A Very Long Instagram Caption Mostly About Travel Inspired by a Travel SNAFU

Dave Heal
Dave Heal
Feb 27, 2018 · 5 min read

So I was gonna post this picture on Instagram, captioned by a dumb riff on the Most Interesting Man in the World formula. Something like “I don’t always drive the length of a country where I can’t speak or read the language in a rickety rental car, but when I do I like to do so in Jordan with the check engine light on and 100 yards of visibility.” And I’d have hoped all my friends laughed at the terrible photo and stupid caption and that my dad was momentarily horrified about the situation before he hopefully laughed too.

And then, #loltravel, a funny thing happened on the way to the Gram. Shortly after I took the photo my car broke down in the middle of nowhere on a 4-hour winding drive through sparsely populated towns on my way from the deserts of southern Jordan to the north end of the Dead Sea.

And it turned out fine! Because most things like this turn out fine! And this got me thinking about why we travel and why we *should* travel, especially to places that are harder to travel to & in, and also why it’s very easy not to take on that kind of travel.

So, today my Jordanian rental car broke down while carrying me, my dirty undies, a hitchhiker (sorry Dad), and his young son. They spoke little English & I speak no Arabic. And yet they not only offered to stay & try to help even though they (seemingly) had urgent-ish business near Amman and we were still hours away, but they *were* able to actually help. Easily!

They got me to a mechanic who at least figured out the one thing that was most acutely wrong with my car — I still have no idea what it was — and 2 hours later we were on our way again, catastrophic engine problem solved but check engine light still ablaze.

This scenario, which had admittedly been in the back of my mind since picking up the car at the airport with a tablespoon of gas remaining and the check engine light already on, made me realize that it’s often merely the thought of one of these mildly uncomfortable to borderline intractable travel SNAFUs that prevents us from going on these trips at all.

Something like the idea that you might get off a 10-hour flight and get on the wrong bus because you don’t speak the language and your brain isn’t working. Or you might fall ill and not be able to sort out how to get the proper help. Or you’ve watched enough NatGeo to know that even friendly, English-speaking Australia has all sorts of fucked up mystery animals waiting to poison you and drag you back to their family to eat you and turn your remains into tiny furniture.

Or maybe you merely end up with a dinner that is a stew full of organ meats because the word for “stew full of organ meats” in some foreign tongue is unknowably similar to our word “pizza.”

Yeah, sometimes it’s very easy to talk yourself into going to Indianapolis instead.

I believe it’s a fact that most people are fundamentally good. And if you’ve traveled at all you’ve had the experience of having a meaningful conversation through a language barrier, sometimes only using the expressive power of your face & body and proper nouns like the names of famous soccer players or idiot presidents.

So it should not surprise us — and yet it does, often nearly to the point of paralysis— that when you have an emergency in a foreign country you can usually find someone to help you, even if it requires charades, and you are, like I am, so hopeless at charades that you have been pre-denied for entry into all of the world’s mime colleges.

Think about how easy it would be for one of us to get help for someone in similar circumstances in our home country. You call a friend or look up a mechanic nearby, wave someone else down on the road, and you’ve saved someone. You’d barely expect the effort to be noticed, and yet the idea that you might expect the same in another country seems somehow beyond imagining.

Easy thought experiments like this & experiences like mine today should convince us to do *more* adventurous travel. The risks are quite low that anything goes wrong at all, let alone irreparably wrong. But worries are rarely about statistics and actual risk, are they.

And yes, traveling somewhere where “irreparably wrong” even feels like a remote possibility might require you to believe there’s at least a commensurate payoff. Even though routine activities like ordering dinner or navigating public transport might be strange or hard elsewhere, that newness has to be part of the adventure or at least offset by the pleasures on the other side of the anxious uncertainty.

And part of that payoff, fairly uncontroversially to me, is that travel meaningfully expands your world to interesting (& often great) new food & art & people and—maybe more importantly — it exposes you over and over to what can be a fairly banal truism, but one that becomes powerful the more you internalize it: we are all actually the same much more than we are different.

Setting aside the geopolitical implications of this lesson, recognizing the fundamental goodness and humanity in others affects how we live every day, who we seek out as friends, and who we advocate for and how forcefully we react when others try to deny their humanity and emphasize their Otherness.

Travel exposes you to the humanity of others in both large and small ways, but the more uncomfortable you make yourself, whatever your version of interpersonal discomfort is, the closer you come to understanding — really understanding — that people will mostly look out for each other face-to-face. And to the extent people and politicians forget or ignore that lesson, it becomes clearer & clearer to us that they are acting in bad faith or on bad information.

This was not meant to be some elaborate but oblique allegory about how Donald Trump is a provincial dipshit. Really the point I wanted to hammer home was to please go on that trip to the place that seems so Other it makes you nervous. Do your homework and don’t be a moron of course, but go. Buy the ticket, take the ride, as a guy I used to idolize once said. You won’t regret it and you *will* be better for it than if you *only* went to Indianapolis again.

Dave Heal

Written by

Dave Heal

Denver/Boulder. Most recently: BD @bitly. Previously: @fgpress, @gnip, @lijit, @SiliconFlatiron. Blog-type substance at http://www.daveheal.com.