Have You Ever Made Any Travel Mistakes? My Story of (Almost) Getting Robbed (Willingly) in the Bahamas
We've all made our fair share of stupid travel mistakes that perhaps could have easily been avoided. You know, the ones you look back on and do either one of two things: Laugh at them in embarrassment OR pretend like they never happened at all.
During a recent travel blogger interview with Nicole and Michael from Suitcase Stories, the question was raised: Did you ever make any rookie mistakes when you first started traveling? I love questions that make me pause, and this was one of them.
My first reaction was that nothing out of the ordinary had ever really happened. Aside from the typical packing blunder or socially awkward language faux pas, my travel slip-ups were nothing much worth mentioning.
And then I remembered getting kicked off of the last flight out of Mexico City and finding myself abandoned overnight with 3 strangers who only spoke Spanish.
I called to mind the time when I foolishly tried to drive my "three-quarters of the way dead" junkmobile cross country, only to have it die out on me three-quarters of the way there in the middle of the desert.
I found myself flustered when I thought about the time that I went for the "too good to be true" rock-bottom priced airline ticket to Central America, only to wake up the next day and find out that the airlines had gone bankrupt.
And I winced at the memory of having to get an aching tooth pulled by a dainty dentista wearing SpongeBob scrubs in a dirty little transit town while exchanging buses on my way to Guarare, otherwise known as the wild wild west, or dusty butt hole, of Panama.
I began to see how fitting that question really was. I guess it's true, we all have travel mistakes we'd like to sweep under the rug.
But for the sake of learning some of life's most valuable lessons, there are some travel mistakes in life that are better left uncovered.
The Rookiest of All Rookie Mistakes
One of my rookiest of rookie mistakes, and perhaps one of the most dangerous, is a story of how I (almost) willingly got robbed on Grand Bahama Island in the Bahamas.
It was my first time out of the country, and I hadn't yet learned the value of following my gut instinct.
Perhaps the island vibe of the place got to my head and mixed up my senses. After all, being an island boy born and raised in Hawaii, the laid back lifestyle, friendly locals and easy beach going culture of the Bahamas struck me as something so comfortingly familiar and irresistibly welcoming.
On second thought, it was probably just plain naivete.
Ignoring the Gut Instinct
I was alone at a bus stop, trying to get to the other side of the island, the real side, when a local kid approached me and told me he knew the perfect spot to check out. Lucky for me, he could take me there for free.
Instead of listening to my gut instinct, which told me to run a mile away, I pushed that aside and decided to give the kid a chance. Rookie mistake number one.
Two buses later and in the middle of nowhere, I start to realize that we were not going anywhere a solo traveler like myself would want to be going alone. As the bus pulled up to some no account depot, and the kid shuffled me off aggressively, I only then had begun to notice the concerned looks of other local passengers as the bus drove off, leaving me and the kid behind by ourselves.
Reality Begins to Set In
He walked me to a dirty beach, plopped me on a pile of rocks and told me that he was going to take me to a party with chicks and drugs later that night. When I turned down the offer, he told me that even if I didn't want to go to the party, I still needed to buy him and his friends enough weed and beer to last them the whole night. After all, he said, he had gone out of his way to take me to this beach. I owed it to him as payment, and he said he wasn't letting me go until he got paid.
I tried not to look around nervously as the reality of my situation sunk in. I was alone with a desperate boy in the middle of nowhere. I asked him where his friends were. He said they were on their way.
Then something in my mind clicked. I told him I was down for his party, but that I needed to get some stuff from town first.
I could tell he wasn't buying it, but I told him that if he didn't trust me he could accompany me for as long as he wanted.
A Bahamian Damsel to the Rescue
After some negotiation, I finally managed to talk him into walking me to the nearest bus stop, where a young local Bahamian couple noticed my situation.
I could see the young lady staring at me repeatedly with concern in her eyes, nudging her boyfriend repeatedly and whispering in his ears, all the while she continued to glance furtively in my direction.
My gut instinct told me that these were strangers I could trust, so I strategically threw a couple of nervous glances in their direction. It was enough for them to take action.
The couple came over to our side, and the lady's boyfriend managed to distract my companion while she got me into private conversation. She asked if I was with the kid willingly. I told her no.
She said that she knew this local boy who was trying to game me. She had gone to school with him and had heard about his drug and violence problems since.
She told me that she and her boyfriend worked at a resort, that they were on their way to work, and not to worry because her boyfriend would take care of this situation.
This time I knew I could trust them. Sure enough, the next thing I knew, the boy was going his separate way, not even giving me a second glance, and I was (thankfully) left under the protection of the young local couple.
Life Lessons Learned
It's times like these during our travels when we learn that with just a little bit of insight, mistakes can be avoided. But another more meaningful and ultimately more positive lesson learned was that beauty can often times be found in the kindness of strangers.
The couple ended up taking me to the resort that they worked at on the other side of the island. They assured me that not all locals were like that, and that the boy was just a minor representation of a small few of the local population.
They introduced me to the resort manager and explained to him what had almost happened to me. To make up for that, the manager allowed me a full day's access to all of the resorts amenities, with jet skis, snorkeling equipment, kayaks and paddle boards, plus full meals for lunch and dinner that day.
After work, the couple took me into town and introduced me to their family and friends, who showed me the meaning of true Bahamian hospitality.
Although rookie travel mistakes had initially been made by foolishly following a less than trustworthy local character, the rest of my experience that day more than made up for it, with meaningful friendships formed and relaxing recreation.
Lesson learned: Some embarrassing stories are better left uncovered. Always follow your gut instinct.
I'm JR. I come from a long line of adventurers, some were nomadic explorers of the sea and others wandering cultivators of the earth. Ultimately, this legacy of drifters has deeply affected my view of travel. Read more...