David Cogswell | March 17, 2015 3:45 PM ET
Your Own Personal Bubble
Since I returned from Egypt recently I heard two separate stories from people who traveled to Egypt during the same period whose stories about their trips differed greatly from my own.
One of the reports was from a married couple originally from Egypt returning for a visit after living in the U.S. for decades. The other was an American traveling to Egypt as a tourist. I was struck by the similarity of their reports, and how their experiences contrasted with my own.
Both said that they were uncomfortable and tense during their visit. In neither case did they mention any particular incident, just that they were uncomfortable.
I had been there twice during the same period, and neither time did I feel uncomfortable at all. On the contrary I came back telling everyone I had a great time and they should go too. But when I heard these reports, it puzzled me. Why hadn’t I felt the anxiety that they felt?
Am I so clueless that I am unaware of the problems and danger that surround me? Am I just some naïve Pollyanna who cannot see the evil even when it is all around? Could that be it? Am I just walking around in my own personal bubble barely escaping disaster by blind luck because I can’t even perceive that there is danger?
If that were the case, my encouragement of others to travel would not be worth very much. So this question concerned me.
There may be no way to find the definitive answer to the question. If I am in my own bubble, I’ll still be in that bubble when I am looking for the answer, and I’ll probably miss it.
But there is something to be said for obliviousness to negativity. I heard a story from a woman who was traveling with a friend by car in a crowded foreign city and they drove right into the middle of a violent riot. But they didn’t realize what was going on.
They thought they had driven into a parade. And they proceeded under that assumption.
This was an angry mob and two American women driving through in a car would not have been popular. Angry rioters were turning over cars. But these women only found out about that later. At the time it was happening they had no clue. As a result they were not afraid. They passed through with utter confidence.
They even had exchanges with people as they passed through, asking them to let them through. The people they spoke to must have been baffled by their reactions, which seemed so inappropriate to the mob violence around them. At the same time, because of their confidence and lack of fear, people probably assumed they had reason to be confident and didn’t bother them.
They didn’t know they were in danger. And they passed through unharmed. Only later did they realize what had really been going on. “Oh my God, we just drove through a riot!” But because they were not afraid they didn’t lose their cool. They didn’t get thrown off center and proceeded through. It was almost as though they had an invisible shield around them, their own protective bubble. And it was based on nothing but attitude and perhaps blind luck.
Who knows? They were lucky. But why were they lucky? We can come up with theories, but we can’t say for sure.
Many people believe that negative thoughts attract negative energy and negative situations, and positive thoughts have the opposite effect. Obviously there are limits to this theory. If I walk in front of a speeding truck it’s probably not going to help too much that I am thinking a positive thought at the time the truck slams into me.
But there is still a lot to the theory.
You can see the principle at work in the way people react to you if you are angry and hostile as opposed to the way they react if you are kind and courteous. Try it any time, walk into a store and start arrogantly ordering people to serve you and see what kind of service you get.
Mark Twain wrote in his autobiography that “Life does not consist mainly — or even largely — of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one's head.”
Wherever you go, there you are. It’s not really possible to get away from yourself except by changing yourself and that takes some work. Taking a trip and changing the scene entirely is one of the best ways to change your point of view, but you are still carrying your basic attitudes and views and you are filtering your experience through them.
Your experience in any travel destination is going to be highly subjective, different from anyone else’s experience of the same place.
If I am spending some portion of every day tuning into the broadcast news and focusing on the particular selection of world events that is presented there, it is going to affect my experience no matter where I am.
To whatever extent I am immersed in CNN or Fox or almost any standard news show, I’m getting a certain world view pounded into my head. And that will become part of how I experience whatever I do or wherever I am. It may set the tenor of the experience on such a fundamental level that it blocks out a lot of my perception of what is actually around me.
It’s no secret that TV news networks rely heavily on generating fear to secure engagement with their audiences. If I am looking at my surroundings through a filter based on those fear-inspiring news broadcasts, it can affect my mood no matter where I am. And if I am in a place that is being featured in constant rotation as a horror show, then the images I have absorbed from hours and months of TV reports may dominate my sensory perception of what is physically around me when I am there.
For me, the less I watch of disaster news the better I feel overall. And it is a choice. The TV news reality is only one reality. There are other ways of looking at the world. And there are other, better ways of absorbing the news of the world.
After I thought about this for a while another point came to mind that should have been obvious to me from the beginning.
One of the main reasons I tend to have good experiences when I travel is because I am almost always in the hands of competent tour operators to help me find my way around wherever I am. Most of the time I travel, I have support. I have a tour operator who is my friend at the destination, who is there to help me find my way around, to steer me toward what I want and to steer me away from what would not be good for me.
After writing about tour operators for almost 20 years, I guess I should have realized that right off the bat. I’ve gotten used to a kind of confidence that comes from knowing you are in good hands, that the people you are with know the place and will make sure to keep you out of harm’s way.
So that is what supports my own personal bubble. I have people there to make sure I am safe and comfortable. That is my endorsement of tour operators. They take care of you. They are your friend at the destination. They make it possible for you to enjoy it like a child who has no worries because he knows his parents will take care of all the hassles and let him just enjoy himself.
Everyone can have that. That’s what I love about tour operators. They are there for you.
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