I was supposed to go to Indonesia four days ago.
My final group of clients left Zambia, and I was supposed to pick myself up and get on a plane bound for Asia to begin the second half of my round-the-world trip; the half where I’d be completely solo, where I’d be jumping blindly into an incredibly strenuous and complicated trip, in an increasingly unsafe corner of the world.
I think you all know me a bit at this point, and I think I’ve drilled it into all of my answered Tumblr messages over the years that just because bad, scary things happen here and there around the world doesn’t mean that it should inhibit you from traveling and trusting in the goodness and kindness of the majority of people in the world. But in the last 24 hours leading up to my departure to Indonesia, seven different events of attacks around the world transpired at once and I received far too many different emails from people telling me to reconsider traveling to Indonesia and for the first time in ten years, in 66 countries traveled,
I decided not to go.
Not indefinitely, though. There were issues I had to deal with in Zambia, so it was actually a good excuse to push back my flight for two days to focus on what needed to be dealt with in Zambia, and all the while, allow myself to consider whether or not I truly wanted to go to Indonesia.
I tried not to let emotions play into it. I was already feeling unsure about leaving Africa, and tried to think logically instead of emotionally (such as: do I really not want to go to Indonesia for fear of my safety, or is it just that I’d rather stay in cozy, safe, familiar southern Africa?). In the end, I decided to wing it, and I departed Livingstone for Johannesburg to catch my fight to Doha, then to Jakarta, then to a remote island where I was planning to climb a mountain in only a couple days’ time.
I came to terms with leaving Africa; processed it justly, wrote about it, and felt comfort in the conviction and knowledge that I’d be back next year for several months. Now was the time for Indonesia.
So during my little layover in Johannesburg I relaxed, had two beers with friends who met me at the airport, and walked confidently to the check-in counter to get on my flight to Doha, when I found out – long story short – that my tickets were void due to government issues, and I wasn't allowed to board the flight.
My initial amused laughter turned into embarrassing panic as the reality really hit – I’m not going to Indonesia, I have nowhere to go in Johannesburg, it’s almost midnight, I’m not going to climb the mountain I’d had my heart set on for months, I was finally ready to depart when this happens, what could it possibly mean – but behind all these thoughts there was a part of myself that felt, more than anything, relief.
That night, I put myself in an airport hotel and ate room service at 1AM while I tried to make a plan, feeling both frustrated and panicked but also comforted. What mattered was that I was still in South Africa, and I kept turning over every moment of the past three days in my hands, desperately searching for the reason of why this was happening, why now, and mostly, why never before.
All day today – specifically for the past 13 hours – I’ve been sitting on my bed while researching what to do. Road trip through Mozambique? Spend three weeks in Japan? Visit Australia then New Zealand? What about Cameroon, or even Algeria? With every new idea that seemed foolproof – yes! this is it! – I realized about 20 minutes knee-deep into google searches that I simply didn’t know enough to make any of these plans viable. I’d have to make a decision by tomorrow morning, and I didn’t know anything about Japan, or Cameroon, or New Zealand. I'd need weeks, at least, to have any idea of what to do, where to go, what made sense. What I kept coming back to, though, was what I did know.
I knew Indonesia.
So it made sense: go to Indonesia. or… go home. Right now, those options seem to make the most sense.
Yes, I could road trip around Mozambique and Lesotho and Swaziland, but I’ll be back in southern Africa next year, and I can do that then when I have time to do it correctly. Yes, I could go to Japan or Fiji or some random place I didn’t think about until a few hours ago, but why do I think that would be any safer than going to Indonesia? Would it be as fulfilling if I went blindly, as opposed to Indonesia, which I’ve read about and poured over for the last eight months? Every alternative I came up with seemed to point back to the simple truth: I’d decided to go to Indonesia, and the only real other option would be to go home to New York.
Depending on the minute, going to New York sounds like heaven. The thing is, for the past weeks that I’ve been in southern Africa, I’ve been completely enveloped in pure bliss: perfect weather, stunning landscapes, incredible people, and a place that feels more like home to me than anywhere else in the world. Even now, as I sit here typing this, it’s a comfortable 60 degrees, I’m freshly showered and my clothes are washed, I’m drinking a wonderful pinot that reminds me of the great wines I have in New York, the wifi is the fastest it’s been in months, and I’m comfortable, happy, and safe.
Going home to New York would be the extension of that: comfort, and perceived safety.
Going to Indonesia would be the beginning of five weeks of perceived chaos, heat, long bus rides, unknown people, unknown places, massive remote mountains I feel inclined to summit, travelers sickness from bad water and unclean foods, and mostly, a deep fear of the current state of the world.
But here’s the thing.
I could go to New York tomorrow instead of Indonesia, and I could be killed by a drunk driver or a moose on a country road.
People keep telling me to be “aware” and “afraid” of Indonesia and the radicalization and threats – they constantly question the audacity I have to be traveling there during such a time of turmoil around the world – but no one tells me to afraid of night clubs in Paris or of festivals in California.
What I’m trying to say to you all, is that fear is a very real and very credible thing. We live in a media-centric society where we're constantly being bombarded with headlines that terrify us. I have probably received close to 200 messages in the past year alone from Tumblr readers telling me that they’re afraid to travel because of this big, bad world, and while I’ve always told them that for every evil person there are a million kind ones – and I stick with this statement – I want you all to know that fear hits me sometimes, too. And as I’m at this crossroad, it’s hitting me now more than ever.
But the world is good, and kind, and it’s waiting for us.
If we choose to be bystanders, to live in the perceived safety of home, we will miss out on a glorious world that’s just waiting to be experienced. There are life-changing people we're on the trajectory to meet, phenomenally beautiful places we're waiting to see, and significant memories that are waiting to be made. But we have to be brave and meet the world halfway.
In all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve always known that the greatest moments, people, and places come to me when I’m out there, on the road, letting the world unfold before me. It’s a special gift to have the chance to see the world, and we cannot let fear hold us back.
And so, tomorrow morning, I’m going to Indonesia.
I hope you will all find your Indonesia’s. And I hope you will go there, too.