For Other Stubbornly Independent People Like Me (yeah you): The Argument for Letting at Least One Person Know When You Are Up to Something Notable or Potentially Risky

I’ve spent a good portion of my life not being required to be 14563423_10208866702917750_2430338998163662571_naccountable to anyone, generally speaking. Though I have always enjoyed this type of freedom, an incident involving a mix up in my travel plans while coming to Bhutan, and no one involved knowing of my whereabouts, caused grave worry, hours of work, and a lot of morbid speculating as to what had happened to me by many people in Bhutan and the U.S., including government officials. This crazy situation has (finally) caused me to rethink my freewheeling way of being. I’m sharing how this played out because it may be useful to those of you who also revel in moving about in life unencumbered or think that your whereabouts don’t generally matter to others. And because its a pretty good story…
From a long, solo and remote trail run or mountain bike ride, to popping into the Sierra range for some alone backpacking, to extensive travel and adventure around the planet, I generally tend to do what I do without telling anyone the details of what I’m up to. I get why for safety reasons, it is useful to let someone know where I’m going and when. Its not that I’m adverse to doing this (though I used to be) its more so that I don’t remember to do so. I’m often a day in to a few days on the trail when I may consider, “I suspect I should have told someone where I’m going just in case I get eaten by a crazed bear or fall off a cliff and break my ankle. Huh.” That tends to be the extent of the self-conversation around this issue and I just happily get on with my wanderings.
I’ve sorted out that part of the reason I’m this way is that I’m not fear-focused. I don’t tend to ponder “bad things” that maybe, could, might, happen. When they do, I am quite adept at dealing with them on the fly so I don’t spend a lot of time considering ‘what-ifs’ unless I’m doing something particularly risky (my perception). Given my mom’s prodding and nagging over the years I had taken to letting someone know my itinerary when I’m going into the back country, but I never did get in the habit of texting a friend prior to a several hour trail session (I had many intensions of doing this but it never stuck).
Prior to big trips, mom would always want me to give her my flight schedule. So I would, never fully getting why it mattered. Now that mom is no longer around I don’t “remember” to do this and my flight here to Bhutan was no exception. After creating massive mayhem for many people and getting several scoldings, I finally, after 56 years of free roaming, will likely not forget to do this again. Here’s what went down to cause this permanent shift:
I drove to the airport solo, left my car in a long term parking lot, got a ride with a stranger to the airport from my car, then flew from San Francisco to Hong Kong, napping, reading and watching movies, while luxuriating in getting a whole row of seats to myself. Even the massive flight turbulence and arriving in Hong Kong in a typhoon, couldn’t mar the pleased feeling I harbored due to my favorable seating arrangement. When one flies Economy, a blank row to oneself is about as good as its going to get when flying around the planet.
After trying to sort out the uncertainty of my next flight into Bangkok, as many other flights were being canceled by the minute due to the typhoon, I turned on my phone and opened my computer in the airport to check email—to find apparent mayhem. Holy shit! I had large quantities of emails, texts and Facebook messages from multiple people in two different countries wanting to know where I was. What the heck? According to my final flight itinerary I had missed my flight into Paro, Bhutan and because no one had my prior flight itinerary there was no way for anyone to track my whereabouts. This set off a chain of events that caused many people a lot of worry and a large chunk of time. Oh dear…
Greg Thomas had contacted several friends to see if they had my itinerary. Nada. I got emails from those friends scolding me for not letting them know of my whereabouts. In an almost-all-night effort to track me down (while I slept blissfully on an airplane), Greg also contacted the US consulate as well as our consulate in Bangkok (I love you too Greg!). I had emails from the consulate in Thailand wanting to know where I was. Greg and a slew of others had emailed, texted and messaged me multiple times. At the same time Yangki Tshering, Matthew R. DeSantis (a friend and the US representative in Bhutan), as well as a whole contingent of Bhutanese at Bhutan Philanthropy Ventures, had taken on trying to sort out my whereabouts, as well as spend a lot of time discussing what could have happened to me (which I’m certain they all enjoyed immensely ;). Here’s what I found out later they had come up with: Rape and murder in Bangkok (would be tough to pull off in the actual airport, btw); no rape, just murder (see above comment); kidnapping (possible if I had left the airport which I normally do); fell asleep and missed my flight (possible but highly unlikely); ran off with a Thai boy (the ‘boy’ part of this argument would never come to pass; cute man—maybe but not likely as I don’t tend to be spontaneous that way).
Only one Bhutanese, His Royal Highness’s right hand man, and the one with the most effective demeanor for dealing with such things, actually suggested that perhaps there was a mix up in my flight schedule… Bingo… And when we all discussed this later, I did comfort my Bhutanese friends in sharing that; if a psycho were targeting a woman in an airport to rape, given my general demeanor and body type, I am likely not at the top of that list. I assured them if this did come to pass the guy would be unhappy he had chosen me. Knowing me, they agreed.
After letting everyone know I was ok, I started searching through my paperwork and digital documents to sort out what had gone down. This is when I realized that the piece of paper on which my initial flight was printed was not showing the date I arrived in Bangkok, it was only showing my departure date. The correct date had gotten cut off at the bottom of the page. Argh. I had referenced this paper (which had incorrectly come out of my crappy printer), when telling Karma Dorji the date to book my final flight into Bhutan. So I had given him an incorrect date. My bad, without actually knowing it. This is a very embarrassing error for a seasoned traveler, but more so I was mortified when I realized how many people had been worried and put out by my mess up. And…if I had digitally shared my itinerary with someone involved early on, it was likely that at least one of us would have noticed my error. One friend, Chris Foster, had asked me for my itinerary. But Chris was not connected in any way to the others who were trying to sort out the mess of whereabouts, so they had no reason to ask him for this information. All this info was a swift and succinct kick in my ass.
Spending so many years moving around on the planet and generally only accounting to my mother, I hadn’t considered that not telling anyone where I was was that big of a deal. And I do enjoy the freedom in the autonomy of it all. I am now clear as to the potential ramifications of my stubbornness and, it does warm my heart to consider that a mishap in such things caused so many to inquire about my well being.
Huge thanks to Greg, Flo Queen-stover, Karma Dorji, Nangze, Yangki, IMG_Yos8Matt, the whole crew at BPV, the US consulates involved, and level-headed Chris wanting to know what I was up to, just in case. I am now quite safe and happy in Bhutan (before I attempt to ride across its muddy bowels!) and it is likely that I will change my ways due to your caring. Kadinche la!

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