For the last week I’ve been keeping myself busy with the posts about the Disney cruise and expense management, and I haven’t really addressed one of the issues of solo traveling with which I’ve been struggling. Part of the reason I’ve been hesitant to write about it too, is because I’m conscious of the “told you so” people having their moment and also because I don’t want to put anybody off to traveling alone for the wrong reasons. However, I think in the interest of being honest, especially for those who want to prepare themselves for the mental rigors of traveling alone, I should talk about my near meltdown this past Sunday and how I dealt with my first serious doubts about making this trip by myself.
I think it is a fair assumption to say that with certain road bumps in life, the sooner they are experienced, the more damage they can do to our self-confidence. Buying a new car and getting into a fender bender shortly after driving it off the lot is probably going to be more defeating than experiencing one after it’s completely paid off. Naturally, the reference of new beginnings is relevant to this hypothesis and a major blow to my self-confidence was dealt at the very beginning to my much anticipated travels around the globe.
Though I’ve been scammed before, when my charger was stolen from right next to me in broad daylight on the second full day of my trip while I was still basking in the honeymooner’s glow of new beginnings, my entire self-confidence was completely shattered. Though I quickly recovered from the initial shock and anger, I’ve only recently realized that this experience stirred up some unresolved issues within me regarding being alone. With one simple misstep, I felt like I let down the whole realm of travelers who want to come to Peru and/or travel alone, the experienced travelers who try to dispel the common myths about traveling abroad, and of course my good friend Noah who bought me the charger. But mostly, I was worried that this could be a sign of more bad things to come and that people would soon be telling me, “I told you so”. I know that attitude shouldn’t bother me, but it does nonetheless and has served to amplify my fear of experiencing another bad incident.
The Power of Heuristics
Normally I’ve always been rational about certain fears. For instance, I know that I should be more worried about getting into a car accident than a plane crash, and therefore I’m not afraid to fly in a plane. I’ve also felt strongly that worrying excessively about one’s own safety to the extent that one failed to actually live, was not a worthwhile use of time. Therefore, I got irritated quite quickly with people who made comments about how something really awful would happen to me if I traveled alone because they heard something or worse, just made up a story on the spot.
Unfortunately my attitude has been taking a negative turn over the last weeks since arriving in Puno. During my first week I learned that one of my colleagues was held up at gunpoint while walking in the outskirts of town with a Peruvian friend and another, who was living in the same hotel as me, was strangled and robbed after leaving the discoteca one night. Hearing all of this while I still had low morale about what happened in Lima and feeling especially vulnerable about being alone was setting the stage for my first meltdown about being able to survive this journey with just me, myself and I.
The Final Straws
This past Sunday was when the issues of safety and traveling alone came to a head for me. The day first started off on a negative note due to the intense nightmare I had wherein everyone around me on the streets was being robbed and no trusting person around me would ease my fears by walking me back to the hotel where I was living. Given the conversations about robbery during the last week and questioning the wisdom of traveling alone, it’s no mystery that the fear of something bad happening to me was really starting to take hold of me.
The second issue I had this morning was in regards to my current living situation. To keep a long story short, suffice it to say that my landlord had some reservations about the propriety of me allowing a male co-worker to crash in my apartment, and I thought at the end of the conversation she suggested we stay together in another room in the hotel. I was already moody that morning because the hot water didn’t work in the apartment so I suggested that my co-worker, Stephen, who coincidentally lived in the apartment before me, would talk to her later. I should also mention that the recommended room was on the ground floor with seemingly less security than the rest of the hotel.
Already in a foul mood because of my apparent sub-optimal living situation for the weekend, I continued the downward spiral almost immediately once stepping outside and meeting with my friends from the office. As we walked closer to the parade, a man set off some relatively small but still dangerous fireworks in the streets within a few feet from us and we had to retreat into the crowd to avoid being hit by them. As if being robbed wasn’t worrisome enough, I now added being collateral damage from mindless acts on the street to my list of fears.
The final event that pushed me toward the ledge this night was my colleague recounting the story of being robbed at gunpoint over dinner. I should also preface this by stating that a larger percentage of my conversations with my colleagues have been focused on the subject of being robbed, so this was somewhat expected. However, after hearing about the details, I became even more petrified about spending the next two months in this city and the vulnerability of traveling alone stood front and center in my mind. The main doubt that ran through my mind was, if something like this could happen to someone who was with a local person, how much worse could it be for someone who’s alone?
All’s Well That Ends Well
After dinner, I was feeling a little out of my head and very anxious to get back to the hotel to determine mine and Stephen’s sleeping fate this evening. I was actually prepared for battle and almost immediately started in with my Spanish version of the “Hell no” speech, when Stephen quite rightfully cut me off and took charge of the situation. I sat myself down on the couch with my tea to await the verdict and this is when my head really lifted off my body. I had my first thoughts that I was completely incapable of a feat such as traveling around the world by myself and I should give up before something bad really does happen to me. I should accept my fate, quit, and head home with my tail between my legs.
After the apartment situation was successfully sorted out, we headed back up stairs and as soon as we made it inside I dove on my bed, buried my head in my pillow and on the verge of tears told Stephen I needed some alone time. This is the point at which my night took the most unexpected turn. Instead of screaming into my pillow and finishing the night with a gchat confessional with a trusted friend about how I can’t travel alone, Stephen stood there and said, “Well I need to rant for a second.” Remembering that it wasn’t always all about me, I sat up and agreed to the therapy session. We both vented about our frustrations with the issues of being robbed, the perceptions of others and customer service in Peru. After we had exhausted all of our complaints about the world, I thought it was time to restore the positive energy and remembering about the three gratitudes my friend Tanya and her daughter Andrea give each day, I told Stephen we need to think of three gratitudes. He obliged and we agreed that we had a great food and conversation day. I’m not Rick Perry and I know that doesn’t add up to three but it served its purpose.
We then decided to tackle the task of squeezing two small twin beds in a space that was roughly 4m2 with additional obstacles such as an oddly shaped entrance and bathroom. Jumping off our momentum from sharing our gratitudes, we easily managed to maneuver the two beds into the space in such a way that preserved my honor to any unknowing third parties who might pass through. After settling in, we went out in search of beer and street food, figuring we earned it after all of the hassles. What we found instead was an endless street party with hundreds of party revelers in town for the Candelaria festival in Puno (more to come on this later). At first I thought I would be quite uneasy being out in the streets so late at night given all that happened during the day, but the atmosphere swept me away and was reminiscent of my days partying in Europe, all of which occurred without incident. Soon enough we were invited to join a group of young Peruvians dancing on the street. Once I assessed that they were all way too drunk to rob us or put roofies in our drinks, I relaxed a little and joined in the dancing. After that the night followed the same pattern of bizarre Amsterdam nights and we ended up in a random party in an eyeglass store with me dancing on a wicker chair because I was trying to avoid salsa dancing with the men – I’m that bad it’s not worth the effort.
While the night had the potential to turn into one of my worst nightmares and confirm every fear I had recently developed about traveling alone, I’m happy to report that everyone had a great time and made it home safe and sound. Though there may be some negative experiences, it’s still important to recount the positive experiences as well so as not to let our fears and imagination get the best of us. In the meantime I’ll continue working on grounding myself in terms of my newly seeded fears of traveling alone. The answer to my problems is definitely not to pack up and go home, but instead, to find that acceptable level of fear that keeps me on my toes, but not locked up in a house for the duration of my travels.