Archive | August, 2012

I Am Scared.

30 Aug

Me, New Zealand, December 2007. [I would not recommend.]

“You are so brave.  I could never do that.”  “Travel the world by yourself?  As a woman?  You must be fearless.”

Folks, that is baloney.  I am not fearless.  I am flipping terrified.  Let’s be clear about that from the start.

I’m afraid of so much.  Of what I know lies ahead.  Of what I can only imagine.  And of what I can’t even begin to imagine.

I thought it would make me feel better to list my fears.  Then they won’t seem so bad, right?  It didn’t work.  Here’s my short list:

  1. Fear of Failure (It’ll be too hard. I’ll come home early.)
  2. Loneliness (you know… the deep, gnawing, inexplicably powerful sort that gives way to quiet, muffled cries into a pillow at night)
  3. Dying (okay, this might be a larger life fear)
  4. Sickness (say, rabies)
  5. Getting Hurt in an Accident (statistically speaking, the biggest threat to my safety)
    • Plane Crash (long-standing fear)
    • Getting Eaten by a Crocodile (But seriously okay, this happens a lot in South/Southeast Asia and Australia.  This may be the single most terrifying thing I have ever read.  Don’t go in the water, even when guides and guidebooks say it’s okay.)
  6. Being the Victim of Crime (especially the violent kind)
  7. Suffering Serious Panic Attacks (or developing a mental illness of some other sort)
  8. Leaving My Family and Friends Behind (maybe they will miss me; what if something happens while I’m far away?; what if people forget about me?)
  9. Disillusionment
  10. Running Out of Money
  11. Everything Being Filthy and Dirty and Gross
  12. What Happens to My Life After the Big Trip?!  (How will the real world look after life as a bum?  Will I ever settle down?  What if this trip is but a way to run away from things I must inevitably confront?)

I know this will be hard.  I pray for courage, for strength, and for confidence.  And I commit to memory this little gem of a mantra from the science fiction classic Dune (which the protagonist successfully uses when being chased by building-sized sand worms and other such things):

“Fear is the mind-killer.  Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.  I will face my fear.  I will permit it to pass over me and through me.  And when it has gone past me I will turn to see fear’s path.  Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.  Only I will remain.”  -Frank Herbert, Dune

Couch Surfing Takes Some Serious Balls

28 Aug

This is Mohammad. I will be sleeping on his couch next Wednesday in Doha, Qatar.

I depart on the Big Trip next Tuesday (holy crapper!).  I will spend Tuesday night on a plane to London.  On Wednesday, I fly to Doha, Qatar, where I have a 16-hour overnight layover before flying to Kathmandu on Thursday.

On Wednesday night, I will be “couch surfing” on some dude named Mohammad’s couch.  I have never met Mohammad.  But he’s going to pick me up at the airport, take me around Doha, let me sleep on his couch, and then take me back to the airport in the morning.  Am I crazy?

CouchSurfing is a website that helps people build “meaningful connections across cultures.”  Here’s how it works.  Members create profiles on, where they post information and pictures of themselves (and, if they wish, their couch).  Members then message each other and offer up their couches to fellow members who are traveling.  The whole thing is free – no monetary exchange takes place between anyone.

I registered and posted my itinerary through Doha.  And I got dozens of invites.  They were all from men, and some of their offers of hospitality were a little over the top.  Seriously.  For instance, here’s what Mubi had to say about the benefits of staying on his couch:

“These are some benefits of staying in our home.

1. You can have 5 star comfort in our home with 100% privacy and cleanliness.
2. I dont drink but Bevi Drinks hence u can have good drinks in our home.
3. Bevi and me will take you out for the places you wanna visit.
4. If you wanna cook you can cook too as you are staying here for just few hours so we will arrange the food you prefer.
5. You can have a peaceful sleep as we dont have kids or anything which disturbs sleep.
6. I will drop you back in the airport no matter what time it or night.. ((:

I hope you will accept our invitation. If yes lets us know about your interests and hobbies so that we can plan and organize your few hours and make it more memorable one.”

