I closed the door to my fourth floor room in Surat Thani to find that it had three locks on it, the locks made me feel less safe. They made me wonder why a door would need so many locks, what unseen menace they were expecting that I had somehow missed on my way up the stairs.
But then I remembered that safety is relative.
Safety is sometimes looked at like its a black and white world where as long as you stay in the light nothing bad can happen, you are safe. I don’t think safety is a useful foundation to live on, except to ease someones mind.
I think about safety as a collection of mitigations for risks around me, I make routines so that some bad things are statistically less likely to happen. I know that this doesn’t stop bad things from happening. I could stay in my hotel room because I’m afraid to walk around at night but the guy in the next room could fall asleep smoking and light the hotel on fire. Safety is a comforting thought, its nice not to worry but if I’m being honest with myself I can’t feel 100% safe even sitting on the couch back home in the US.
Despite my view of safety I don’t stress constantly about risk, I know stress is more likely to kill me than anything else. I try to avoid stress with as much seriousness as I try to avoid being mugged.One of the things that helps is I make it a rule that I act instead of worry and after I’ve acted I relax knowing that I will deal with anything that happens from solid footing. If I’m worried about someone breaking into my hotel room when I’m not there I hide my valuables in different locations in the room, I try to be aware of entering and exiting my room for anyone who might be paying too close attention, I make it easy to steal the things I can lose and hard to steal the things I don’t want to lose. After I’ve taken steps I relax.
Traveling can be so stressful. At home we get used to the risks we face, sometimes so much that we have no second thoughts about extreme dangers like driving or the amount of stress in our lives. Traveling holds new risks with new faces every day, I get used to one place and than I move and the patterns are different. Its easy to feel out of control, which is an honest feeling, its just not a helpful one. I work on how I think about danger and safety so I have ways of relaxing despite life being full of risk. As much as I enjoy traveling I would not have that enjoyment if every minute was a struggle to relax. I have this struggle whether I’m at home or abroad, its important to remember that just because I think something does not make it true. My fear does not make dangers more real or closer, and in the same way my comfort does not make tragedy less likely. I practice learning the likely risks, however mundane. I try to cultivate an aware but relaxed mindset so that I can have the benefits of my eyes and ears without the adrenaline of fear. I like to think of awareness as something without judgement, so I can see a danger without any fear because seeing something is just that. Only when I decide what it is and how to feel do I then start to feel.
I’ve seen children hit their heads while playing and pause for a few moments before crying or shaking it off. If you interrupt their decision with “Oh no, are you okay?!” they seem to be more likely than not to cry.
Its so odd to me how risk exists in our perceptions. Likely dangers are ignored in favor of fixating on one-in-a-million tragedies. According to National Geographic’s website In 1996, toilets injured 43,000 Americans that year. Sharks injured 13. I feel way more fear for sharks than I do for toilets, if I was a logical person toilets would be much more frightening. I must not be very logical, its a much more visceral image to think about a shark attack than being injured by a toilet. There’s an excellent book on this subject, its called The Unthinkable. It explores peoples perceptions of risk very well. It explains how people are more afraid of scary imaginary than on likely but less intense images. Its just less dramatic to imagine myself dying from a heart attack from years of stress or poor eating than it is to imagine being murdered in gang violence in Honduras.
Traveling might be dangerous, but I don’t think its more dangerous than staying home for me.
I know the unknown is scary and traveling is all about the unknown but it shouldn’t stop as many people as it does (especially in America from what I’ve seen). Life is full of dangers, Some likely and some unlikely, you might run into them on the way to work or eating dinner or while trekking through the jungle in Cambodia. You don’t always get to choose what dangers find you but what would you choose?
Would you prefer to tell someone you burned yourself on the stove at home cooking eggs or that you burned yourself cooking crab that you waded for miles waste deep in a murky Malaysian river to catch?
For me its not safer to leave home because it has less risk, its safer because it keeps my spirit alive. There are many ways to die and many ways to be harmed, I don’t want my life to die before my body does. The undecided amount of time I have left I would like to spend searching, growing and facing the wind.
This is what I think about when I hear how dangerous travel is. “So you think you’re safe at home?” and “How do you want to live?”
I can mitigate the risks of traveling but I can’t reconcile giving into my fear of the unknown.