Whether I was jealous about Tom’s new designer shoes or Jane’s new high-paying job, I used to let jealousy overwhelm me to the point where it just didn’t feel fair how some people got so far ahead in life.
Then I realized that there are people who are jealous that I get to travel outside my own country, or that I will likely get to eat a proper dinner tonight, and I start to feel a bit like a jerk—or, at least, I did. There’s something about seeing hammocks hung along sidewalks above piles of garbage in Phnom Penh that make me feel more grateful for what I’m lucky enough to have in life.
Being afraid of everyone.
I used to fear the unknown and allow preconceptions and stereotypes to form my vision of the travel destination I have in mind.
It’s easy to stick to the idea that everyone in a poverty-stricken nation wants a piece of me, that they are willing to lie, cheat, and steal to accomplish this. But I’ve learned the average person isn’t going to look at me with malicious intent. Even if they aren’t particularly friendly, odds are that they aren’t going to commit any crimes against me.
Of course, I need to be sensible and stick to certain rules in high-risk or high-crime regions, but I certainly shouldn’t assume the worst in every stranger. In fact, I once had a random local guy at the bus station lecture me on taxi safety in Guayaquil, a city known for taxi kidnappings. Sometimes, it’s the locals who are actually looking out for you.
In my own experience, once you begin to appreciate the kindness that exists among strangers around the world, it becomes much easier to know when and when not to trust first.
Feeling inconvenienced by other people.
It’s strange now for me when people complain about being approached on the street to purchase an item or a service, or simply to give money, while in a poor country. I understand it can seem like an annoyance or an inconvenience, but the person asking likely doesn’t want to be in the situation that they’re in. Taking a moment to consider the scenario from outside my own perspective can be eye-opening.
After traveling fairly extensively in poor nations, I understand that it isn’t all about my own experience. It’s about sharing the world with everyone, understanding where I fit in, and appreciating that people do what they need to in order to get by—even if I do experience minor interruptions from time to time in my days as a privileged traveler.
Having an “ideal” backpacker experience.
Deep down, I wanted to have that happy-go-lucky, free and carefree backpacker experience. For me it meant meeting new friends from all over the world, experiencing a different culture and landscape, and maybe a little partying on the beach. Before I left home, it all seemed so perfect and idyllic in my head. I remember fantasizing about my future life as a spontaneous bohemian traveler for months.
When I finally began my backpacking adventure, that image looked a little different. Things are not so clean and easy. Instead of dancing all night on the beach, I saw travelers stumbling out of pubs right next to a local teenager holding a newborn baby and begging for food. The whole scenario produced a strange feeling inside me. Suddenly, my perfect experience mattered much less.
These moments made me realize that my original image just isn’t a fit for everyone. For me, getting more in touch with the realities of the people living in a particular country became much more fulfilling. I’ve learned to make adjustments along the way – to adapt and appreciate a place and its people for what they are: real.
Be on time but don’t prepare for everyone else to be. This is probably advisable wherever I go and is something I remind myself of often. I’ve almost gotten left behind by a bus for being a little slow to make a connection and I’ve had to wait over two hours for a driver to come pick up my small group after a day trip in the mountains (where it proceeded to cool down very quickly).
Some developing countries are just slightly more relaxed when it comes to schedules. I just got used to waiting.
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