In a previous post about the fear of getting mugged, I made the argument for common sense when traveling. By using your common sense you can avoid most problems and generally keep your trip stress free. It keeps you safe and secure.
But…yes, there’s a but.
Safety and security don’t always add up to a pleasant or even authentic experience. If you go to a country and all you do is visit the popular tourist areas, can you really say you’ve experienced that country?
The only way to truly see a place is to step out of your comfort zone and explore. This often means leaving common sense at the door and ignoring the voices of thousands of other travelers. The result is you will find things you never would have dreamt existed.
Numerous websites will lay down rules, which you should follow for traveling. Well, I’m telling those rules to go fuck themselves. Often these rules twist your mind and can make you cynical and xenophobic.
One rule I often read is that you should never talk to anybody on the street. If you meet somebody on the street and they offer to help you, then the obvious assumption is that the person wants something from you, usually money.
This rule automatically cuts a large portion of your travels away from you. You can never trust a local, so you never talk to the locals. Yet, surely they’re one of the main reasons you’re visiting a place? A culture is more than just buildings and food, it’s people too. And I’ll always believe that people are generally nice.
While my friend and I were visiting Morocco, we came into Fez late in the evening. It was dark out and we were completely unprepared. We’d done no research. We didn’t have a travel guide and had no information about the city. We were simply hoping we’d wander by a hostel or hotel.
We got off our bus and followed some other tourists to a nearby hostel. Fully booked. Shit. The manager told us that most places would be fully booked because it was Easter. Double shit. We were so unprepared that we didn’t even realise it was Easter!
As we stood outside the hostel a young Moroccan man appeared from the shadows,
I know where you can stay! My friend, he has place! Come! Come!
At this point in time, my friend and I were inexperienced travelers. Nowadays if somebody told me they had a place to stay, I would tell them to get lost. I’d assume they’re trying to lead me somewhere to get a commission.
We weren’t so jaded back then though, we sighed with relief. We needed a place to stay and this guy could lead us there! How serendipitous.
So we followed the young man into the old city of Fez, a labyrinthine maze of dark scary alleys. I was quickly starting to think we’d made a mistake. I looked closer at the young man, his clothes were dirty, a scar ran down his face. Clearly a mugger. I was almost sure we were falling into a trap.
We stopped in front of an old wooden door, which he hammered on. This was it. The door would open, we’d get dragged inside and probably beaten. People in England would be reading about our deaths in next week’s news.
However, when the door opened and we stepped inside, we were met with the most amazing Moroccan Riyadh. The floor and walls were intricately tiled, dusty rugs ran along our feet.
We were shown a room with a newly tiled en suite bathroom, and the young man introduced his friend. The friend’s parents owned the Riyadh, and he was making money while they were away by allowing tourists to stay there. It was cheaper than the hostel, so we immediately agreed to stay. That night though, I had a horrible paranoid feeling. There must be a catch, surely! I was convinced I would wake up in a bathtub of ice without my kidneys.
The next morning however, I woke up with all my body parts still intact. Strange. Our scarred Moroccan friend returned – introducing himself as Malik. He offered to give us a tour of Fez for a small fee. Was he a certified guide? Hell no. But we decided he’d done all right by us the day before, so why not?
Malik led us through the old city of Fez, guiding us down alley after alley in a seemingly random pattern. Every few minutes he would stop and take us through a nondescript doorway. Behind these doorways were the people working within the city. Bakers creating bread, workers tending furnaces, tanners making leather. We wandered along alleys by school doorways, the sound of children’s singing echoing out.
Half of the tour was unofficial, probably illegal even. We headed into a large palace of some sort that was closed for renovation and we explored it–the only tourists there.
If we had followed common sense, we would have never done any of it. We would have been paying four times the price for a hotel and just as much for an official tour guide. Instead we were seeing the places nobody else would see. We were having an authentic experience.
Nowadays, after traveling more, I find myself sticking closely to safety. For every Malik out there, there are a handful of others trying to use you for your money, and usually I can’t be bothered to try and find a person that I can trust. I stick to the easy things and I am comfortable.
But I also miss out. I lose some of the experience. So from time to time you just have to say, “Fuck, common sense!” The results will leave you pleasantly surprised.
Have you ever ignored common sense? Did everything turn out okay in the end?