I used to be intrepid. I used to hitchhike, backpack, stay with strange people in strange countries. I was influenced in this by a friend I met as a teenager who was convinced that travelling was the only point in life, that staying still and settling down represented a waste of existence, was only for people who were scared and small. It was necessary, she believed, to test your ability to survive in the world, comfortless and penniless if necessary. I agreed that this was a good thing, influenced by stories of peripatetic writers whose travels were their education.
Now, the prospect of travelling fills me with mingled excitement and fear. I still love to see new places, meet new people, eat new food, experience new customs. But now I am also aware, as I was not in my broke backpacking days, of the danger that can lurk in travelling, apart from the obvious plane-falling-out-of-the-sky variety (which fills me with trepidation a-plenty, thank you very much). When I was 23 I fractured three vertebrae and an ankle after being catapulted off the back of a horse in the mountains in Victoria, en route to Austria. When she was 21, the friend so enamoured of travelling died after being drugged and raped by a serial killer in Japan. So when I say to people that I am anxious about my upcoming travel, I am not anxious about something abstract, but with the memory of past events that haunt me at vulnerable moments.
In spite of the above, I am attempting to approach my upcoming travel with equanimity. I will remember Lao Tzu, who said, ‘A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving’ (while hoping he didn’t mean that literally!). But I’ve packed the valium just in case ancient words of wisdom fail.