I could sleep on their beach for the night.  It must have taken nearly everything they had not to burst out laughing at this poor, bedraggled farang!

Instead, one of the people who worked there showed  incredible compassion and understanding. He assured me everything would be okay and he’d help me find somewhere to stay. I couldn’t help but laugh when he told me his nickname was Happy! It was absolutely perfect!

He motioned me to the back of his motorbike and I hopped on without giving it a second thought. Our search took us to a small guesthouse tucked into a hillside residential area. My savior on the motorbike waited while I dropped off my backpack and then gave me a ride to the restaurant where he worked. Once I’d eaten, cooled off and relaxed a bit, he deposited me at my doorstep for the night. I’d never been treated so kindly by someone I didn’t know.

I stayed an entire week on Koh Chang waiting for the airport to reopen. A small group of us hung out together during that time – Happy, the locals who worked with him, an Englishman who lived there part-time with his Thai partner and very insightful guy from Switzerland.

We learned a lot about each other, our different cultures, struggles, families and ways of life. I found myself hoping the airport wouldn’t reopen anytime soon. My time on Koh Chang was an eye-opening experience that changed me in many ways.

What felt like obstacles being thrown into my path along the way instead led to an unexpected opportunity to connect more deeply with myself and the people around me. While I don’t recommend political strife as a way to create great experiences, it allowed me amazing opportunities I may not have experienced otherwise.

Indeed, these weren’t obstacles. They were life-enriching opportunities.

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May 26 2011

Traveling Solo Seemed Far Too Overwhelming (And Lonely)

Peggy McPartland

I’ve always wanted to travel and see the world. I grew up in a small, rural town and couldn’t wait to get out of it. I wanted to be away from the small-mindedness, the conservative thoughts and the oppressed feeling everyone seemed to have. I wanted to explore big cities, meet new people and become fluent in another language. There was an incredible world out there and I was missing out! 

Instead, as crazy young people do, I got married. Unfortunately, it was to someone who I was incompatible with on almost every level.  It took awhile, but I finally realized life didn’t have to be like this and we parted ways.

But then I was alone. So I waited. And I waited some more. I knew some day Prince Charming would come along and sweep me off my feet. He’d be tall, dark, handsome and bilingual! We’d travel the world, spend time in exotic places, hike tall mountains and he’d feed me grapes as he looked longingly into my eyes.  I read that somewhere so I knew it must be true! But I’m still waiting. Damn.

Fortunately, I came to my senses and realized that if I waited any longer, I would never experience the world in the way I wanted to. I would never hike those mountains, learn that language, know the incredible people of the world and might even (gasp!) become a bitter old woman. Yikes! That was enough to get me off my butt!

I checked out Meetup.com and for the first time in my life was surrounded by like-minded people! I hiked, skied, snowshoed, backpacked, volunteered and met amazing people from all over the world. If you haven’t checked them out, do so. Now. It will change your life! I promise.

I began to find my place in the world and trust who I am. When I had the opportunity to go to Thailand with a friend, I jumped at it. Unfortunately, our travel styles were polar opposites. Seriously! She preferred to plan where to stay, where to eat, and on what day. I’m not known to be a planner in my day to day life so there was no way in hell I could be on a schedule while traveling. It just wasn’t going to work and I’d pretty much decided to skip the whole thing. I could always wait some more. Maybe Prince Charming would come this time!

Fortunately, I have friends who threatened to kick my butt if I didn’t go. They assured me Southeast Asia is one of the easiest places in the world to travel alone. The more people I talked to, the more women I found who’d traveled solo. They were not only completely safe, but loved every minute of their travels and the freedom that traveling solo brought them. If they could do it, then surely I could!

So I booked my flight and, yes, set off to Southeast Asia alone!

From the moment I set foot in Thailand, people were kind, generous and open. It amazed me. Here I was a strange white woman who didn’t speak the language and yet people wanted to engage me, know about me and what I thought of their beautiful country. They welcomed me, helped me when I got lost, and invited me into their lives.

Too many of us are convinced the world is a dangerous place to be; that we’re better off staying home with the covers over our heads. We’re selling ourselves short by buying into overactive imaginations and letting fear and uncertainty keep us from experiencing life fully.

The freedom of traveling alone is amazing. You’re accountable to no one but yourself! You eat when you want, sleep when you’re tired and see and do whatever seems right at the moment. It’s an incredible feeling!

“Alone” and “lonely” are two very different words. It’s a big beautiful world out there and even if you strike out on your own, chances are you won’t be alone for long!

So book that flight. Trust yourself. Trust your instincts. Trust the people around you. And just go!

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