Learning to trust complete strangers is an important part of the travel experience, especially if you travel alone. A lot of new travellers are highly paranoid about the people around them, and go to great lengths to be self-sufficient and constantly keep an eye on their property.
I’ve definitely always erred on the side of complacency when it comes to strangers and trust. I think that this is becoming a bigger trend in travel, with more people using services that are inherently based in trust, such as Couchsurfing and ride sharing.
If you pay attention to the popular media, it’s easy to become paranoid and distrustful of strangers around you. Locals approaching you in the street are just trying to scam or rob you, you need to hide valuables on your body in case someone tries to pickpocket you, and you should securely lock away all valuables in hostels.
There are opportunistic thieves everywhere in the world, but the majority of the time, people aren’t out to get you. By using common sense, you can generally gauge whether someone is worthy of trust or not. I almost always leave my electronics all over my dorm bed and have only ever had a micro-fibre towel stolen from a communal bathroom.
Communal living is a big part of the modern travel experience
When you hear the word backpacking, the image of a crowded dorm room is most likely what springs to mind. Eight or ten people squeezed into bunk beds in a tiny room, with various belongings strewn all over the floor. These days, dorms often have a lot more security built into them, with lockers and key-card access becoming the norm.
Trust is a huge part of the dorm experience. Even if you religiously lock away all your belongings and don’t loan anything to anyone, you are still trusting total strangers to not attack you in your sleep. Personally I throw caution to the winds a little and regularly leave my electronics out charging in the room, or my backpack on the floor. I like to believe the best in people, and am yet to have anything of real value stolen from me.
Couchsurfing is a step further in terms of communal living and trust. Staying in a stranger’s home means that you are trusting them completely with your safety, well-being, and belongings. Homes don’t have the same security features as dorm rooms, and are often in suburban areas away from other travellers. However, if you can open up yourself to trusting other people, you can have a really rewarding experience.
The time that I spent with my Couchsurfing hosts in Argentina is one of my most treasured memories from South America. I had spoken sporadically to the couple through Couchsurfing and then Facebook for a couple of months before visiting them, but to be honest I hardly knew anything about them. There was a language barrier with my basic Spanish and their basic English, and so we barely knew each other. However, they were trusting enough to let me into their homes and their lives, and I chose to trust that they had my best intentions at heart. We had a great week together, improved our Spanglish skills, and I never felt anything but welcomed and cared for.
If you can suspend your fear of the unknown and learn to trust strangers, communal living is a beautiful part of the travel experience. It allows for enhanced cultural exchange, as well as a lesson in patience, sharing, and consideration for others.
Ride sharing is a lesson in trust
Sharing rides with strangers is one of the most exhilarating parts of travel, because there is an element of the unknown and possibly danger. The most traditional version of this is hitch-hiking, which has become a more popular way to travel, including in the developing world.
I passively hitch-hiked in rural Colombia, when a local pulled over and offered me a ride into the city. It was a one hour walk, and so I was more than happy to jump in the back of the Jeep. I was happy to walk the distance, but more than happy to catch a free ride. I would love to hitch-hike more extensively in the future and have the opportunity to chat to the driver.
I think that hitch-hiking has a reputation of danger, and something considered inadvisable for young female travellers. However, this blogger regularly hitch hikes and is on her way across South America. I would love to be able to do the same thing one day, and hopefully improve my Spanish along the way.
Shared taxis are also a regular fixture in many countries, including Colombia. They are cheaper than regular taxis because you are crammed in the back with several other people, and the driver drops everyone off at their stops. I got into one of these by accident, and had no idea how it worked, but luckily I was dropped off at the bus station as required.
Ride sharing in general is a lesson in trust because you are inhabiting the same space as strangers, and they have the power to take you anywhere that they want. However, it can be highly rewarding and allows an opportunity for greater cultural exchange.
Trusting strangers allows a better travel experience.
If you stay paranoid of the world around you, you are shutting your mind off to new ways of life, thinking, and cultural practices. I would never recommend blindly trusting every stranger that you meet, and you should always listen to your gut feeling. However, if you open your mind to the idea that most people aren’t out to get you, then you can get a lot more out of your travel experience, and rest a little easier.
Have you ever Couchsurfed or hitch-hiked? What was your experience with having to trust complete strangers?