Violence has raged in Bangkok for weeks, and it’s taken a drastic turn for the worse during the past couple days. In fact, the uprising in Thailand’s capital has become so frightening that the United States embassy today has begun doing voluntary evacuations of staff.
Travel to Thailand is being discouraged, and the Thai people — historically a very peaceful community — appear to be on the verge of at least a small-scale civil war.
I’ve found the recent headlines chilling because just six months ago my brother-in-law returned from a five-month work assignment in Bangkok. My sister and nephew were there for the first three months before pregnancy required her to return home. Their time in Thailand was a bit of a culture shock and an eye-opening adventure, but the country was at peace while they were there. The unrest that rocks the country today is happening one stop away by skytrain from their former residence.
Although they’ve been back in the United States for months, the news reports still make me nervous because of their close connection to the area. I know that if they’d stayed longer, their safety still would not have been an issue. They’d have been evacuated from the country — or at least relocated to a different part of the city — at the first sign of danger.
I reflect on this because as I prepare to make my first trip to Africa I’ve been asked if I’m nervous about traveling solo. I’ve been asked the same thing about previous backpacking trips to Switzerland. Just like with those prior adventures, my answer about this one remains the same: no.
I worry about others sometimes, but not myself. That hasn’t always been the case, but the more I’ve traveled, the less I’ve concerned myself with things beyond my control.
Most of my journeys when I was younger seemed easy. Mom and dad organized the trip, whether it was a flight to the beach or a road trip to Michigan, or we’d join a guided tour that made Mexico and Europe seem simple.
In college, there were a few bumps during business trips for the student newspaper — a missed late-night train after covering a basketball game at Madison Square Garden that left coworkers and I stranded until 3 a.m.; a quick overnight to Waco, Texas, to cover an ESPN Big Monday game without renting a car or booking a hotel room — but everything always worked out.
After graduation, however, I began to have some doubts when a trip to southern California in the summer of 2002 went catastrophically wrong. The trip started with a lobster-red sunburn and a lost pair of glasses in the ocean within the first 48 hours, and it ended with a trip to the hospital after severely spraining an ankle while stepping in a tidepool the morning after camping on the beach in San Diego.
Any travel fears were put to rest in 2006 when, after deciding to go to Europe about three weeks before departure, a few bumps in the road that could have been catastrophic turned out to be no big deal.
While making my way from Switzerland to Barcelona, I nearly got stranded in Milan, Italy, when I was informed that the next train with seats available would leave two days later — meaning I would arrive in Barcelona as my flight home was scheduled to depart from Madrid. After about two minutes of panic, I gathered my wits, grabbed my rail guide and rerouted back to Geneva before hopping a train to Barcelona.
Later, while waiting for a train from Barcelona to Madrid, I hopped online and discovered that a terror threat had been thwarted in London. Moments later, I checked my e-mail and had a message from my sister saying my parents were worried sick. Not me. What could I do about it? After replying that I was fine, I checked out the airline Web site to see what precautions I would need to anticipate at the airport. A few hours later, I was back on the train to Madrid for a worry-free finish to an unforgettable journey.
I’ve done two more solo trips to Switzerland since then, and also did a backpacking trip with friends in Denali, Wrangell-St. Elias and Kenai Fjords national parks in Alaska. Sure, there were a few opportunities for danger on those trips as well, but by taking proper precautions (don’t bring food in your tent unless you want grizzly bears to join you, don’t walk too close to the edge on a trail, always have a map) there’s little reason to worry.
Tanzania will be a new experience, as will the dangers of hiking at extreme altitude, but by training sufficiently and trekking with guides that take safety seriously I see no need to be nervous.
Anxious? Sure. Curious? Absolutely. But nervous or scared? Nah. Mom will take care of that for me while I’m out having fun.