I did get a number of super sketchy invites, which creeped me out.  Notably:

  • A dude from a “polygamy home with deep love”
  • “hi Lucie, how are you doing!i joined this site yesterday i found you here and you are such a nice looking pretty damsel.i decided to just say hi and wish to know you better!I lives in Qatar, i’m a Nigerian.i work as safety instructor(European AWJ)thanks one’s more baby.”
  • An electrical engineer who grew up in “Sexy :D” and is part of the group “Naked Sleepers.”
  • The guy who wrote to me in Arabic: دعوة من مضيف في مدينة
  • “ı am closer to the airport One kiss is enough safely leave you again in airport:)) ı am from turkey sorry my englısh not perfect take care”

Hmmmmm.  Ahhhhhhhh!  I freaked out when reading those.

This is Mohammad’s couch.

But I think staying with Mohammad is safe.  According to his profile:

  • He is 28 and has been a member of CS for almost 4 years.
  • He is a translator from Cairo, Egypt.
  • He has never traveled outside the Middle East but has a lot of experiences from the Arab Spring to share.
  • He is a “very hungry bookworm” who likes, among others, Tolkein and John Stewart Mill.

All this is sooper-frickin’-dooper, but what really matters is that he is a verified member (meaning his identity has been checked and his location verified), and he has 122 references on his profile, 60 of them from past surfers, and 0 of which claim to have been axe-murdered by him.  122 references is legit, right?!  I mean, he’s gotta be safer than bungling through Doha on my own to some sketchy hotel…

Am I nuts?  Say a special prayer for me next Wednesday night!  One thing is for sure: I am going to be majorly crapping myself when I’m standing at the curb of the Doha airport waiting for him to pick me up.

I Don’t Have to Go to Work… for a Year!

22 Aug

Friday was my last day of work.  Which means I won’t be going to work again for a year.  Or more (I’m just joking, Dad! My butt will be at work no later than September 1, 2013).

My boss gave me a much-appreciated and much-needed owl pendant to keep me safe, lucky, and wise on my journey.  She clearly thinks I’m dropped-on-the-head-as-a-baby crazy, though.  “Why do you need to go to Kathmandu to find yourself?”, she asks.  “I don’t need to go to Kathmandu to find myself.  I can find myself in a hammock in a villa in the south of France.”

My lucky owl pendant. I love it! Keep me safe, owl!

There was then some doubt expressed about how I could possibly survive said trip, given my penchant for “taking chances,” “making assumptions,” and “trusting people.”  “What makes you think you can do this, Lucie?”  [Subtext: Have you circumnavigated the globe before… in a canoe?  Did you grow up in a missionary family living in a bat dung hut?  Do you speak sixteen and a half languages?]

Uhhhh, I said:

I’m counting on first timer’s luck.  After all, amateurs built the ark; professionals built the Titanic.

Reactions were muted.  I guess that didn’t instill a bastion of confidence.

My Battle for the Vote

16 Aug

Earlier this week, I applied for an absentee ballot, noting that I would like to receive my ballot via e-mail (now possible for overseas voters!) because I will be backpacking around the world for a year.

The Elections Board e-mails me today:

Ms. Van Damme,

Our office must reject your application for an absentee ballot because, unfortunately, you must provide a mailing address in order to qualify for a ballot.  Even though you have requested it be e-mailed, there must be an address listed on the form, where you can receive mail or other important information. But it cannot be within the country.

I e-mail back:

Hello Ms. Wilmons,

The situation is that, for the entirety of the next year, I will be traveling overseas, through a number of countries, and thus I won’t have a permanent mailing address.  Please advise as to what I should do.  I would really like to be able to vote.

I get back:

I am sorry, but you are going to have to provide some type of physical address in order to vote.  If you come up with an address, please let me know.

