Transcriber: Shuyu LiuReviewer: Hélène Vernet Hello.
The title of my talk tonight is”In praise of vulnerable travel”.
Now that might sound like a strange idea, but it is this idea that changed my lifeand how I've come to see the world.
Now that is the face of somebodywith a boring office job, but it is also the face of somebody who has recently passedher motorcycle test.
And that is one hellof an explosive combination.
And the explosion in this case, involved me leaving that joband going to ride a little dirt bike from there, Alaska, 20, 000 miles to there, Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia, the southern most town in the worldat the tip of Argentina.
Now I have to say, I'd never doneanything like this in my life.
I hadn’t even ridden my bikeoutside of London really.
I'm not really a biker.
I'd hardly even traveloutside of Western Europe.
So I didn’t know anyonewho had done anything like this.
So when I started telling people, friends and family, I was hit with this deluge of horrorstories and warnings, all well-meaning, but all these awful things that were goingto happen to me on the road out there.
So my reaction to this was to panic and to fill my bags, my bikeand my pockets and everything with loads of stuffthat would keep me safe.
So I bought a rape alarm, those weird dried food packagesyou will never eat in a million years, and loads of medicines for allof the most obscure tropical diseases that I was obviouslygoing to get, and gadgets, all this stuff that was goingto make it all safe.
And then I got another rape alarm, just in case that one broke.
And then I though I'd better buytwo of everything just in case, except for these .
(Laughter}I took loads of those.
And so, I was ready to go, ready to take on the world now.
So I set off quaking, terrified, with my knife in my inside pocket, and dollar bills stuffed in my bra, ready for anything.
And it only got worsewhen I went to America and everyone was horrifiedthat I was going south to the border.
“Bandits, you'll get robbedand raped by bandits.
The place is teeming with banditsdown in Mexico.
” Gulp! So I approached the borderand crossed nervously, seeking out these bandits, ready with all my alarms, and weapons and everything.
there they are! They were only little after all.
So the next day, there was stillno bandits, or rapists, or robbers, and the next day! And what they turned outto be were people.
They seemed to be peoplelike you and me just going to work, taking their kids to school, going about their business, chatting and drinking and talking.
Hmm! So, as I continued South, two things happened.
One, I started talking to these people, and they were friendly and helpful.
And yeah, they were curious about me, but I was curious about them, and we kind of .
sniff, sniff!you know, checked each other out.
(Laughter) And the second thing that happened is that all of that stuffstarted getting on my nerves, all of that clutter weighing me down.
I realized I'd brought itwith me just in case.
So “Just in case” had beenmy modus operandi.
But it was like having an insurancesalesman traveling with me in my head: “What about this? What if this happens?What if that happens?” (Sigh) So I realized that this excess baggagewas my emotional baggage.
It was my fears traveling with me.
And when I got rid of it all, I was free, completely freefor the first time ever in my life.
Do you remember them? Well, this is what happened to them.
It turns out you only need three pairs.
Turn them inside out, they'll last for six days.
(Laughter) So as I continued on throughSouth America, went home, sorted the whole thingand sort of sunk it in – I started thinkingof the next trip obviously – I realized that the reasonfor me to travel is for the humanconnections that are made.
But to make these connectionsmeaningful and real, you have to lay yourself bare.
You can't insulate yourself and hide away, you have to be vulnerable.
But this very word, “vulnerable, vulnerability, ” has negative connotations and certainly is never used in a positive waywhen referring to a woman traveling alone.
I understand that.
It's difficult to just lay yourselfout there and just say, “Hey, I am here.
” That’s not my natural state either.
I like to organize things that makestuff happen, take care of stuff.
“This is the enemy.
I can do it!”that's how I felt.
I wanted to gather and do all this stuff.
But I had to get over these fearsand this kind of insulation In a way, you have to be like thatwhen you're alone travelling the world.
Especially on a motorbike, you do have to know how to fix a punctureor change clutch plates or whatever works on your bike, and do with whateverthe road throws at you, which in this casecould be some giant rocks.
But there's a much harder lessononce you get out on the road.
And that is to understand that you can’tcontrol everything all of the time.
That's the most difficult lesson of all, especially if you're the kind of person that likes to get on the stuffand take care of a business.
What you find is that when you do get outand do meet these other people, and they do see youout there in their country, when they see you alonetheir instinct isn't to say, “Oh, I'll go rip her off and rob her.
” The natural human instinct – I'm sureyou'll all agree and feel the same – is you see somebody and think, “I hope they are okay.
Do they need any help?” I know this because it's happenedto me all over the world.
So suddenly your vulnerabilitybecomes a positive asset, and you bring out the best in people.
