The Boy’s Perspective:
I’m all alone, zombie-apocalypse style, in the staff accommodation attached to a deserted bar in a solitude-inal ski town in the North Island of New Zealand. A few weeks prior a small dilapidated-looking black van had pulled up outside the residence and, after a short conversation with a ‘surfed out’ looking Yorkshireman, I’d been handed the keys to the whole property. Free accommodation in exchange for cleaning, a backpacker’s bread and noodles.
During this time I had lucked out on a little extra work running tables at the local cafe, and to that end been invited to join the kindly proprietor on a road trip to her parent’s house in Auckland.
“A few days, you’re very welcome to join!” she said.
“My dad will cook pork…” she said.
“…do you like pork?”
Now in my capacity as a human male, dear reader, I’ve always followed one simple rule. Never turn down free pork!
Flashback five months to Brisbane, Australia. I have a rare day off work and it’s Valentine’s Day. With no girlfriend to indulge my sometimes overly romantic (sycophantic) tendencies in, I endeavour to buy a modest bunch of flowers, write something trite on the card and indiscriminately pick a girl on the street as the recipient. I envisage my perfect scenario: I sweep past the victim and in one suave James Bond-style manoeuvre, hand the bouquet over and melt into the crowd.
As a precursor, on the way to the florists I devise a simple test. I will give a smile as sincere and inoffensive as could be to everybody I pass. Would the public be worthy of my anonymous gesture of human kindness? The reaction I received was a little disheartening. People avoided my eyes, looked left or right, and not a single smile returned from male or female. Was I Medusa incarnate? Was my sincere smile in fact interpreted as the ‘rapist’s gaze’?
I know these three events may seem a little discombobulated but they nicely sum up a feeling I’ve found hard to compound these last few months. Namely in regards to ‘trust’. In big cities it’s hard to step out of your bubble and trust enough to return even a smile. Various media sources have us all paranoid that everybody is eyeing up our kidneys for harvesting, or sizing up our children for Ukrainian porn syndicates. Paradoxically, I’ve met with people who are willing to hand over to a stranger the keys to their livelihoods.
Sometimes when you travel you have to trust and in turn be trusted to wholly benefit from certain scenarios. Only you can be the judge of when the risk-to-benefit ratio is overly disproportionate. This is duality is demonstrated nicely in the ‘Long Way Round’ by Ewan McGregor when he fears he is being conned by Eastern block mafioso types, only to discover he is in fact the recipient of a tremendous night of hospitality at the hands of a wealthy hotelier.
Backpacking can be teeter-tottering, see-saw of judgement and for members of the species with…a member, I for one can say I’m glad I’m not travelling as the opposite sex. There are situations, statistically speaking, taken out of the equation when you have an ‘outie’ as opposed to an ‘innie’.
And my level of trust?
Well, I could get in this car tomorrow with the woman I barely know, be accosted, driven to a deserted forest retreat and become the latest fixture in her sex dungeon. Or I could visit New Zealand’s famous black sand beaches and eat free pork. It’s a matter of trust, the stakes are high and the ratio of pork:death is highly weighted on the meaty side.
The Girl’s Perspective:
Whilst I agree with Kneale that a certain amount of trust is required when travelling alone, as a girl there’s a whole heap of added rape-danger to take into consideration. I mean, we are brought up as young ladies to be wary of strangers, especially male ones. Especially friendly males, as clearly they are after something or trying to get in our pants, right?
Having said this, I’ve put myself in intimate situations with almost total strangers any number of times in the year plus that I’ve been a solo traveller, and (touch wood) nothing untoward has ever happened to me. When I say ‘intimate’ I’m not talking about the obvious. I mean hitching a lift, sharing a bungalow to save money, getting the overnight train together, crashing on their sofa and so on.
The key to trusting strangers when you’re a long way from home is simple: instincts. Living by your gut feeling is pretty much my mantra in life these days. When I’m short on friends to call up for advice or just un-contactable in a foreign land, I’m increasingly reliant on my own judgement and it’s not failed me so far. In fact, going by my instincts when meeting new people has led me to make some wonderful friends (Kneale Brown is one of them).
So my advice to those ladies and gents out there travelling solo, or even with others, is this: if it feels dodgy, it is. Don’t do it. If it’s an obvious no-no (walking quiet streets at night time, getting in a car alone with a complete stranger) don’t be an idiot about it. Sometimes when we’re travelling and having an amazing time we feel invincible. We aren’t, and we should never forget it. No matter how many buckets of Thai whisky we’ve recently consumed. But the other side of the coin is that if you feel it’s worth the risk and you inherently know you can trust this person, you probably can. Just stay savvy about it.
I’m pretty smug that my instincts have kept me safe thus far on my trip (and hopefully will for the remainder). Yes, I’ve taken risks with relative strangers – but I’m streetwise and always alert to possible dangers. Knowing who to trust has led me to many great experiences whilst travelling, for which I’m forever grateful. Besides, my younger brother will testify that I can deliver a pretty well-aimed kick to the gonads if and when required.
This was a joint blog post written by travellinghelga and Kneale Brown.