Remember when your mother told you not to talk to or accept rides and candy from strangers? Maybe the most valuable lesson in life…but once you grew up and started making choices for yourself, a lot of us kind of neglected that teaching. After all, “I’m a grown up and can make my own decisions”…and no one will try to hurt me as an adult, right? If only that was true.
As we get older and our identity and pride of “self” (and w/ it the pride in our abilities to make correct and responsible decisions) goes up, so does our level of vulnerability to a certain extent. It’s very true you can tell the difference between someone who is highly influential or gullible and someone who isn’t, but even when you’ve got a good head on your shoulders and an open perspective on the world…beginning in new cultures and mixing with new communities opens you up to entirely new categories of difficulties and manipulation.
It was really interesting for me to notice this amongst the traveling community. Here we are, adults from 18+ yrs old, traveling around the world, getting some of the most intensive learning about the workings of the world…and yet, within the community there’s a very distinct small-town kind of trust. It’s not uncommon to meet someone, instantly start chatting and decide within a few minutes that you’ll be traveling together for the next few days, weeks or months. As you travel, especially in communities where the culture is so different from your own, you tend to over trust other travelers who fit a similar kind of profile. Not only do we meet and travel together but we leave our credit cards, cash, passports, phones and computers failry accessible to these people. We also share with them extremely intricate details about our history and beliefs. In essence, we become quite intimate in a few short hours! It’s not uncommon to meet people who look like the best of friends only to find out that they met a few hours earlier.
This community often works in our favor because you share more detailed and confidential information than you normally would, so the community runs really deeply. People watch each other’s backs, defend each other, pay for (and sometimes totally donate money/resources to) and support each other as if our lives depend on it because we feel a certain kinship in the fact that we’re all out exploring the world looking for similar answers rather than staying safe while working a 9-5 job. That’s not to say that people who work a 9-5 aren’t entitled to do so, but it’s a completely different level of courage and commitment required when you’re resting your entire salvation, livelihood, and future on the possibilities of what you find in the unknown, unexpected and complete uncertainty.
I’ve personally met and travelled with people for WEEKS on end without any troubles…and occasionally a bad seed crept in. Some of those people still feel more like siblings than strangers, some were there for me in the most vulnerable circumstances, and others…tried to use the weakest and most defenseless moments to gain some sort of power over me. I’ll give you examples of all 3.
Those who feel like siblings: these are people who I still feel super close to. For example,some I met and traveled with for days or weeks…we never had any drama, went to multiple cities together, spent many of our days together and got to the level of comfortability to talk sarcastically, make fun of each other and treat each other with the level of loyalty as family would be to us. These are still my family people. I trust my life with them! Mostly because I DID trust my life with them in multiple experiences and they came through as easy, trustworthy and sometimes complete pain in the asses…like only family can be! These are the people I can share anything with and know they’ll share mutually with me (and keep each other’s secrets), those who will act towards each other as if there’s something deeper connecting us. These are the people I still connect with across the world even though we haven’t seen each other very often…and who I have, plan to or am currently having reunions with!
The first category were sometimes given opportunities to jump into the second category: be a stable presence for me as I struggled. There were actually 6 who I think reached that category for me:
The first 2 were with me the first time I was in Kuala Lumpur. They travelled with me for 4 weeks at a time when I had only just begin to reconnect with people easily after a period of uncertainty. They were patient, kind, easy, trustworthy and fun…everything I needed to get warmed up to the community! We are still friends over a year later and have met up again in Utrecht for a “siblings reunion”…which is just as fun as ever!
The next I met a day and a half after leaving Malaysia and going to Java, Indonesia. He came into the hostel, we started talking…and we didn’t stop talking until 3 weeks later when he left (as his holiday came to an end) Bali. We learned a lot through talking to each other, but especially through our experiences. He was there for me during 1 of the most difficult experiences I had while traveling through SE Asia, which I’ll explain a bit later. He helped me clear my head and see things clearly when it was so easy to be confused.
Then there was a girl who I met with her best friend in Kuala Lumpur after I got back from Bali. She and I stayed in touch and reconnected when I moved to Vietnam. She was a lifesaver to me about so many things and helped me connect with the English teaching community, which was what I needed to survive at the moment. She was also a dear friend, a familiar face and someone I could meet people with and have fun next to while I tried to get comfortable in a new country. Total angel!
The next 2 were a bit of a surprise to me. In a time that was extremely uncertain to me, I met them without expecting a lot…and in turn, got sincere friends who ended up being there for and with me for 6 weeks (the longest out of anyone I traveled with!) while I tried to figure out how living as a local is possible while trying to work over the internet. One of them, an Irish guy…took care of me during the entire process after I was suddenly hit (full force) by a motor bike as I was crossing the street. He was completely invaluable to me as I was in shock and unable to process what was going on, let alone what I needed to do. He also lent me money when I ran out and hadn’t gotten paid yet. Without him and our other friend, I wouldn’t have been able to survive…and I would have been SUPER lonely! They were always so good at making me laugh and helping me change my mindset when things got difficult.
With these and MANY more, I’ve been able to have amazingly confidential, beautiful and cherished conversations…which have made this entire journey well worth the pains and anguish that have come because of it! I’ve learned so much from people around the world within their own culture, or with the perspective as a traveler in a foreign community…and the experiences I’ve had have been no less than remarkable! I am so happy to have gotten to know the primacies and personal parts of these people and experiences! Not all of them have been safe and uplifting…and I’ll tell you about those in the near future…but in the cases of MOST…stranger danger doesn’t apply…
Look forward to “Stranger Danger…Danger Zones” coming up!