So, after I got rid of allof that stuff on that first trip, I began to realize allof this clutter we think we need, all of this gear we thinkwe need for an adventure, actually gets in the wayof having the real war experience.
It's almost like a GPS for example.
It sounds like a brilliant piece of kit, you will never get lost again.
But it actually meansthat you'll never ask for directions, so you'll never strike upthat conversation.
You'll never get invited backto somebody's house because of that conversation, or to meet a family or to a wild party, and that is the essence of the adventure.
So there's this huge industry in fear, and fear will sell you all of theseinsurance policies, gadgets and equipment that are essentially barriersto those human connections that are so important.
Something like a tracking devicewhich you can have now, wherever you go in the world, into some remote desert or something, again, it makes you feel safe but, it means you never fully engage with your experience, your surroundingsand your environment because you know someone backhome is tracking you or can find you, and if something goes wrong, they can come and get you.
So you have a completely differentmind set about your adventure.
Even just the laptop or your smartphone cuts you off from youimmediate surrounding too – and I speak as someone who iscompletely addicted to her phone and knows the joyof finding that WiFi signal.
So it's hard for me, I have difficulty letting go.
But when you do let goof all of these gadgets, you are more vulnerableand suddenly you find you've to rely on these other peoplein these strange countries when nothing works rightand they don't speak your language.
But of course, that's the beauty of it.
Nowhere is this more true for methan when I went to Iran.
Now I went to Iran becauseit sounded like a scary thing to do.
I don't mean I'm really bravebecause I'm not.
I was scared, but when I examinedmy fear and I analyzed it, I realized it wasn't really fear.
It was just ignorance by another namebecause we all know about Iran, right? Crazy, raging Islamistssetting fire to our embassies, burning our flags – we've seen iton the tellie so it must be true.
Those crazy terrorists, they got nuclear weapons, they hate the West .
so I thoughtwhat hell are they going to make of me, some British bird from Londonturning up on a motorbike, red haired with three pairs of knickersand fond of gin and tonic? How is that going to go downin the Islamic Republic of Iran? So as usual, I approachedthe border quaking in my boots, and sure enough I came face to facewith the terrifying Iranians.
There we are.
Now I love this picture.
It's probably my favoritepicture of the whole trip.
Just linger on those smilesbecause they are so genuine.
I feel the mustacheis probably genuine too! This sums up my wholeexperience in Iran.
I've never known in any country such a rush like tidal a wave of warmth, hospitality and opennessand just the human connection, as I did with the Iranian people.
I couldn't go a mile without somebodystopping to give me tea, feed me.
I put on five pounds in a month.
It was just incredible! There was one point I was a bit scared when a trunk drivertried to run me off the road.
He jumped out of his cap, came running towards me.
I thought here is the mischiefthey've told me about, but he just wanted to give mea bag of pomegranates! So Iran for me sums up exactly what theconcept of vulnerable travel is all about.
I did feel vulnerable in that countryfor all the obvious reasons, but there was really no need.
But I don't think I wouldhave been able to do that trip without my first experiencethrough Africa were I really learnedthe power of vulnerable travel.
Now I went to Africabecause for me, it represented the most exciting possible adventurethat you could have on a motorcycle.
I wanted to go totally Low-Fi, so no electronic gadgets.
I didn't have any laptopor phone or anything, still, it was hardto relinquish that control.
I was still writing lists and organizing things I had this big padlock and I waskind of paranoid and nervous about it all.
It wasn't until I got to Angola – which is right down here, so actually quite away, by which time I'd already ridden acrossthe Sahara desert and through the Congo, being covered with mud for weekson end and going through some of the most exhilarating, scaryand exciting experiences of my life – it wasn't until I reached Angola that I gave up on it all.
I don't mean I gave up and went homeand thought “I sort this, I've enough.
” I mean I gave up trying to be in control.
I gave up trying to be safe and secure, and make everything happenjust how I wanted it.
I gave up trying to washand wear clean underwear.
And it was brilliant! I was all smelly and dirty and I loved itand I was totally liberated.
And with that liberationcame an opening up of the heart.
And it was then in Angola, this country wrecked by a long civil war -they just came out of the war – that I found myself surroundedby these wonderful warm kind people everywhere I went.
Again, it was when I wasthe most vulnerable that the most awardingexperiences occurred.
And you can't really get morevulnerable than being on your own, in a raging storm in the middleof Angola, completely lost, and then realize you've actuallystrayed into a minefield, which is exactly what happened to me.
I got to a track junctionand wasn't sure which way to go.
This crazy storm is raging, thunder, lightnings and rain pouring everywhere.
So I followed this routethat looked promising into the woods.
It's a kind of broken-up road, but allroads in Angola are pretty broken-up.
It had these concrete posts along itlooking official like if it was a route.