Sincerely, Yetta

Pause.  Holy moly, I am about to be disenfranchised!  Co-worker Bert comes up with a good idea: I e-mail the lady I’ll be living with in Nepal (while I’m working for the NGO) to ask what her address is.  She writes back:

Addresses aren’t really a thing here.  Our address to the best of my knowledge is:
Above Hygiene Bakery
Pabitra Workshop, Kathmandu

Hmmph.  I write Yetta back:

Hi Yetta,

I have come up with an address.  It is in Nepal, where I will be in a few weeks:

Above Hygiene Bakery
Pabitra Workshop, Kathmandu

Thank you so much for your help!  Lucie

No word back yet.  Please cross your fingers for the Lucie suffrage movement.

Men Are Idiots.

15 Aug

Disclaimer: I don’t mean to offend anyone.

But I’m at the gym late last night.  The choices at the magazine rack: the Naval Academy alumni magazine and Men’s Health.  I pick up Men’s Health and hop on the bike.  I wonder, what’s in these men’s magazine anyways?

You have got to be kidding me.  This is 5 minutes with 1 magazine:





The Great Dream Killer

14 Aug

Me in Venice, Italy in 2008.

“Most dreams die because the dreamers can’t take the requisite and always terrifying step into the unknown. The best laid plans and sincerest intentions are no protection against the stomach-lurching sensation when you let go of the lifeline.”  –Cila Warncke

And so it is, fear of the unknown is the great dream killer, way above shortage of money and excess of responsibility.

My trip, as this blog unhelpfully reminds me, is but 22 days away.  I find myself staring into the deep chasm of the unknown.  And I’m scared.  I hope I have to drawn upon some “core of courage developed, pearl-wise, through the years.”

But, after all, I’m not working with that many years.  Sometimes you have to just go.  Confidence comes later.

Staying Healthy While Abroad, Part II

9 Aug

Great chapter.

The book review continues!  More about “How to Shit Around the World” by the “Shit Doctor.”

Let’s start with some good news.  The book says that infectious and communicable diseases only kill 4% of those travelers that die abroad (accidents are the most likely way to go).  Comforting (maybe?).

Next, the snippet in the book that really stops you in your tracks:

Who takes their three-month-old infant trekking in the Himalayas?  And what the heck does it matter that it was “along a forested ridge that crossed a road halfway”?  Any guess what happens next?!! I will tell you. Someone steals their diapers, and Harriet gets bronchitis.

While we’re on the subject of Nepal (where I will be in less than a month, ahhh!):

So many questions!  What do smart female trekkers in Nepal do? And what exactly does she mean by “unwanted nocturnal encounters”?

Onto some more gems I’ve mined from the pages.  The most common ailment of the traveler is, of course, none other than traveler’s diarrhea, which seems easy enough to handle:

Simple enough.

But then she implies that a book may be necessary as well:

What does reading have to do with shitting?

In any event, when you are dealing with the shits around the world, you will have no toilet paper.  Which you should feel good about:

And, for the record, I’m willing to bet that I am way above average when it comes to toilet paper usage.

On a slightly more serious note, though, here’s my basic strategy on trying to stay healthy on the Big Trip:

  • Smart preparation (vaccines, meds, insurance, awareness).
  • Keep in mind the trusty travelers’ maxim: “Peel it, boil it, cook it, or forget it.”
  • Eat freshly cooked, piping hot food.  This will mean a lot of eating local (pad thai in Thailand, folks, not lasagna) and, likely, not being afraid of the street vendor, however questionable his setup.
  • Never touch a salad.  Someone probably shit all over it in the field, and no one has bothered to wash it.  And even if they did wash it, it was probably with shit water.
  • The fact that water is bottled means jack.  When in doubt, sterilize.  Yay for my Steripen!
  • Be more hygienic than I am at home = in particular, lots of hand washing.

I’ll let you know how it works out!  Comment below if you’ve got a suggestion for me.