So many people are afraid of travel.
I’ve lived abroad and traveled for more than 6 years and when I tell people that I’m taking a solo trip to Mexico in the summer, the first question I get asked isn’t “Where are you going in Mexico?” or “What will you do there?”, but “Why isn’t anyone going with you?!” and the ever-present comment, “Please be careful.”
People are afraid of other people that they don’t know. Especially if those people are not the same as them. That’s why a large amount of Americans do not have a passport. They are quite happy to stay where they are comfortable, amongst people that they understand and don’t find threatening. It is unsettling to many that I would want to leave the safety of my home country. But they don’t know about travel angels.
I wrote a blog in 2015 called Sizihwan Sunset with a Stranger. I talked about a solo trip I took to southern Taiwan and how I sat, somewhat lonely and grappling with my current issues in life, watching the sunset by the waterfront. An older Taiwanese gentleman started talking to me. My engrained, and sometimes judgmental, instincts shouted “Danger!” and I could have shrugged him off. But we talked and he was kind, interesting, and became a friend for that moment. He inspired me to write again, something that I had been too depressed to do until meeting him.
Recently, a friend read that blog on Facebook. She commented.
“Angels really do exist.”
And I thought, damn. That they do.
My brain began swirling with all the people who have helped me in my travels. The strangers who wanted me to be comfortable in their world. The new friends who taught me empathy and understanding in an unfamiliar place. The angels who disappeared as quickly as they appeared, helping me when I was at my lowest.
There was the Vietnamese woman on a motorbike. I had just gotten off a bus in Hoi An and I stood confused and a little nervous, wondering where I could find a place to sleep. She told me to get on her bike and she would take me somewhere. Your parents tell you don’t get in a car with strangers, but this was a motorbike, right? She took me to a lovely, little hotel with a swimming pool. The price was right and maybe she got a commission, but laughing with her on that motorbike, it didn’t matter.
There was the Thai teenager, who approached me as I wandered by myself around a temple. He wanted to practice his English and told me that many people brushed him off and thought he was trying to sell them something. We talked about how he was a monk in training and he introduced me to his shy friends, who only spoke in Thai. We went to a Thai restaurant that I never would have found on my own. He told me he loved romantic American movies and I bought his dinner. He said he would add me on Facebook, but we never found each other.
There was the South Korean man who found my wallet that I left on a bus. He dug through it and found the phone number of my school. He called and took time out of his day to meet me in Seoul to return it. He told me about his studies and then walked back into the subway station.
There was the group of middle-aged Taiwanese people, who helped me find my way on a hike that I was very unsure of. I honestly thought the man was going to murder me. Instead, he brought me to a clearing where they set up tea and snacks that they shared with me. We ate sugarcane on a rock cropping that overlooked the mountain. We hardly said a word in a common language, but I said Happy Easter, wondering if they understood.
There was the elderly Spanish man, who took us to a bar in the late evening because we said we needed a place to stay. His friend had a home that looked to be for sale. He gave us the key and we stayed in it and safely slept the night away. We left the key in the box and went on our way the next morning.
There was the Italian family that asked us to have dinner with them, even though we couldn’t communicate much. But somehow, there was laughter and happiness all night.
There was the Thai woman who drove me into Chiang Mai from the airport and let me have dinner with her and her friends.
There was the group of Vietnamese guys who let me drink beer with them outside my hostel, when I was too afraid to talk to anyone.
There was the Swedish family that let me stay with them and use their things when my luggage never arrived. The Swedish student who had me over for beers because it was my first day studying abroad and I was scared and alone. We never met again, but they made me feel like I was okay.
These are real people, but in my mind they are my travel angels. They swooped in to help a foreigner who was confused, lost, scared, or just plain lonely.
Travel is a big part of my life and yet, I will admit it still scares me. But every time, without fail, a travel angel shows up to guide me on my way.
I’m sure there is one in Mexico waiting for me and so, I am not afraid.