I read the travel guides. I saw Man on Fire. Kidnapping was my real fear.
That’s why I decided to skip Mexico City (pics). Instead I was heading to Cuernavaca, but to get there, I had to take a bus through the capital which had the second highest kidnapping statistic in Latin American.
But, Mexico City was not where it happened.
We pulled up to the bus stop and I re-read the warning from my travel guide:
“Do NOT take the green taxis. The yellow cabs are safe.”
That seemed simple enough — until I got off the bus at midnight and a line of green taxis was all that was waiting for me.
I just got my first passport. I was intimidated about leaving the United States.
Most of the kidnappings occurred in taxis, so being stranded in the middle of the night with nothing but kidnapper taxis freaked me out.
I weighed my options—stand there all night, or jump in a cab and see what happens.
We drove in circles for twenty minutes while the cab driver obviously waited for the men with guns to arrive.
He finally stopped on a dark, deserted street next to a fourteen foot cement wall covered in graffiti.
“Here? Are you kidding me?!”
Even without streetlights, I could see the concertina wire at the top of the wall.
It looked more like a run down prison than the family’s home I was to live at during my Spanish study at the Instituto ChacMool.
The driver helped me with my bags as I wondered if he was in on the kidnapping.
He rang a doorbell to the steel, bared gate, but after about ten minutes there was no answer.
That’s when a man walked up from down the street and spoke to the cab driver in Spanish. I hardly understood.
I realized this is how the kidnappings work. I sized the two of them up. It would be useless when they pulled out their guns.
“Yes!” I said surprised he knew my name, even though he couldn’t pronounce it exactly right.
“You’re staying with me,” the kidnapper said as he reached out his hand.
He was coming back from the market while waiting for me. His family was asleep, so they did not answer the door. That was the beginning of my first trip outside of the U.S. and Emanuel and his family took me in and treated me like part of their family.
It changed my life forever.
Since then I’ve returned to Mexico more times than I can count. I’ve stayed for as little as a few days or long as as several months. I even returned to the capitol, Mexico City, where I was previously too afraid to stay.
Surprisingly, I felt safer there than I do in some parts of North America. I’ve traveled to China, Honduras, Brazil, Columbia, Costa Rica, Belize and I think Peru is next on my list.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Mark Twain
Traveling forces you to stretch beyond your comfort zone. That’s what makes it intimidating, yet rewarding at the same time.
The benefits of foreign travel are different for everyone, but for most, it will be humbling.
Your perceptions of the rest of the world are likely wrong.
I was so ignorant and shocked to discover there are modern cities much larger than those in the U.S. I knew this, but in some strange way I did not believe it.
Shockingly, not everyone outside U.S. carry buckets of dirty drinking water on their heads from the muddy river.
That certainly exists, but there are also people with cell phones, iPods and luxury cars.
I shared blinders most North Americans have that make us feel superior to the rest of the world. During my first trip to Mexico, I was embarrassed when I knew less about American history and politics than the Mexican people I was living with did.
The U.S. has a greater impact on the world, but that does not explain why news throughout the globe includes world events, whereas U.S. news rarely leaves the borders.
I was surprised how many speak more than one language. I felt inferior with only English, especially when I carried an elitist American attitude.
Soon I realized Americans are, at best, equal to the rest of the world. This was eye opening.
The bad news — you are insignificant
Shockingly, while you’re away, the world keeps functioning. Whether you’re gone for two weeks or two months, the world moves on without you.
Our daily lives consume us. We think we are of greater significance than we really are.
When you leave your circle for the bigger world, you realize you are one tiny spec of sand in the desert.
At first it’s a depressing, but then it’s liberating.
The good news — you are insignificant
After you return from a foreign land, you’ll have experienced a lot of new things about the world and yourself.
Although the world continued without you, you’ll also discover that nothing changed. It will feel as if you never left. Very few will notice you were gone, but you will have had a life changing experience.
Because we over value our significance in our jobs and social circles, we are also reluctant to leave. This can be the only explanation why every year Americans return 1.6 million years of unused vacation time to their employers.
Aside from your immediate family, few will notice your absence. That gives you freedom you will never have experienced before.
It’s impossible to explain what traveling will do for you without you experiencing it yourself. In fact, when you get back, you will want to share your experiences with everyone who will listen, but they won’t get it.
That’s Okay, because it’s you experience. Your own journey.
If you’ve ever had the slightest inkling to jump on a plane to some foreign land–go for it.
What’s holding you back?
Travel is about becoming comfortable being uncomfortable.
Where do you want to go?