I’ve travelled… a statement, not a boast… and like many others that travel extensively, I’ve picked up some pearls of wisdom along the way. Little things, like learning a few key words in the language of my destination, and having a credit card that doesn’t charge international fees, and that the only way to escape an airport quickly is to only take hand luggage.
But those things are all practical things, things you can plan for, set your mind to, and succeed at. I have since discovered that my greatest pitfall is that I make assumptions about the places I am heading, sometimes giving me pleasant surprises and at other times causing bumps in what I thought was careful and considered planning.
I’ve assumed that The USA is full of stereotypical Americans and been surprised to find some of the most caring, friendly, and helpful people in the world; I’ve assumed if you’ve seen photos of landmarks such as the Pyramids of Giza, Machu Picchu, Lake Louise, Petra, and the Great Wall of China, then the real thing won’t be as awe-inspiring… and been wrong; I’ve made assumptions such as that just because every picture I’ve seen of the Maldives has blue skies and clear, calm waters it must mean that there is never a cloudy or rainy day there.
And I’ve made the worst assumption of all… I’ve assumed that if it’s how something is at home, then it will be in my destination too. Allow me to explain…
Arriving into Tokyo for the first time in 2009 I was excited to say the least. A country I’d been wanting to see for years with its fascinating blend of the historic and cultural with the modern and efficient. I’d planned time in Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Mt Fuji for this first sojourn into Japan, and was looking forward to tackling the Shinkansen Bullet Trains as well as the maze of city lines to get to and from the many attractions in each place.
And this is where my first mistake was made.
Having heard horror stories of people being pushed into trains during peak hour, I spent the first few days avoiding mornings and evenings like the plague, not wanting my first experience of the country to be of my nose pushed against a train window or worse. The problem with this was that I was restricted in how long or how far I could travel each day and therefore meant I felt I wasn’t making the most of my time there. But after seeing how everyone is so efficient on the platform and boarding the train, I slowly extended my days and found that through precise scheduled services and organised commuters there was nothing to worry about at all!
My exploration of the city led me on longer and more adventurous outings including seeing the bright lights and mayhem of Shinjuku and it’s amazing street food vendors and street side cafes. Enjoying okonomiyaki with a cold Asahi while watching what seemed like half the population of the world walking past gave me time to sit back and take it all in. What it also did, unfortunately, was had me out later than I had been in Tokyo previously, where I made my second major assumption… that getting back to the hotel would be easy in such an efficient city by train or if necessary, taxi.
The efficiency of the Japanese train schedule all comes down to one thing… punctuality. Meaning that every single train arrives and departs at an exact time… not early, and definitely not late. It also means that once the trains stop in the evening then you are stuck.
“Taxi!” I can hear you urge me… but after looking up how much taxis cost in Japan (my plane ticket actually cost less than a taxi from one side of Tokyo to the other!) that was going to be a last resort. Back to the bar for me as I mulled over my options over another Asahi.
After a couple more beverages, I was enlightened! It was now only two and a half hours until the earliest train of the morning. Surely I could occupy myself until then!
Having made it no more than 20 steps outside the establishment, I encountered a couple of policemen who managed to inform me in no uncertain terms that wandering streets is distinctly frowned upon at that time of the morning. Cheekily I thought maybe this presents an opportunity for me, if they could take me back to the hotel for free?
No such luck I’m afraid, but they did have an alternative… walk me back to the police station where I can spend the night.
So this is the story of how an assumption led me to spend a night in a Tokyo police station… thankfully with a warm cup of coffee in hand, and on the right side of the bars!
So although assumptions can have happy endings… remember that most limit your travel experiences. Unfortunately, the old adage of when you assume often rings true.