The most enchanting concept regarding travel is the idea that absolutely anything can happen. And the most wonderful thing about that is that you will never cease to be surprised by what ensues. I think that’s why so many of us travel and also the reason why so many of us don’t. One of my favorite quotes of all time was told to me by one of my least favorite teachers of all time during my Semester at Sea three years ago. He quoted John A. Shedd who said “A ship in harbor is safe — but that’s not what ships are built for.” This describes my travel style perfectly.
I believe in the word yes. It’s fairly universal and if the English version fails you then a head nod, thumbs up, or smile should get the message across. When you say no you don’t take chances. You are stuck in a safe harbor. But when you say yes all sorts of interesting things happen. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not telling you to go to Thailand and say yes when someone asks you to smuggle drugs to Sweden for them. That’s just stupid. Say yes, but don’t be an ass-hat about it.
When you say yes in ‘reasonable’ situations there are all sorts of things that can go wrong, but the stuff that goes wrong is the stuff of great adventures. Sometimes those adventures are risky and I suppose deadly, but you get over that and then you become addicted to the possibilities of what happens when you take a leap of faith and say okay to whatever comes your way.
When you are riding on the back of a motorcycle in Ho Chi Minh City and the fifteen year old Vietnamese boy who is driving makes a wrong turn down a busy one way street, you realize that you are staring death in the face. In this case, death happens to look like the largest truck you’ve ever seen about to hit you head on at full speed, but as it blares it’s horn at you, you realize your body has not become silly putty that some poor soul would have to peel of the pavement.
You are alive without a scratch to show for the terror that happened seconds ago. You release your iron grip from the boy’s sides and in that moment your life changes. After that everything is less scary. After that, saying yes becomes much easier and you find yourself saying yes to getting a massage at a sketchy Vietnamese parlor. And then you can find it funny when it turns out to be a brothel which would explain the bad attitude, extra large terry cloth shorts, and why your gay friend asked in a panicked voice from the next room how to say “I’m gay” in Vietnamese.
Saying yes to things you don’t fully understand can be dangerous, painful, beautiful, and most of all funny. No matter how terrible the experience you will always either learn something new, gain a new lease on life, have a hilarious story, lose your dignity (which isn’t as bad as it sounds, trust me), or all of the above. These next few blog entries will be about just that. Stay tuned.