One may find faults aplenty in my grand schemes when it comes down to taking trips – the most conspicuous being my disorganisation and lack of foresight, meaning I often leave my front door with barely any schemes at all.
Yet for whatever reasons, positive or negative attributes, ultimate I don’t plan – not much ahead, at least – because of my faith in spontaneity and serendipity.
Still, things can go wrong. Things do go wrong.
In hindsight I may belittle the danger level and difficulty of my hitchhiking trip across Canada – only because nothing life-threatening, or even so much as skin-grazing, had happened to me at all. But that didn’t mean, before and during the long journey, potential risks didn’t linger at the corner of my eye, and creeping up my body ready to cause some major damage.
I could’ve been zapped by lightning amidst a harrowing thunderstorm in Winnipeg.
My ride could’ve hit a moose on the dark Ontario highway, or be attacked by a grizzly whilst I sleep inside it in the wilderness.
I could’ve been hacked to pieces by an ill-intentioned driver, who deceived me with faux-hospitality and lured me to my doom.
They didn’t happen – but it didn’t mean it couldn’t have.
The question, if I must ask myself it, wasn’t how to avoid these risks at all cost; rather, between passionately pursuing activities such as hitchhiking – undoubtedly an epitome of spontaneous travel – and equally-as-zealously staying alive, how can I strike a balance between the two?
That time at the boarding gate
I counted: my boarding call had been announced at least three times – yet I was confined to a corner of the airport pub, mobile phone glowing hot against my ear lobe, as I desperately attempted to purchase travel insurance.
Partly by the twisted designs of fate – and more still the insecure nature of the journey I was about to embark on – none of the companies I contacted would cover hitchhiking as an insured activity.
Pacing twice the speed of the current, I zigzagged between sauntering voyagers through never-ending passages and carousels – all whilst frantically finalising an insurance deal on the phone, settling one that merely covered ‘extreme activities’. I gingerly whispered my bank details in the shortening queue leading up to the boarding gate, which raced against the cumbersome processing of payment and registration the insurance agent teased my anxiety with.
Then, as I submitted my ticket for inspection, I ended the call with a travel insurance – just as I stepped onto the plane and embarked on the journey.
Element of risk
There were more pressing concerns – as far as I was concerned, anyway – during the planning and preparation phase of the most danger-laden journey of my life than acquiring insurance. Besides, the sheer utterance of my possession of travel insurance wouldn’t stop a striking lightning bolt; neither would rolled-up papers of the policy stave off the incoming claws of an ambushing bear.
A bear spray might.
In mountaineering terms, there are subjective and objective hazards. Whilst I could minimise subjective risks – be better equipped, develop sharper instincts, appropriate charisma and harmony, bring a bear spray – hitchhiking, nonetheless, is an activity more submerged in the murky unpredictability. Regardless of my presence, tragedies beyond my control and unhindered by elaborate preparation could happen.
Whilst it may not deflect the path of impending misfortunes, at least travel insurance provides some immunity against effects of the aftermath. After all, even if the last-pitch insurance wasn’t of use during the Grand Canadian Hitchhike, it did come in handy when I had fallen ill and ended up in hospital in Innsbruck, and again in Muscat, since I bought a year’s worth of cover.
Still, a prevention mechanism may it be, ultimately it’ll be one’s instincts and knowledge that’ll come handy in the face of danger. Insurance, to me, is a baseless line of defence and reinforcement of confidence: it doesn’t kick in until things have happened, and it only gives confidence that, after a great deal of suffering has happened, a meagre proportion of your interests is looked after.
What spontaneous travel can empower you with, however, are skills and instincts. Trusting in yourself, your hard-learned lessons, flexibility and quick-thought manoeuvres garnered through mistakes and glances at danger will give you the chances of survival and, more importantly, the confidence you need venturing out of your comfort zone.
Maybe I shouldn’t have left the purchase till the last minute. But then, after all, the experience has taught me how to run after a departing plane whilst timely negotiating a purchase on the phone.