“A ship is always safe at the shore but that’s not what it’s built for.” – Albert Einstein.
The First Experience
When I first traveled to Bali an expat who had been living here for many years told me, “There are many things that can kill you in Bali, the surf, the mosquitos (dengue fever), and the crazy traffic.”
In fact she had recently gotten degue fever and felt at the edge of her mortality just a couple of weeks earlier. Not exactly the welcome reception I had hoped for. A simple “Welcome to Bali!” would have sufficed.
These dangers, along with several others, were all things I had been aware of even prior to coming here. The neurotic in me researched them extensively online before making my trip, including crime statistics, dengue fever mortality rates, shark attack statistics, weather patterns, etc. I was surprised to find out that crime in Los Angeles was astronomically higher than crime in Bali.
I could have easily replied to the expat, “it’s okay there are several things that can kill you in LA, gunshots, gangsters, and the crazy traffic”. At the end of the day, there was nothing that could fully alleviate my fears other than simple trust that everything will be okay.
What are You Searching For?
I’m always baffled by humans’ seemingly opposing need for both safety/security and excitement/risk. Some people are content with watching an action movie on TV, enjoying the comforts of their home, while vicariously living a life of constant danger through the secret agent or vigilante. Other people though, need to experience a bit of risk for themselves, at varying degrees depending on the individual.
I consider myself a fairly risk averse individual especially when compared to the “fly by the seat of your pants” travelers I often meet. I like to research my destination fairly extensively, have at least basic local language skills to get my ass out of a bind, GPS access, a mental map and reference points of where I am in case my GPS fails, and a couple of methods of accessing funds.
Similarly, when surfing I like to know where the shallow beds of rocks and reef are, strength and direction of the currents, and the likelihood of sharks. Despite my perhaps compulsive attempts at “safety net” tactics, I still have a tinge of raw fear almost everything I paddle out, or hop on my motorbike.
The Purpose of Fear
However, I no longer wish the fear was gone. I know it’s there to keep me alive. I welcome it as a tempered guide as opposed to an out of control, irrational process, anticipating even the most unlikely negative scenarios.
Yes, surfing, motor biking, and travel do have their dangers, but so did sitting at a desk at my old job – there were dangers of heart disease due to lack of mobility, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic back problems, depression, anxiety, and a litany of stress related conditions.
Ultimately, we each evaluate our personal risk versus reward tolerance. In general though, I would have to argue that we are an intrepid species, with the desire to explore, albeit sometimes reluctantly, the boundaries of our comfort level.
That said, there have been a couple of times during this trip where I’ve wanted to sail this ship back to the shores of Southern California.
The first time was when I had just gotten off the plane. I saw the dilapidated inner city, the dark back roads, and the poverty – not the tropical paradise I had hoped for.
The second time was about 3 months into my trip when a few unfortunate events happened at the same time: I got Bali belly, I accidentally overstayed my Visa, and all my friends went back home. Having diarrhea while contemplating the possibility of imprisonment by immigration as all my friends head back to the safety and comfort of their homes, is a rather uncomfortable situation.
Of course I was blowing things way out of proportion. Overstays don’t typically become a major issue if it’s under 60 days – I had only overstayed about 3. My Bali belly was nothing major, no fever or vomiting, and being alone had given me some extra time to write, rest, reflect, and enjoy some great lattes at the corner coffee shop. When I got the urge to run back home, I reminded myself of my initial intention of staying here 6 months. It was a goal. A milestone in my life representing the start of a new chapter in the “story of me”, and I wasn’t about to leave it half written.
Trust the Process
Soon the Bali belly dissipated, the immigration issue got sorted, and I joined a volunteer program teaching english in a small town in central Bali which introduced me to some of the most wonderful people I had met on this trip thus far. My discomforts seemed so minor in light of the rich experiences unfolding. The ship was out to sea, with best crew in the world, and a whole host of adventures ahead.
If you enjoyed this post we think you’ll love this one: Turning Fears into Fire