I’ve been thinking a lot about traveling lately. How I miss it, and planning hypothetical trips to help motivate me and get serious about saving money.
I was also thinking about how different travel is when you are going solo vs when you have a family. When I went to Greece, I wasn’t alone, but I didn’t know anyone initially. I went to Italy with one other person, but the friend we were going to stay with canceled on us at the last minute, so we were totally on our own finding places to stay (with very, very little funds). And then on my trip to Japan, I was completely alone with no concrete plans on where to stay.
Those trips were 50% exhilarating and 50% terrifying. It’s kind of fun not knowing where you’re going and flying by the seat of your pants. I think the most growth and excitement comes from those times. In Rome we joked (mostly) about sleeping in a park because we couldn’t find anywhere that had a vacancy that we could afford. (Side note: my wallet was stolen a few days before the trip so I didn’t have a credit card or bank card, only about 300 Euros in cash…to last a week.)
I can’t even fathom doing that now. I mean, I still have that desire to pick a place, buy plane tickets, and figure it all out when I get there, but I don’t want to do that with a family.
What stirred up all of these thoughts was first remembering a man who helped me in Tokyo. I was lost (I don’t have the best track record, huh?), it was snowing, and it was midnight. Once again I was surveying the area to see if there was a safe spot to set up camp, and this person, who I could not communicate with in any real way saved me.
I can remember the scene so perfectly in my mind, it was snowing pretty hard and there was a figure on top of a hill with his tripod taking photos of the blanket of white snow that covered everything. I wish I had taken a photo or could paint, so that I could remember if forever. I’ve copied my journal entry below:
“It started snowing. Even though I hoped it would be a little bit warmer here than in the States, it was absolutely beautiful
The next part of my day was not my favorite. I was exhausted and wasn’t meeting Miriam until 10pm. It was only about 8, so I decided I’d relax on the metro for an extra stop or two to kill some time. I got off a few stops later and tried to take the same line back, but I ended up on an express instead of a local. I completely missed my stop and had to take another train back again. I stopped to get another coffee because at this point I felt like I was about to fall over any minute. I went into a burger place in the train station and the only open seat was in the smoking section. I felt more and more drained by the minute. When I finally made it to our meeting spot I was about 15 minutes late and not even sure if I was at the right metro entrance. I walked a block to the other side to see if Miriam was there but she wasn’t. I waited a little bit, unsure if I’d be able to find my way back to her place in the dark and alone.
My first thought was just to find a hotel room for the night and try to email Miriam to tell her I was okay….but there wasn’t a hotel in sight. Businesses were starting to close and I couldn’t even find anyone to point me in the direction of somewhere to stay. My phone was dead, and at this point it had been snowing for hours. (It only snowed a few inches but it had been the most snowfall they had had in a while.) I went into survival mode and started looking around for corners that I could bundle up in, in case I couldn’t walk any further. While I was walking I was recognizing the area a little bit from passing through in the morning. I decided to try to find Miriam’s place anyway. She lives in a very rural area and all the houses look the same. After finally making it to her neighborhood and walking around for what seemed like forever I started to wonder if this was an even worse idea.
It was close to midnight. It was still snowing, and I was sliding around everywhere in inches of snow…in my Vibrams. (I love these shoes but at this moment, wearing them was the worst mistake.) I saw a man with a tripod set up in the middle of the street taking photos of the snow fall. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see another living human being (I was also praying he wasn’t a psychopath). I pulled out my now soaked paper map (with no street names, just a park and a star that says “Miriam’s House”), and tried to communicate that I was lost. He spoke not one lick of English.
But this man was an angel.
He put away his camera equipment and brought me to his house. I tried to stand outside because I was soaked. My pants were wet up to my knees. I wasn’t sure if I even had feet anymore they were so cold. My hair was soaked and I had been sobbing (although I was so wet and frozen you couldn’t really tell). I’d only been in Japan for a day, but I quickly learned how important cleanliness is, especially taking off your shoes in the designated area, and wearing slippers throughout the house. I peeled off my Vibrams and again tried to stand in the shoe area, but this man and his wife gave me dry slippers and insisted I come inside. The man tried to compare a Google map to my hand drawn map, and his wife made me a cup of coffee. I gave him the phone number I had for Miriam and he called her. It turns out I was in back of her place diagonally. I honestly don’t know if I would’ve ever found it on my own. This amazingly kind man walked me to her house and made sure I got in safe. I wish I could’ve done something for him in return. He took in a complete stranger, in the middle of the night, who didn’t even speak his language. He may have saved my life.
I started to wonder if coming to Japan by myself was such a great idea after all.
(I later learned that Miriam had actually been 30 minutes late, so if I had waited a little longer I might have caught her. Also, turns out there was a Manga cafe that was 24 hours that I could’ve hung out in.)”
I don’t know what made me think of this man and his wife 7 years later. I hope they are well. I hope he eventually got his photo of the beautiful snowy landscape he was trying for. I wish I had done something at the time to show them how much their generosity meant to me. They opened their home in the middle of the night, to not only a stranger, but to a soaking wet foreigner that couldn’t communicate at all, clothed me with clean, dry slippers, fed me, gave me a hot cup of coffee, and helped me find my way home.
Maybe there are so many scary and bad things going on in our country and the world right now that my mind needed to remind me that there are incredibly kind people out there too.