“Trust your guts” is not a saying that was created from nothing. The more you put yourself out there, the more you realise your gut is right. Trust your gut, trust your instinct. I developed the trevellers instinct through my years of travel and share them here.
If you feel something isn’t right, safe or ethic, DON’T DO IT. In that category, I include things like:
- Elephant reserves tours in India or Laos, where animals are mistreated and underfed to maximize profit, or sometimes physically punished
- Machine gun and rocket-launcher shooting in Cambodia. Because even if it looks so cool, this money goes right into corrupted militaries pocket
- Overpriced hot air balloons tours in Myanmar whose income go straight into the military junta’s pocket
- Cage shark diving experience in South Africa, where sharks just mutilate themselves knocking against the cage, without getting any food
- Corrupting dirty cops
- make sure you have your insurance certificate and international driving license translated into the country’s language.
- If you have, dirty cops will try something else, like make sure you have a fire extinguisher in the car (Argentina) or will check if all headlights and blinkers are working (South Africa), hoping to give you a fine if they are not.
- They will spend time getting money from you. They will eventually let you go.
- If you smoke weed, be very careful with land borders, sometimes they have dogs that spot drug.
- If you have nothing to hide, and if you’re sure you didn’t do anything wrong, just be patient! When you have to make choices, remember that in this world
“There is no absolute correlation between what is legal and what is fair”.
What’s right? What’s wrong? This is all a matter of perspective too.
Let’s take a cliché, but yet pretty common situation: you’re visiting an under-developed country, like Lesotho or Cambodia, and a child comes to you to sell you paintings, for like 2 USD. No matter what, you can afford it, so what do you do? Do you buy a painting, or do you keep walking? In any case, you’re being an asshole:
- If you do buy one, or more, the kid will take for granted that tourists actually give him/her money for what he/she does, so why bothering going to school?
- If you don’t, the kid won’t have money, or less money, and might not be able to eat enough.
Of course, whatever you do, you have no idea of the background of the kid, he might be an orphan, or might be part of some network using child labor to get cash from the tourist. This is more common than we think, and of course, you will never find out, because you don’t speak her/his language and they’re just a kid.
Some people would tell you that you should and must “take care of her/him”, and you will feel bad about it. But how? Where? When? I think the best option is to spend your cash on local shops, restaurant, hotels, markets, and tours, without any intermediary. Your cash is more likely to go to the local workers and entrepreneurs in need, and these people have daughters and sons.
Instinct also matters for personal safety. Once, while in Rio de Janeiro Brazil main train station, I entered a bathroom and I found myself facing four weird looking guys, kind of narco-style with tattoos and everything, staring at me. I stopped because it felt awkward. It felt unsafe, so I just went away.
A few months later, I was driving in Johannesburg South Africa, and I found myself in some part of the city I didn’t feel comfortable in. For some reason, it didn’t feel right either, kind of a mix between oppression and excitement, so I just u-turned and went away. I will never find out if I was right or wrong though. A few days after, a South-African friend of mine told me I was right to trust my instinct. He told me that we, as human beings, are the outcome of millions of years of evolution and as such, we still have a hidden survival instinct in our brains.
If we don’t feel safe or right somewhere, well, this is probably true.
Assess and manage risks. Safety is all about possibilities and outcomes. Let’s say you go somewhere you know safety can be an issue. What’s the most valuable thing you have while backpacking? Your smartphone? No. Your credit card? Nope! Your computer? Nope nope. I got all of them lost, or stolen at some point, not a big deal.
Most Important Thing: Passport
The most precious belonging you have is by far your passport. It’s not only a proof of identity, it’s nothing more than your freedom of movement. Without a passport, you’re stuck in the country you’re in. You cannot rent a car, and in some countries like Myanmar or China, you cannot even buy a bus or train ticket, nor you can check-in a hotel.
So you’re good for a long and annoying hitchhiking to your nearest embassy. Not only you will lose entire days, but you will probably miss your flight, spend at least 100 USD for an emergency passport, and will have to fly to your home country to renew it. In some countries, with the non-computerized immigration system, like Laos, the only proof of your arrival and length of stay on the stamp or paper visa on your passport. If you lose it, you can have troubles with the immigration, on the top of all other issues. You don’t want that.
Keeping It Safe
To avoid that, let’s think about the choices you have:
- You leave it at the hotel desk, to a random guy you barely know
- You leave it in your car, hidden somewhere, knowing that thieves could break into it for whatever reason
- You keep it with you, knowing there are pickpockets and even a slight chance for you to get smuggle
What do you do? What’s the safest bet? On my side, I have two passports, always kept in different places of course.
Travelling expensively has changed me, even shaped me in a way. I am very keen to share this experience with people, from all backgrounds: people willing to start travelling, or doing it even more often, wiser or in a more sustainable way. I have received more help, friendships and kindness that I would have expected. For me, this is a way for me to give back, to help people in return, to inspire beginners.