No Absolutes

When traveling, there are rules you are supposed to follow. There are certain things you are supposed to never do.

  • You shouldn’t let touts talk to you, or lead you around. But then you are in a big market in a strange city, and some guy asks where you are from, then leads you round the market, and then helps you find where the bun bo hue vendors are hidden, and joins you for lunch. In the end, he doesn’t ask for anything.
  • You shouldn’t let someone approach, then take your picture, as it’s probably a scam. But sometimes it really is just a little girl on a school trip who wants her picture taken with some white folks, and afterwards, in perfect English, thanks you and shakes your hand solemnly.
  • You should have a quick rule for for finding a hotel in a new city so you don’t agonize over it, something like “always get the 'Our pick’ of the Lonely Planet midrange hotels,” or “always choose the affordable option from the Luxe Guide.” But none of these rules work all of the time. Sometimes one of the hotel options is great, and sometimes one is way wrong and the other great. But both of them are sometimes the wrong choice.

When you are in a strange place, dealing with a lot of unknown things, you want to be smart. You want to close yourself in, follow specific rules, be careful, stick to a plan and simple rules.

But in reality, travel doesn’t work that way. What you actually need to do is have guidelines, but not rules. You have to approach each situation with a careful mind, but an open mind, and see how things unfold.

Learning how to have this approach, and not deal in absolutes, has been a challenge for me.

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