Sometimes travel makes me feel strange. Just as I’m embraced by the crisp air of a warm Caribbean city, I’m repelled by the fear-inducing challenge of having to trust strangers at nearly every turn. What is that feeling?
A cursory Google search brought me to the following definition of vulnerability: “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.”
Harsh, maybe? I’ve always conceived vulnerability as being akin to openness. The ability to understand one’s limitations, both physical and emotional, and still work to extend them for the benefit of experience, life, learning and the likes. But what makes travel vulnerable? On one hand, there’s uncertainty. Depending on whether or not you plan an itinerary where every minute of travel is accounted for, one can have varying degrees of free time for exploration and the likes. For me, that can be both calming and stressful. Calming because I know that I’m not beholden to an arduous calendar, but stressful because I don’t know what exactly I’m going to do.
You’re never fully independent while traveling—at least I’m not. In just about every travel experience I’ve partook in, I’ve had to depend on the abstract idea of human goodness. In Japan, a kind stranger approached me in the train station after sensing my confusion. Without her guidance, and her willingness to practice her little English skills with me, I wouldn’t have reached my intended destination. In Cuba, a gracious AirBnB host saved me from living me last three days on the island with only $20. Being open to the grace and favor of others has allowed to prosper even through discomfort.
But not all vulnerability goes unpunished. Several of my friends have been robbed and assaulted while traveling. I’ve been scammed out of $100s of dollars. My own sense of self has been challenged by verbal assaults against my race, size, and background. I’ve faced derogatory words, disapproving looks, and even blatant and intentional disrespect.
Ultimately, vulnerability comes with a loss of control. Control over circumstances and outcomes is handed over to the greater world one is exploring. Autonomy is given up to the formal and informal rules and the social code that govern the land traveled to. Yet, I still travel.
I travel because subjecting myself to vulnerability has made me emotionally stronger. It has made me more knowledgeable, aware, and prepared to tackle a world often devoid of transnational empathy.
The vulnerability of travel has allowed me to see a world beyond my individual conceptions.
Traveling is worth the vulnerability.