Just Go

For all those women, and men, who wish to travel alone, learn these things and they will set you free.

1.  Learn to pee anywhere, anytime; standing, squatting, sitting, hovering; in- or out-of-doors; with or without paper; with or without someone or something watching.

2.  Learn to walk, far; Appreciate the value of comfortable shoes that protect your feet, allow you to run if necessary, and don’t necessarily identify you with your country of origin.

3.  Learn to drive a stick and drive it well.  Anywhere outside the US, you’re likely to be presented with the need.  And in an emergency, it may be your only means of escape.

4.  Learn to read a map, a paper map, without turning it upside down when you’re facing south.  Also, learn to ask for maps and find those maps that are already available; in train stations, bus stops, airports, ferry landings, harbors, hotels and bodegas.

5.  Learn to read military time.  The world clock and the world metrics operate on 24 hours and liters and kilometers.  Without a frame of reference for each, your basic understanding of your surroundings can fall quickly apart.

6.  Be free of the tyranny of rolling luggage.  Learn to pack tiny, with what you can carry on your back, and leave your hands free for train-dashing, plane catching, stair climbing, tiny bathroom peeing, and little-elevator-commanding freedom.  Put all your shit away, including your phone and earbuds, and just walk; down escalators, under bridges, through tunnels, on cobblestones and flagstones and dirt roads.  It’s harder for someone to swipe something off your back, planted on two shoulders, than something free rolling on the ground in one preoccupied hand.  And harder for them to sneak up on you if you’re using both eyes and both ears.

7.  Learn to ride the city bus in whatever town you live, in whatever state you visit.  If you can navigate a time schedule, a brisk pace, and the urgent, unwashed masses, then the largest of airports and train stations will feel simple by comparison.

8.  Learn to eat anything.  Stop being picky and the idea of foreign food lessens in anxiety.  Stop being distrustful and a whole new palate can present itself.  Stop being judgemental about food, and when the time comes, you won’t end up hungry.

9.  Learn to spend lots of money on really good food.  A special dining experience, with its flavor of the terre hoire and its ambiance of place and its joie de vivre of the local people may be the thing, amongst all others, that you remember about a place.  In time, with distance, all big cities look alike, all harbor cruises are the same, all trains have the same rhythm, all hotels the same sheets.  But a good meal, in a welcoming place, with a little bit of history and a lot of passion, can be the thing that roots you to a moment.  It can be the connection to a people that opens your mind and broadens your understanding.

10.  Learn to listen to the old women in a place, especially the ones walking alone.  They know you.  They’ve been you.  They are you, only with experience.  And they know the place; why it’s dangerous or why it’s not; why you’ll like something or why you won’t; and when you need help, they’ll be the last to say “No” and the last to pass judgement.

If you need a reason to go somewhere, or a way in which to plan your strategy, organize your travel around a theme.  For example:

A.  Follow the birds; Birdwatchers, as a whole, are some of the most well-traveled, environmentally savvy, and patient people on any continent, and most of the old ones have seen every continent.

B.  Learn a second language and go to all the countries where that language is spoken.  Or, even, start with your primary language.  If that’s English, Spanish or French, you’ll cover a good chunk of the world just going to places they are spoken.  If you need to start smaller, begin by visiting every county in your state, every state in your region, or every state/province in your country.  Then do the same for other countries that speak your Mother Tongue.

C.  Get to know the people of the vines; Wine is grown in some of the most beautiful and remote parts of the world, from both sides of North American to South, in Western Europe and New Zealand, in Asia and Africa.  When you learn about the people who harvest the grapes, you learn about the whole world.  If wine isn’t your thing, follow the spirits.  Chase the gin, the rum, the vodka, the whiskey, or the tequila and its derivatives and you’ll cross many frontiers.

D.  Ride the trains; Cross the countries where train travel is still prevalent and then branch out to those where it isn’t.  There’s nothing like criss-crossing, on the ground.  And rail-fans everywhere know the culture better than most.

E.  Chase a resource; hydroelectric plants and their dams, windmill farms and their open plains, gold mines and their mountains, whichever.   All in all, just go.

Robin Behl, La Cuentista

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