Before I left the US, people frequently asked me if there was anything about my trip that scared me. The idea of leaving one's entire life behind – job, family, friends, apartment, etc. - to travel across the world is terrifying enough for most people, but they wanted to know what concerned me specifically since these things didn't seem to bother me. I never had a particularly good answer for them, but there was one strange fear that always came to mind whenever I was posed the question: I was terrified of being abjectly lost in a foreign train station.
Contracting malaria, getting robbed, or being sold into sex trafficking - these are all less scary in my mind than being confused in a train station.
The example I always used was a scenario where I'd arrive late to a random train station in Russia with only a few minutes to catch my train. I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to read the ticket, departure schedule, or anything around me since everything was written in Cyrillic script. All of the informational panels, signs, and directions would be completely useless to me and I would be truly lost. I was fearful that even if I asked around, nobody would be willing to help me and after racing around the station I'd miss my train and sit on a bench completely defeated, stranded, and effectively homeless for the night. At this point you've probably read the post on my arrival into Ukraine, so you know I've already endured far worse situations than simply being unable to find my train, but nevertheless this was a fear I knew I'd inevitably have to face on my trip.
Well my friends, the day I "dreaded" most finally arrived, only this time around instead of Russia I found myself in the country's not-so-friendly neighbor, Ukraine. With my trip to Kiev now completed, I was on my way to Croatia, but to get there I first needed to return to Lviv before embarking on my quest to Zagreb. I booked my ticket online, but I arrived late thanks to delays on the subway in Kiev. After picking up my tickets from a depressed agent at the counter I realized I couldn’t understand a damn thing on the little slip of paper - everything was in Cyrillic script. I had less than 10 minutes to figure out what platform my train departed from and as I looked around for a departures schedule I realized everything was in Ukrainian or Russian. I looked at my ticket to see if I could match the train number or cities - for example I knew Kiev was spelled “Київ" in Ukrainian.
No dice, nothing matched.
After staring at the giant digital schedule before me for a solid two minutes completely dumbfounded, I realized it was the arrivals schedule not the departures one. Off I went in search of a departures timetable, which I figured should be prominently displayed somewhere in the main hall. At this point I had about five minutes to find my train and time was quickly slipping through my fingers. I looked around and, after some wandering, found a small digital schedule that looked promising. Sure enough, I managed to match a the destination city on my ticket with a train on the departures schedule, "Івано-Франківськ” - and yes, I was able to pick that out of the digital board full of other Cyrillic characters. I had my heading, Track 3, and my sprint to the platform began. With the help of a nice conductor I found my carriage and seat with a little over a minute to spare.
The main point to this whole story is that I've learned I have no reason to worry about every single problem I could possibly face in the future. I will face so many issues on this trip that if I think about them all at once my head would explode; and those are just the ones I can imagine, I’m sure there are many more that I can't even conceive of. I know so many people back home in the US that try to plan for every eventuality in their daily lives and it's no wonder why everyone is so unbelievably stressed. It's impossible to be prepared for every single potential outcome in life, but instead they chose to perpetually worry themselves about an infinite number of worst case scenarios - many of which never become reality.
When I told my irrational train station fear to people, they always asked what I would do if my "worst" fear should come to fruition. Personally I thought it was a stupid question, how the hell am I suppose to know the answer to that? If I knew the answer, I wouldn't be scared of it! Nevertheless, my response to them was always, "I don't know, I'll figure it out when I get there." Nobody was ever happy with this answer and every time they would shoot me a look of incredulity and immediately dismissed the idea as if to say, “You’re an idiot, how can you not plan?” Looking back, I can honestly say I was faking my calm demeanor at the time, but the more I travel the more I realize the importance of this phrase.
There are still many months to go on my travels, but I can tell you that the world is not an inherently dangerous place. I've noticed that people, cultures, and life in general may be indifferent toward your own personal issues, but that doesn't mean it's inherently dangerous. While I still get a little nervous whenever I venture out without any plans, I always know that I’ll figure it out when I get there - and with that, I’m once again calm. There will never be an instance where I have all the answers (both in travel and in life) and more than likely the future will throw a curveball at me, so it is better to be prepared to change rather than have exact plans.
I know now that my train station fear is a rather trivial one I built up in my head. In all likelihood I will encounter far more serious issues during my trips through India and SE Asia. As you read this from your cubical at work, sure, the world seems like a dangerous place, but when you are actually here – abjectly lost in a Ukrainian train station - things are not nearly as bad, complicated, or dire as you imagined. In fact, these problems become quite simple. While people still look at me like I'm an idiot for not planning, I find traveling without plans to be remarkably refreshing, relaxing, and surprisingly calming. When people now ask me about hypothetical disasters scenarios I can confidently look them in the eye, worry free, and happily respond...
“I don't know, I’ll figure it out when I get there.”