Seven Travel Lessons Learnt From Bitter Experience

1: There is a Time and a Place for Hallucinogens

That time and place is not a Moroccan beach patrolled by men in hooded cloaks with large rifles. Nor is it a Malian brothel (I’m sorry, I mean, of course, “a cheap hotel”) at peak time on a Saturday night. Should the time and place involve large bodies of water, be aware that it is possible to forget how to swim.

2: Hitch-hiking as a Solo Female is not a Good Idea

Hitching from Durban to Johannesburg and Johannesburg to Cape Town in apartheid South Africa, I met many interesting men. Some of them armed, many of them drunk, several both armed and drunk, and one so utterly muntered he asked me to drive his road train. It was, however, the German businessman who seamlessly combined autobahn manoeuvring with vigorous masturbation that made me realise there are safer ways to get around.

3: It is Unwise to Argue with Men with Guns

When soldiers walk into an African bar and order everyone out at gunpoint, it is sensible to obey *before* you see what a man’s stomach looks like with an AK-47 jabbed deep into its folds. Be aware that, should foreigners not of your party start bitching about their rights and asking to see their consul, they will, notwithstanding, arrest you too. (Note: if the surly man at your table turns out to be the chief of police, you will be extremely glad you bought your round.)

4: Your Health is More Important than Good Manners

It is hard to turn down hospitality, Christ knows. Even if, having forced rancid goat fat past my gag reflex in the Mauritanian Sahara, it is sometimes almost equally hard to accept. If a sub-Saharan welcome ritual involves drinking the water, even if only as a dilutant in a communal bowel of fermented camel milk, it’s wise to fake, not take, your sip, before third world hospitality leads to a third world hospital.

5: It is Critical to Know Where You Are Staying at all Times

Having no sense of direction is never good. Especially when you have just kicked a prospective rapist in the balls and run like hell into the back streets of a small Czech town. It is also handy to avoid conflict when popping out for a quiet dinner with your small son in a Lao town where everything starts with an X.

6: There Are Some Bars You Simply Should Not Go Into

As my saviour sped his truck out of the driveway, my 6’4″ courtier battering on the windows and grappling with the door lock, I realized that bars under migrant worker hostels in the rougher parts of Africa are places best avoided as a solo female. Should you end up in a really dodgy bar with local friends, stay with them, and leave with them.

7: Road Condition Matters on a Motorbike

It is, I have learned, perfectly possible to get a small automatic motorbike both up and, most alarmingly, down a rocky track most suitable for 4WDs, even in the dark. It is not, necessarily, what you or your passenger signed up for when planning your big adventure. As, err, we found in the course of our drive across Sumbawa.

What travel lessons have you learned by doing stupid things? Drop me a comment and let me know.

22 Responses

  1. jade says:

    Totally agree on these- although I’ve never been to a brothel, I will agree with you on that one too! 🙂

    • Theodora says:

      Ah. There’s some parts of the world where cheap accommodation means staying in a brothel. Not many, though, so you might get lucky.

  2. Anne-Marie says:

    Things I’m glad to have learned about long after the events which caused you to warn others!

  3. I haven’t actually tried any of these, but I’m pretty sure I don’t want to experiment with them. Particularly not the men with guns.

    • Theodora says:

      They are quite the fashion accessory in much of Africa, Amy, men with guns. Also in lots of parts of Asia. Especially the Philippines, where you go through four sets of weapon checks to enter a bank. Not so much because of the robbery fear, but because of the bodyguards of the rich.

  4. Yeah, men with guns is never a good idea to mess with.

    • Theodora says:

      You’d be amazed, though, how many Europeans think you can. “You can’t arrest me!!!!” (Err… yes he can, he’s a soldier with a gun.)

  5. Phil says:

    I think hallucinogens are great in a large body of water so long as you stay close to shore. The previous two places you mentioned, though, eesh, I’m with you. 3+4 really resonate as well. Fun post. Sensible too.

    • Theodora says:

      I, too, have enjoyed hallucinogens in large bodies of water. Mercifully, it was a very small body of water in which I forgot how to swim.

  6. Raymond says:

    I’m with you on the guns bit. Had a run-in with a drunk Jordanian waving his gun far too close for comfort. Great post!

  7. Nicole says:

    Reading thru these, I’m thinking all this crazy stuff was in years past. But that last one is recent, and with your son, which is totally awesome. 🙂

    • Theodora says:

      If rather hard on the butt!!!! Off to read your lunar eclipse post now. It was a bit of a bust here in Timor. We sort of dragged our arses out of bed at 4am, stared blearily at the half-obscured moon, and went back to bed again. Had a long drive the next day. Quelle surprise.

  8. Holy shit! I love that three of these lessons involved weapons. Lesson number two is just plain frightening, particularly after what my old South African roommate has told me about her travels through the area.

  9. Sucks you had to learn these bitter lessons, but others will benefit from your travails.

    • Theodora says:

      With the passage of time’s healing fingers, however, even the bitterest lesson becomes a funny story.

  10. Mack Reynolds says:

    i loved all of these. i’m glad you avoided harm (i’m guessing) for the most part. i’m a male, so i don’t realize how tough it is for solo female travelers. men can be dangerous people.

    • Theodora says:

      I escaped all of these, bar the stomach ailments, entirely unscathed. More luck than good judgement. Though I still envy my younger self the utter security of youth.

  1. March 12, 2012

    […] Caz of y Travel Blog learned how powerful she really is after dealing with countless mishaps and Theodora of Travels with a Nine Year Old learned not to argue with men who are holding guns. […]