I’m not exactly reserved. To most of my friends I am the most adventurous rule breaker they know. However, even I acknowledge that my “devil may care” attitude can lead to rather interesting life choices. For me, this list is actually fairly tame and not the scariest of stories in my arsenal, but they’re certainly sketchy circumstances that I walked into expecting to have a great story afterward. I would gladly relive these experiences without hesitation, while encouraging you to come along for the ride.
The Tea Farms in Taiwan
You could go into one of the sprawling tea farms of Taiwan with the full intention of never coming out and I’m sure that your body wouldn’t be found anytime before full decomposition. The hills are so high that I was actually inside clouds at one point. I remember getting lost and thinking to myself “This is it. Those stones are wet and if I crack my head open, I’m done-zo.” There’s something awfully liberating about being without cell phone service in a remote location with just yourself and nature to consider. There’s no safety net, no back up plan and no options other than enjoying beauty and finding your way back out. My advice? Get a map and learn how to read it. Understand north, south, east and west. Enjoy the freedom of being disconnected.
Los Angeles’ Skid Row
Feeding the homeless has been my trademark must-do for any city I have ever visited. I’ve been fortunate enough to volunteer all over the world and have learned incredibly rich life lessons from the people we often marginalize. Los Angeles’ Skid Row is both humbling and full of hope. It can be terrifying at first glance though, especially at night. With active drug deals and drug use around the clock, nose turning smells, no public trash pick up, and regular violence, Skid Row doesn’t seem like the kind of place you should be running toward. My advice? Thanks in large part to organizations like Union Rescue Mission, The Midnight Mission and the Downtown Women’s Center, Skid Row offers incredible opportunities to be of service and to learn what it looks like to serve on the front lines of hope and compassion. Look them up and then open yourself up to being of use and being grateful for what you have.
The Back Alleys of Madrid
Not that there is danger lurking around every corner, but there were certainly the poorly lit areas where a single woman traveling alone wouldn’t want to hear whistles and cat calls in an unfamiliar language. Pickpockets and armed robbery are incredibly common, but so are tiny restaurants or lounges that you simply won’t find by sticking within Plaza Mayor and other tourist attractions. Broken street lamps and narrow brick walkways are hiding some of the best food, drinks and entertainment Madrid has to offer. My advice? Keep your valuables taped to your person, walk confidently and look everyone in the eye. Muggers don’t attack people they think will put up a fight or that can identify them. Also, stop worrying and go dance the night away. Madrid has a fantastic nightlife ready to help you make the kind of memories you’ll want to share with your grandkids.
I’ve had more scary and mind boggling encounters in Texas than I can even begin to recount. No matter the city or demographic, there has always been something that reminded me of why they can secede from the union at any given moment. From the 19 story cross outside of Amarillo and the underground raves in Dallas, to the envelope pushing antics of South By Southwest in Austin and the Open Carry laws of Houston, Texas has more than its fair share of colorful residents and experiences to be had. My advice? Make a road trip of the state and keep an open mind. You’ll finally understand what Tex Mex is and what BBQ is really supposed to taste like. You’ll know why road trip horror movies begin the way they do. Tumbleweed generally is the pre cursor to car trouble and you’ll love it all so much that you go back to “mess with Texas” every chance you get.
The Red Light District in Paris
Most people will tell you that it’s not the den of harlots and writers that it used to be, and while they’re largely correct, it’s just a modernized version of Toulouse-Lautrec’s infamous days. There are still voyeuristic adult shows and wildly scandalous after-parties with the local dancers throughout Pigalle. Prostitutes are regularly soliciting work from the tourists and locals alike. As it is with anywhere else, the possibility for harm is heightened the more irresponsible you are. I would never suggest becoming inebriated or otherwise losing control of your faculties if you want to enjoy the Montmarte nightlife. My advice? Learn and love the district in the daylight. The Sacre-Couer Basilica overlooks the district and is absolutely stunning. At it’s base there is a circle of artists and restaurants for you to enjoy before or after your trip up the many steps to the basilica. Walk around the area surrounding the Moulin Rouge and enjoy the many coffee and truffle shops. Learn the streets so that you can feel comfortable at night. To know the area is to love it.