Backpacking really brings out the daredevil in me. It must be because out in the world nobody knows what a big scaredy cat I am, so out there I can be the person I want to be. Or it might be that travel is all about saying yes to life and giving all those crazy adventures a go. It could also be that in South America and Southeast Asia there are less safety rules than at home. When backpacking solo, no one is responsible for me, but me.
I always travel with insurance so if it all goes tits up, I have a safety net. But even so, here are a few of the activities I probably shouldn’t have done:
Fished for piranha and hunted anaconda in the Amazon Jungle
Our Amazon guide walked with us for an hour through dense swampy grass and we hoped we would see the snakes before they saw us. We couldn’t see what was in the grass we walked through and our guide’s claims of ‘our footstep vibrations will scare them off’ did little to make me feel comfortable. But after all, it was totally fine and we had fun, even if it took us three hours to find one.
We later took a small motor boat out along the nearby river and the seven of us proceeded to bait fishhooks and swing them over the side of the boat. The boat rocked wildly back and forth and there were piranhas flying as people swung them on board.
Chances of injury – moderate. Injuries can happen anywhere and in the thick of the Amazon Jungle not only are there many insects, snakes, jaguars and fish that could harm us but we were also hours away from any nearby hospitals.
I hugged an adult tiger in Chiang Mai, Thailand
The keeper encouraged me to bite the tiger’s tail for a photograph but I was concerned it would return the favour. Ethics aside (a debate for another day), it can be dangerous and every now and then a story of a tourist getting mauled will emerge from Thailand.
I had to sign a waiver before entering the enclosure -should the tiger have a moment of madness, it would be nobody’s fault but mine and I’d been warned.
Chances of injury – low. The tigers are tame and trained and by entering their enclosure we are asserting ourselves as the alpha. I think signing my rights away scared me more than being in the enclosure with the tiger.
Cycled Death Road in Bolivia
The name says it all doesn’t it? We didn’t know it at the time but a French girl had died while taking a selfie just a week before we cycled the 61km downhill road. Death Road is a narrow loose gravel winding path with a 600 metre drop off the side of the cliff.
Sometimes a vehicle would come at us from the opposite direction and we would have to manoeuvre around each other while our tires slid around on the loose gravel. Not to mention, the road was almost entirely downhill and we were flying around bends at 40kms an hour.
According to Wiki an estimated 200 to 300 travellers die along this road each year. Yeesh.
Chance of injury – pretty high. I’m surprised I survived considering my shoddy bicycle skills. Glad I did it once though and then soothed my nerves with some strong rum afterwards.
River tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos
Floating serenely down a river in a tire tube sounds pleasant, no? Prior to 2012, this river in particular had a bar every fifty metres, but after one too many tourists drank then drowned, they shut most of the bars down. By the time I arrived in Laos in 2013 there were two bars left, and the town of Vang Vieng had a much needed serene quality to it.
However, when I was there in March the water level was so obscenely low that in stretches of the river I had to arch up out of the tire tube to avoid scraping my back along the rocks at the bottom of the river.
Chance of injury – when sober, low – when drunk, high. The bars may begin to creep back into place over the coming years
Rode Motorbikes in Vietnam
While a rite of passage in Southeast Asia, it’s still probably one of the most commonly dumb things that backpackers do in that region. If you’ve never driven a motorbike before, don’t think you can learn to drive them in pothole ridden Vietnam, land of a million crazy motor bikers.
So, thinking I was so smart, I let others of questionable ability drive me around. Luckily I didn’t come away from the experience with the usual backpacker tattoo of a road-grated thigh or a calf burn from the exhaust pipe.
Chances of injury – varied, depends on your capability. It’s always a good idea to wear a helmet and cover your limbs with clothes so you’ll be less likely to get road burn.
Even though some days I look back at these idiotic adventures and a little shiver runs down my spine at what could have happened, I still wouldn’t do it any differently. My general travel advice stands: don’t do anything stupid and you’ll be fine. I think the biggest risk to a traveller is injury in or by a vehicle, especially in countries where the passenger seats in taxis have no seatbelts and there doesn’t seem to be any discernible road rules to follow. Intercity bus drivers often pull long overnight shifts without a break and it’s not unheard of for buses to plunge over cliffs. But overall, your chances of anything terrible happening to you are no more or less likely than at home. Don’t forfeit life on the road in favour of being overly cautious.
Pin it to your backpacking boards: