I very much lack a typical sense for danger that most people inherently have. And damn, it was bad when I decided to live abroad after I graduated college.
I was an ambitious 22-year old that sold nearly everything she owned in exchange for a wanderlust. Lacking any sense of apprehension, I knew nothing of the fear of traveling alone. I just knew I wanted to see as many countries as I could and experience something other than what my at-the-time mundane life could offer.
Looking back, four years later, I question the flat-out dumb decisions I made and how I survived them. In an effort keep you from making the same mistakes I did, I am writing out the worst decisions I made while traveling thus far.
Befriending a Chinese Gangster
To be fair, I didn’t know he was the equivalent of a Chinese gangster when I first started hanging out with him.
I met this guy at one of the frequent night clubs that were popular amongst the tight-knit expat group of the city I lived in, Chengdu. John — that is his English name, and his Chinese name evades me — was a keen supplier of his go-to drink, Jager bombs, to the foreign crowd. He was a fun guy to party with, even though he spoke no English and often used a translator.
On several attempts, John tried to make our friendship into a relationship, and I flat out refused. He insisted on continuing to hang out regardless, and I thought he was a fun guy and, frankly, his Porsche was exciting to be driven in.
All of our interactions happened with a translator. When I prodded at the work he did, he coyly avoided answering.
So, a month down the road, when I found out that his business dealings were actually very much illegal and his translator was also his bodyguard, I quickly ended the nights out getting sushi.
Attempting To Walk Ten Miles Home at 3AM in a Chinese Suburb
Once a month Chengdu DJ’s hosted a massive party in a run-down house in the suburbs of the city. They were deemed Dojo parties, and everyone would attend. My first time going to one of these notorious nights ended in me consuming a lot of what they called “Dojo Juice.” To say the least, I was intoxicated pretty quickly.
Nearing the end of the party, I got into a massive fight with one of the guys on Chengdu’s rugby team. Upon meeting him, he found it within his rights to quickly push me up against a wall and grope me. He later apologized, blaming the copious amount of drugs he was on, but that didn’t stop my Dojo juice-induced state from attempting to punch him in the face.
That continued until people started to go home.
At that point, my senses were lost. I was upset, angry, and for whatever reason, thought it was best that I run away from my friends and walk home.
Maybe that would’ve been fine. You know, if I wasn’t in a foreign country, ten miles away from home, and it wasn’t pitch black outside.
I think it took me about 20-minutes of hiding in a bush every time a car drove past me out of fear of how they would react to seeing a foreign girl alone, to realize that I made a horrible mistake.
By some God-given miracle, I found my way to a major road where I ran into one of the DJs from the party. He offered me a ride back to the city — though I quickly realized I was intruding upon his wooing a local Chinese girl.
Cock-block or not, at least I was safe.
Booking The Completely Wrong Connecting Flight
This one is simply a logistical error.
When I was booking my flight from Chengdu to Barcelona, I booked the connecting flight to Hong Kong separately. My roommate in China was a pilot, and the trip to HK was free — allowing me a cheaper flight from HK to Spain.
Except, I made a traveler’s worst mistake in booking my flight to Barcelona an entire 33 hours after I landed in Hong Kong. I know what you’re thinking, at least it wasn’t the other way around. And you’re right — I am glad about that.
But please try and picture yourself traveling through a busy, metropolitan city with two large suitcases, a carry-on- and a backpacker size backpack. Imagine pushing all of this through the intricate and crowded subway system that was necessary to get around Hong Kong.
Needless to say, I will always check the dates of my tickets twice now.
Traveling to *, I have no idea where* for a modeling job
I realize most of my bad decision took place in China — I wonder what that has to say about my mindset at the time.
To make some extra money while I lived in China, I took on what are known as “white monkey” jobs. These are jobs that white people are able to get in Asia because, well, they’re white. These jobs could look like taking marketing photos for a business, being paid to attend a conference for a company, or working as a promo model at store openings.
My work leaned towards the latter — I took on several jobs where I was paid to stand in front of a newly opened business or apartment building and welcome guests in. Smile and wave. Smile and wave.
I was very unassuming when I took on my second promo model gig. The job was in a town forty-five minutes outside of the city — where me and an Estonian girl would promote the opening of a new apartment building. The girl that accompanied me on the trip helped me get the job and was much more experienced than I was. We actually both landed the opportunity through her agent.
When we arrived at our hotel, the sun had already gone down, and all we wanted to do was go to sleep because of the early call time we had the next morning.
We were approached by several Chinese businessmen who we later found out were the ones that hired us. They insisted we come party with them and some other men that owned the apartment building. We both refused, and they retaliated, threatening to withhold the money we were promised and take away our hotel room.
Mind you, I knew zero Chinese. I was helpless in this whole situation. Luckily, the girl I was with spoke some Chinese and quickly got her agent on the phone.
The agent ended up berating the men, and we quickly found ourselves safely in our hotel room.
But for a second, I was pretty worried given the fact that I couldn’t even name the town we were in.
Getting Harassed by Tunisian Men
I would probably warn anyone traveling, especially women, to avoid isolated places at night. Nothing good can come from that scenario.
Alas, when I took a weekend trip to Tunisia with my two girlfriends, we found ourselves in that exact predicament.
My friends and I had spent the entire day at a cafe on the beach near Sidi Bou Saiid. The sand was warm, the food was delicious, and the cost of it all was relatively cheap.
When the sun began to set, we figured it best we head home. In Tunisia, French is spoken very widely, so my French friend asked the owner if he could call us a cab. To our surprise, he said no and motioned for us to catch a taxi at the main road up the hill. To get there, we had to walk through a poorer neighborhood that didn’t have many people or any lighting.
As we began the journey through the neighborhood, we found the situation to be a bit amusing. My friends and I were enjoying ourselves all day — we weren’t going to let this get us down.
But when we passed by a group of men — about five of them, probably in their early 20’s — they started cat calling us. The three of us were experienced travelers and knew just to ignore it. But that just made the men even, and they began calling us “f*cking bitches” and started to get aggressive.
We quickly realized this was probably a horrible idea and promptly walked back to the cafe. We demanded the cafe owner call us a taxi and we drove safely back to our Air BnB.
They make for entertaining cautionary tales now, but I am lucky things didn’t end badly in any of these stories.
If you take away one thing from these stories, it’s that safe really is better than sorry.