Travel and Life
If you dare me to do something, I’ll do it, whatever it involves. I might not like it but I’ll show zero emotion whatsoever, pretend that nothing could possibly bother me at all and I’ll face the challenge at hand.

If you told me I won a two month trip to the South Pacific, to bounce around from island to island, all expenses paid, I’d probably nod once and say, “Alright.”

If you told me that my leg is broken and as a result I can’t travel for a year or more, my reaction would also most likely be, “Alright.”

Many people tell me that I’m a mystery, that they have no idea what I’m thinking at any time, what I’m feeling or what’s going on in my head. They tell me that I don’t display my emotions and that I react the same – or don’t react at all – to any kind of information or situation.

They also tell me that while this behavior is all somewhat intriguing, it’s also somewhat annoying.

Thank You, Travel

I think travel has done this to me. I’m quite sure of it actually.

But it’s not exactly what you might think.

Some might immediately conclude that after so many years of travel and life experiences, of memorable sights and activities, of meeting people and learning about the world, travel would just get boring to the point where I no longer react because I literally don’t have any reaction.

Perhaps I’ve ‘seen it all before’ and suffer from travel monotony, so nothing excites me any more.

However, I don’t think that’s the case.

I’m more inclined to think that this constant equanimity is a survival instinct of sorts.

It is something travel has taught me to do – without me really knowing it – in order for me to wander the world in a way that I think is best in terms of having the kind of travel experiences I want to have and also in terms of safety.

When I travel, I generally prefer to ‘fit in’ than ‘stand out’ as I really enjoy observing and interacting with the local culture in a subtle, non-fabricated manner. For example, walking around a random neighborhood, talking with a few local people, going into a small cafe, just being present in some ordinary part of town in order to get a glimpse of how life might really be, is something I try to do often.

Being somewhere without standing out too much, in my opinion, yields some of the most interesting, rewarding and educational travel experiences possible.

And so, as I’ve traveled over the years, I figured out the best way for me to try to fit in when in a destination where I clearly don’t fit in was to go around as unnoticed as possible.

How does a foreigner in a foreign land go unnoticed?

I keep my reactions even, always appear as if I know what I’m doing, always give the impression that I’m confident and that I’m supposed to be exactly where I happen to be at all times. I show no confusion. I show no fear. I pay attention to what’s happening around me, always.

This way, I’m not immediately labeled as an outsider that simply wants to have general tourist experiences, something that can create a barrier between travelers and locals, limiting the types of interactions that can be had as a result. Instead, always maintaining an outwardly confident, unemotional appearance in any setting breaks down some of those barriers, allowing a traveler and local to interact as mere human beings, not as a tourist looking for photo opportunities or a ‘cool’ experience and a local who simply needs/wants something from the tourist.

Old City in Sanaa, Yemen

As a bonus, when it comes to safety while traveling, keeping my reactions equanimous and giving the impression that I know what I’m doing at all times, makes me less of a target, less likely to be taken advantage of. You don’t attempt a scam on or try to rip off someone who looks like they know what’s going on around them.

In fact, in 15 years of travel, I’ve only had my wallet pick-pocketed once (my fault though) and have rarely fallen victim to any major scam or been ripped off beyond the usual ‘foreigner paying a little more than locals’ type of rip off. I could probably list the number of times I’ve been truly taken advantage of as a tourist on one foot, even if I count my two webbed toes as just one toe.

Life Without Reactions

All of this ‘training’ has impacted my life in general as well.

By not outwardly reacting to situations that occur, I don’t give anything away. I can blend into any setting and I can fade out of any setting quite easily too. Nobody can figure me out, nobody can gain an upper hand (so I think, of course) if they don’t know what I’m thinking or feeling.

The additional benefits, in travel and life as a whole, are interesting. I’m able to remain calm at all times, to see things clearly even in the middle of a chaotic and difficult situation and to overcome obstacles simply because I won’t allow myself to appear as if I can’t do something.

I also tend to believe that everything is possible and I venture out into the world with an outward confidence that helps me navigate even the trickiest and most uncomfortable of situations. Again, by not letting myself appear unconfident and incapable, I have no choice but to be confident and capable.

Driving a tractor in India

Downsides also exist of course. I won’t pretend they don’t. This ‘wall’ I put up ensures that few people can get too close to me. That’s something I’m well aware of. Also, my excitement, sadness, disappointment, happiness and on and on are often all internalized, only for me to know about, giving the appearance that I don’t actually experience excitement, sadness, disappointment, happiness or anything else, at least to those who don’t know me well.

Hence the reason why so many people tell me I’m a mystery, which is usually accompanied by a semi-frustrated shaking of the head and a sigh, as if to say, “Well, I have no time for this.

The reality though, is that I most definitely do react to everything. I do find myself in awe as I wander the planet, staring out at the Himalayan Mountains or finding myself in the middle of a fascinating cultural experience. I do find myself dealing with frustration and thrill and fear and attachment and all of that…it’s just happening in a place that nobody else can see most of the time.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying all of this is healthy. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. I just find it to be an interesting result of my life of travel and how my brain has handled and adjusted to the situations I’ve faced over the years. It has undoubtedly brought me benefits and helped me tremendously to experience and learn from this world in a way that I want to experience and learn from it. But it’s also a bit odd, I understand that.

And in the end, I’m neither happy nor unhappy about it, or so I outwardly say.

How do you handle your emotions when traveling and in life? Do you try to display an outward confidence in certain situations to help you through? I’d really be interested in hearing your thoughts.