Travel Principle #3: Always Look Around
It can be overwhelming to arrive in a new and beautiful place. This is especially true if you are part of a throng of other travelers. Our natural tendency is to follow our wonder. We might take our first steps in a place with our head tilted upward at a huge building or monument. Or we might take those first steps with our head turned sideways to street entertainers or vendors. We fail to always look around.
But becoming aware of your surroundings first – observing the who, what, where and when – will allow you a safer and more thorough travel experience. You’ll have a better understanding of the how and why once you orient yourself within the context of your surroundings. The sooner you orient yourself, the sooner you can begin to explore your next travel destination.
Always Look Around
It should seem like common sense to always look around. Yet how many accidents have been caused in life because people lost track of some simple detail? How many misfortunes befall good people because bad people observe the opportunity to take advantage of carelessness?
When traveling you compound your chances to have a bad experience because, by definition, you are somewhere unfamiliar. The further you go from familiarity, the greater your chance for something to go wrong. This, of course, if offset by the fact that the further you are from familiarity the greater the chance for unique travel experiences.
Still, awareness of your surroundings should be a top priority when traveling – in proportionately greater amounts the further you are from the familiar.
But awareness is more than simply keeping tabs on all of the potential bad people or situations that could take place. This Travel Principle is not to turn you into a pessimistic judge of humanity. In fact, it can work the opposite and you can find yourself in remarkable situations by being aware of your surroundings.
Strangers Can Sometimes Be Friends
For example, I ended up homeless for a night in Limerick when I visited Ireland on my first solo-backpacking trip. I had successfully hitchhiked around the country and had one night remaining before my flight to the European mainland. Without thinking too far ahead for where I would sleep, I missed the chance to book a hostel for the night and all hotels in the area were closed.
So I walked the streets of Limerick as slowly as I could, up one street and down another. My plan was to wait out the night until someone turned on the lights at a café or restaurant where I could grab a cup of coffee. But I was anxious, and tired, and exhaustion led toward confusion.
I kept mental notes of people passing, of lights in houses turning off and, eventually, the dead quiet of the night. After attempting to find shelter in a church, I ended up circling back to the streets. At this point there was only one other man out and it seemed to me as though he were following me.
So I relied on the street-crossing trick, where I crossed over to see if he followed. He did. I crossed back. So did he.
The Advantage of Observation
I walked forward until I was in a lighted area of what I recalled to be a busy neighborhood and then turned to confront the man.
“Hey man, what’s up?” I asked plainly, gripping my tiny Swiss Army knife in my pocket in the event I had to somehow defend myself. I was also prepared to make as much noise as I could to wake up as many neighbors as necessary.
“Looks to me you’re without a place to stay,” the man returned with a smile.
I admitted that I was.
“I wanted to invite you to my home so you have a place to stay,” he responded.
It was bizarre to follow a stranger to his home at this late hour. But I decided I would at least walk and talk with him to get a better judgment. As it turned out he had a daughter around my age traveling by herself through Spain. He hoped that by taking me in for the night someone might also look after his daughter if she was in need.
Awareness Leads to Better Endings
We ended up staying up most of the night talking. Later the man gave me a spare room with a hot shower and bed of my own. The next morning we walked through town and I got a tour from a man who seemed to know everyone and everything in the small city.
I couldn’t have had a better experience for the 16 hours I was in Limerick. But I had to focus first on the awareness of my surroundings. I had to always look around. This gave me better information by which to make decisions that ended up in my favor.
It doesn’t always work out this way. But it is important to be aware of your surroundings both for safety and for the possibility for adventure.