We’re really quite cautious. Don more so than me, but some of his caution has rubbed off on me, and some of my adventurousness has rubbed off on him so it’s a win win. I would not have thought of locking my valuables away in the past, nor even thought of luggage not arriving with the flight. I did a lot of travelling and never had any security mishaps. Just lucky I guess. Even travelling overland in Africa, years ago, others I was travelling with had things stolen but not me. I always felt safe. Maybe it’s a different world now. Maybe it’s a lifetime of cautionary tales from other travellers. Maybe it’s just being “older and wiser”. Anyway we’re both quite conscious about keeping all our “stuff” as safe as we can, in whatever ways we can, and the only times we haven’t obeyed our own rules we’ve paid for it.
Even though every hotel room is our home, we lock away everything of value every time we leave the room, even if it’s only to go down to the hotel restaurant for a cup of tea. Valuables are locked in the room safe (if there is one) and/or in our cases. In the past I never travelled with a lock on my case, even less did I think of one on my backpack (as if such a thing were possible), but now it wouldn’t occur me to go without one. Backpackers face a whole lot of other issues to do with security of personal belongings and valuables. We at least have cases we can lock, a room we can lock, and often a safe in the room we can lock. Can we trust the hotel staff ? – probably, but why leave things lying around available for people who have a lot less than we do. It’s not fair to anyone.
We were advised to take a flexible bike lock for travelling on trains in India. Even if the case is locked it’s easy enough to make off with the entire case. We did actually use it one time, locking both cases to an immovable railing in our cabin. Although we always used the safe in our apartment in La Manzanilla, Mexico we heard from a couple who live there that they’d had a break-in and the entire safe had been chipped out of the concrete and taken. There are no guarantees. There’s only doing as much as you can and then handing it over. Do we fret about security? Rarely. But we do as much as we can to keep our valuables safe.
And then there’s personal security. Almost every day, especially the days that we’re on the move, we put our lives into the hands of strangers. The taxi driver – is he more interested in our stuff than in our safety and getting us to our destination? Is he a safe driver? Same for the driver we’ve hired for a tour, and the tour guide. We do our research of course and don’t know how we’d have done this before the advent of the Internet. Thanks to the Internet, and all the people who contribute travel reviews and information, it’s relatively easy to discover the best people to travel with, the safe taxi companies, whether or not there’s a pre-paid taxi desk at the airport or bus station. We know we’re taking risks, but the risks are very small really. No matter your lifestyle, some days it’s a risk just to get out of bed! And backpackers face a whole other of level of risk because they usually are travelling on the cheap, so instead of looking for what’s safe, they’re looking for the cheapest.
I met a man in the little town of Santa Maria Del Tule in Oaxaca, Mexico. He’s an English teacher in Mexico City, and an ex Interpol agent. He warned us about Mexico City, telling us to stay away from areas where there was not a strong police presence. But where are those places exactly? We didn’t know. We wanted to go to Xochimilco and Frida Kahlo’s house, both way out in the suburbs, and both quite a long walk after taking public transport to the nearest point. We did it anyway. We love to take public transport, to get a feel for the ordinary life of the people. Also this is when we often actually get to meet some of them. It’s worth the risk. It’s not as if we travel by taxi wherever we want go, or can afford to, so we go anyway. Sometimes, actually frequently, we just have to trust our intuition.
We never leave our stuff unattended in public places: we each wear a daypack and always fasten the chest strap when wearing the pack so that it cannot easily be ripped off our back. Sometimes, if we’re in very crowded places we’ll wear our pack on our chest, even if we look like nerds doing so. The only time of breaking this rule resulted in Don’s daypack being stolen literally from under his nose at an outdoor dance performance. “I put it on the ground between my feet instead of wearing it as I usually do because there were so many people standing close behind me that I thought it would be safer at my feet: wrong. I was so engrossed in the dancing that I paid no attention to my backpack until I looked down and saw that it was gone”.
We’ve been royally ripped off by taxi drivers twice, both times in Italy (sorry Italy) and both times we didn’t do our research. We learned the hard way – always ask first!
We make sure we actually witness baggage tags being put on our cases at the airport, and that the tags have the correct airport code for our destination. I just can’t walk away with out seeing those tags go on the cases, and our cases onto the conveyor belt. Also I stand outside to watch our cases being loaded into the hold of the bus. Once I see the cases on board I’ll get on the bus – don’t want to arrive and find out our cases are still on the curb back in the town we left some hours before, or more likely, have disappeared completely.
From Don: Almost every day we travel we put our lives into the safe keeping of the hands of strangers: we get into a cab or a bus and we have no idea until we start moving about the skill level of the driver or the craziness of the other drivers on the road. We board a plane and hope that it has been maintained well enough to stay in the air, and that the pilot has the skill to keep it in the air and land it safely if anything does go wrong. We go out to eat at a restaurant and hope that the chef has washed his hands before preparing the meal and the waiter has washed his hands before sticking his thumb in our soup. There’s a certain level of risk in travelling and we have to rely on our intuition and our inner guidance to know what to do.
So in the end we just surrender. We’re here, now. Ultimately this is all we have. What will be will be. We trust we’re being guided. We trust the mystery of life. We hold the vision and intention of being safe, and know that there are no guarantees. Is our life more risky than staying at home in one “safe” place? Not necessarily. Anything can happen anywhere anytime. So we do all we can to take care, and over and over we surrender to here, to now, and give thanks for what is.
Photo of the day: Istmo dancer, Guelaguetza Festival, Oaxaca, Mexico – a taste of posts to come.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted.
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.