Day Tripper: Do you want some candy?

March 6, 2014

People often ask me how I ever feel safe as a young woman traveling to such “interesting” places. They remind me to always keep my guard up, to be careful talking to people I don’t know.

Newsflash: when traveling alone in a foreign country, everyone falls into the category of “people I don’t know.”

Take my experience in Turkey. Without a car, my travel companions and I were denied a spot on the express ferry. Gone was the three-hour ferry that would take us straight to where we needed to go. Instead, we had to spend five hours at a café waiting for a ship that would bring us to an unknown city six hours east of our ideal destination.

When it finally came time to board the ferry, we had no idea where we would go upon reaching the Turkish coast. Find a hotel and deal with it in the morning? Make a beeline for the bus station? In the midst of the debate, we were interrupted by a man sharing the bench—“Nerelisiniz?” he said. “Where are you from?”

It would have been easy to smile politely and avoid the conversation. But, following in suit of our accidental adventure, we started chatting about our travels and our precarious situation. “We need to get to Alanya, do you know that town?”

Miraculously, this guy—Mehmet—knew exactly where Alanya was and happened to have a friend who owned a bus company. He promised us he would take us to this bus company once we crossed the Mediterranean and told us to find him once we got on the ferry.

After losing Mehmet while fumbling with our bags and tickets, we thought we would have a difficult time finding a spot to sit. It turned out that Mehmet had saved us two seats nearby his sister and nephew. We spent the next ten hours napping, snacking, and chatting with Mehmet and his family.

Mehmet knew just the right timing for disembarking from the ferry, and gave us advice for getting through customs. Once off the ship, we stood in a circle and for a solid five minutes exchanged “thanks you’s” and “it was so wonderful to meet you’s” before Mehmet walked us over to his friend’s bus company.

Meeting Mehmet was the best thing that could have happened to my roommate and me that night.

We hear our parents’ constant plea of, “Don’t talk to strangers.” It can be hard to shake that message, even as adults, but if we had refused to talk to Mehmet because we didn’t know him, our night in middle-of-nowhere-Taşucu would have been much more difficult.

If I were to heed the advice of my worried extended family, it would be impossible to go anywhere or see much. When traveling, you’ve got to take a leap of faith and trust those around you.

On a separate occasion, I found myself at the main bus station in Baku, Azerbaijan, unable to locate the minibus I needed to visit a friend who lived three hours north. When I called her, she told me I should just get a ride from someone offering a spot in his car. After taking a big breath, I squeezed into the backseat of a stranger’s Lada with a woman wearing a sequined head-covering, a man drinking a foggy liquid from a jar, and an older guy who was on the phone for the entire car ride.

One by one, the other passengers signaled to the driver that they needed to get out until it was just me and the driver left in the car. We lacked a common language, and so for much of the ride we sat in an uncomfortable silence.

But that all changed when a familiar song came on the radio. With a few hand gestures, we got across our shared affection for the Turkish pop singer. We cranked up the volume and rocked out while cruising through the Caucasus mountains.

This moment would have been impossible without trust.

Obviously while traveling, you should take care to avoid dangerous situations—drugs, guns, illegal border crossings. But at the same time, it doesn’t serve you well to avoid contact with every unfamiliar person or place. The reality of traveling is that most everything feels unfamiliar at first. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone requires a leap of faith—faith that humanity is generally good.

Too often, we are wary to trust other people for fear of being harmed, of being robbed, but most generally, of being disappointed.

We don’t travel to stay in our comfort zone, though. We travel to experience the vastness of the human experience, and without trust, we risk missing out on beautiful moments.

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