They say travel makes you a better person.
Though I struggled with the general angst of growing pains as a teen and in my early 20s (who doesn’t?) I’ve always been easy-going, adventurous, and generally never had much problem with confidence levels, ability to make conversation, or adaptability. These are some of the key traits you tend to develop as a solo traveller, as it’s sink or swim on the road. You are bombarded with so much of the unknown every day that you have to think quickly, and adapt to every new situation.
Thanks to travel, I’ve not only further developed these traits but I am far more trusting than I used to be. Not to say I wasn’t before, but in the West we are generally raised since childhood to be aware of “strangers,” to always have our guard up and be careful. To always exercise a healthy dose of scepticism.
It was when I travelled through the Philippines that I noticed this most within myself. I was sceptical of the Jeepney (US military Jeeps converted to public utility vehicles,) driver who collected cash from every passenger prior to departure with the promise of change to be given on arrival. He did this with over a dozen passengers, and I immediately assumed he couldn’t possibly remember how much change he owed each passenger but, oh well, because, $3.00. To my surprise, the driver’s memory was impeccable, and he pressed the correct pesos into everyone’s hands on arrival with a smile.
I was sceptical of the woman whose restaurant I had dinner at once, who showed me such kindness at the mere mention that it was my birthday the next day. After dinner the next night she presented me with cake and a bottle of coconut rum, and stayed up all night with me just to chat (while eating cake and drinking rum). I appreciated the gesture of course, but in the back of my mind I just assumed she was being a good businesswoman, that she wanted the opportunity to up-sell my room or sell me some tours. As it turned out, she wanted nothing in return but my company. I experienced things like this over and over in the Philippines.
I am far more trusting than I used to be. I give people the benefit of the doubt, always, and assume people are inherently good until proven otherwise. Because when you travel the world you know this to be true – that despite the sensationalism in the media, despite the rumours and the stereotypes, most people, at their core, are good people who show you kindness and help you out when you need it. It’s incredibly humbling to experience this first hand, and I hope that in some small way I can repay those people as well as pay it forward. To the man who went out of his way to pull out a blanket for me on a crowded ferry in Thailand, to my friend from university whose family invited me to stay at their home for a collective two weeks or so, to the local family in Sagada, Philippines who shared their lives with me if even for a few days. It’s hard to think the world is supposed to be such a harsh, cruel place when you experience its beauty and warmth time and time again.
I am far more trusting than I used to be. But if for every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction, must there be a downside to my ability to trust more? Because I trust so easily, I expect people are good and kind-hearted. In the rare instance that this isn’t the case – as soon as it becomes clear that someone has violated that trust – I turn a particular shade of nasty. It’s an ugliness I hadn’t noticed in myself before traveling full-time, before I was confronted by the few rare instances where someone tried to take me for a ride just because they could. The boy in Malaysia who tried to mug me, the man who assaulted me on my own property, the woman in Thailand who tried to scam me.
For the record, I don’t assume the tuk-tuk driver trying to overcharge his fare is scamming you. You try to get as much as the customer’s willing to pay for the service you provide – that’s just good business. This is why it is imperative as a consumer to know how much the product or service you are paying for is worth and agree to a price before the transaction. Haggling is very much a part of Thai culture, as it is in many parts of the world.
But scams do happen, and they are not limited to Thailand, to Southeast Asia, or even to developing countries. Scams happen – everywhere. It was only a few weeks back that someone tried to screw us over in my current line of work – in Australia. An elaborate scam, one where they call you claiming you have an outstanding invoice of some ludicrous amount even though you are sure you’ve never had dealings with that company, let alone agreed to any service. They called and emailed over and over – demanding, annoying and threatening our business. I experience an unsurmountable fury at these kinds of people – people who try to (and I’m sure in some cases successfully,) reap benefits from tricking fellow humans. I can’t get all zen and just let it go.
I may be more trusting now, and humbled at the kindness the world is capable of. I may be more appreciative of our differences and outlooks on life. But I am also far less accepting of those who deliberately mistreat others in a vile manner. We all hurt each other on some level at some point, and this is inevitable. We all have challenges-that’s part of life-without going out of our way to tear each other down for our own personal gain.
I don’t know if that makes me a better or worse person.