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February 3, 2013 / A Mindful Traveler

Travel and Trust

I had a lovely chat at a Spanish conversation group yesterday with a fellow wanderer who’d recently returned from a ten month tri-continental trip. Although we’ve visited a number of the same countries on our travels, I was most interested in her experiences in Nepal, which I have not yet visited. Nepal is home to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, which is the primary reason for my interest.  The country also includes the Annapurna Section of the Himalayas through which my friend arranged a 10 day trek.

After my friend paid for the trek, but before it had begun, the travel agency shortened the agreed itinerary to something she found unacceptable. She requested that the agency put her on a trek with the agreed itinerary or refund the money she paid. I have been in the same position on a couple of occasions (including once in the United States) and made precisely the same request, each time successfully. That being said, these situations were different as they did not involve particularly significant sums of money for either the merchant or me.

By contrast, in my friend’s case, the amount of money involved was substantial by the standards of the developed world and just more than three months’ wages for a skilled Nepali worker. The agency refused to honor the agreement or to refund my friend’s payment. She ended up taking a similar trek with another company, but found herself significantly out of pocket. In telling me the story, she was remarkably sanguine and even downplayed the cost. Instead, what bothered her was that the experience changed her perception of Nepal.

My friend’s reaction reminded me of Friedrich Nietzsche’s statement that he wasn’t upset that someone had lied to him, but rather that he could no longer believe that person. I feel this is even truer of travel than of  life in general, because it involves so many actions that require trusting people, companies, and places you’re unfamiliar with. Furthermore, it requires trusting people whose language you may not share who are located in countries where different standards for safety and truth in marketing may apply than what you are used to. Internet reviews do make people more accountable for their behavior and I’ve found that these, rather than guidebooks, tend to be the best source for reviews of accommodation.

For my first decade of budget travel, I was always concerned about what might go wrong, until one day a fellow passenger on a bus in Turkey asked me bluntly, “Why do you have any reason to believe things won’t work out?” It was the shock to the system I needed and I’ve stopped worrying this way. The worst thing that’s happened to me since is a single hostel reservation in Chile not being honored. (Upon rechecking my review, I’m pleased to see they apologized a year later, albeit with a somewhat fabricated version of the steps they took to assist me.)

With the humor afforded by hindsight, I’ll just tell you that the owner of the hostel I was moved to had the attitude of Walter Sobchak (from “The Big Lebowski”) expressed through a voice that sounded curiously like that of his erstwhile friend, “The Dude.” Fortunately, even this couldn’t get in the way of the fact that Arica is a lovely city with generally kind inhabitants, home to a nice beach and the world’s oldest mummies.

Thank you very much for reading this far. I hope you haven’t ever had your trust betrayed while traveling (or otherwise) but if anything rings true for you in what I’ve written, I welcome your comments.

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