So I went down thereand the weirdest thing happened.
After about half a mile, I had this premonition.
Something really bigger than me said, “Lois, you've taken the wrong route” I felt it really, really powerfully.
So I decided to do a u-turn, go back, and think again and getthe map out and the compass.
And as I swung around these trees, did this big loop to turn round, my eyes caughtone of these concrete posts.
Even though the rain and storm, I could see some faded writing on it.
So I peered a bit closer, and to my horror, I saw the writing was accompaniedby a skull and crossbones.
Now, that's never a good sign! So my heart beating a little bit faster, I pointed my headlight onto the post and this was the sight that greeted me.
If you can't read it from where you are, it says “Danger! Mines.
” I had this horrible realizationthese posts weren't saying “Hey, come this way this is the road, ” they were saying “Don't comethis way, this is a minefield, ” by which point, it was too late.
I was already in the middle of it.
So, I sat there on my bike, frozen in terror, crazy thunder above meand flashing lightening.
The rain'd washed away my tracks.
And my first thought was, “Nobody in the whole worldknows I am here.
Nobody knows where I am, and there will be nobody comingdown here for a very, very long time.
And then I had to weigh upmy choices, so I felt, well, either I just sit hereon my bike, getting wet, and I eat the last of myemergency chocolate biscuit, and then eventually I just .
die, and the other choiceis I just make a run free and hope that I don't getmy legs blown off.
So really, I didn't have a choice at all.
if I wanted to liveI just had one thing to do.
Now I don't remembermuch of that ride back.
I think it involves me screamingwith my eyes closed, going really fast.
By the time I got back to the junction, I was a quivering wreckof hysteria and adrenaline.
I was just all over the place.
It was then I heardthis “opp-pp” of an engine.
I turned and sure enough, there's a little motorbike, a guy sitting on it, looking at me, and I was very surprised.
I hadn't see a singlehuman being or vehicle all day.
It was a very remote plateau in Angola.
I was so happy to see him, I threw myself upon him factly, “Help me, help me, I'm lost!And I went to a minefield, ahh!” And he was just sitting like this, all cool, immaculately dressed.
I looked like a tramp, completely covered in mud.
He's wearing shining white shoes and fake Gucci sunglasseseven though it's nearly dark.
And he's looking at me, slightly amused, grinning, trying not to laugh, and I am like screaming.
And he said “Where are you from?”and I said “England, London, England!” He just raised his eyebrows and went, “Oh, yeah! Ride a tuk-tuk in Cape Town!” (Laughing) We lookedat each other and he laughed, and I just felt that big because what he was sayingin his sweet way really was, “You come here for fun, for an adventure, but this is our normal life.
This is my daily commuteto and from work.
” Somehow this kid, you know, probably 19 or 20, who had known nothingbut a war zone his entire life, managed to findsome humor in this situation, but also some empathy for me in my ridiculousself-inflicted predicament.
He patted me on the shoulder and said, “Come on, I'll show you the way.
” He plunged into this river, over all these rocks, and I was going along, trying to keep up with him.
Eventually, he deposited meon safe dry ground.
The storm had left, there was thisincredible bright pink sunset ahead of us.
He pointed me in the rightdirection with a little wave, and litterally rode off into the sunset.
That was the moment that I dropped the biggest, heaviest impediment of all: my ego.
And that was the bestthing I ever got rid of because when you start outdoing these trips, you're young thinking, “This is cool!I ride a motorbike around the world, ” and you take pictures of yourself posing with your bike, your leather jacket and sunglasses on, and you're like “gnarly and tough places” and you think, “Yeah, this is it.
This is all about me.
” But after that incidentwith that guy in Angola, I realized this was notabout me taking on the world.
It was about me beingin the world, our world.
So I'll always be gratefulto my cool Angolan dude.
I didn't even know his name.
And I'll be grateful to my Iraniantruck driver and his pomegranates, and so many other people who had showed me there is really no need to be fearful out there.
There's no need to be fearfulbecause we are different to each other.
And this is applicablewith you riding a motorbike in the Congo or in Iran or whatever, or just walking down your own street.
This isn't about world travel really, it isn't about motorbikes.
Yes, we talk different, look different, probably have completelydifferent opinions on all sorts of things, but it doesn't really matter.
If there is one thing, a conclusion I have reached, meeting all these different peoplein these different cultures, it's that we basicallyhave the same needs in life, the same wants, the same desires.
We need food and shelter.
We need love, of course.
And of course, we all desirethat source of true happiness, free WiFi.
(Laughter) So I hope you'll see and you'll agree that being vulnerable creates connections and those connections however smallcan make a huge difference.
So suddenly being vulnerableisn't a weakness, it is this incredible powerful force.