The previous time, I wrote about my experiences from entering university until the end of my sophomore year.
This time, I’d like to write about memorable events from my dream journey of wandering abroad.
For the previous articles, please see here↓
Rules for Wandering Abroad
Rule 1: Wander with only the bare minimum information, without researching tourist spots or local specialties.
I decided to research only the minimal information about the next country or city I was going to, such as whether it was safe.
I thought that if I filled my head with information from guidebooks and the internet, it would inevitably filter my experiences and prevent me from acting on my own instincts.
Moreover, having too much pre-gathered information would reduce the chances of asking locals, which I felt would defeat the purpose of wandering.
In the end, this rule turned out to be the best one for me.
Thanks to this, I was able to experience a world unknown to me to an incredible extent during this journey.
Rule 2: Change accommodations every week.
By changing accommodations, the scenery changes.
And with a change in scenery, new experiences become possible.
That’s why I created this rule.
Rule 3: This journey is a stroll!
This rule is more about the mindset.
When you go abroad, it’s natural to feel like you’re doing something special and want to do something unusual.
“I’ll treat this wandering journey as if I’m just going for a stroll to the convenience store near my home.”
That’s the mindset I decided to adopt for this journey.
Shocking Events During the Overseas Wandering Journey
The moment I realized that my unconscious habit of relating everything to “what it would be in Japan” no longer applied.
Several weeks into my wandering journey abroad, I still hadn’t lost the thrill of the adventure.
Initially, as I traveled around Asia, I encountered various events. I realized that I unconsciously tried to relate everything back to my own Japanese perspective.
When eating noodles, I thought, “This is like udon in Japan.”
Being introduced to a famous band, I wondered, “Are they like Mr. Children in Japan?”
When the train didn’t leave on time, I thought, “Well, buses in Japan don’t always stick to the schedule either…”
Once, while taking a taxi, another passenger joined mid-way, which left me puzzled, thinking, “What would this be like in Japan?”
Staying in a very cheap hotel, I was shockingly told by the staff, “The guest who just arrived is offering more money than you, so you need to leave.” Eventually, I ended up sharing a room with someone else, but the rate remained the same.
I realized that my own value system didn’t apply everywhere.
And I learned that abandoning one’s own values can be quite challenging.
The transition from a cool horse-drawn carriage taxi to a shooting range, followed by extortion.
I left my luggage at the hotel and went for a walk in the city, where I stumbled upon an incredibly cool-looking horse-drawn carriage. As I was taking pictures of it with my digital camera, the driver approached me and said, “This is a horse-drawn carriage taxi. Cool, isn’t it? Why don’t you take a ride? I’ll take some photos for you.” I got into the carriage and handed my camera to the driver to take a few pictures.
After thanking him for the photos, something unexpected happened. The driver suddenly started the carriage. I asked him to stop, but he replied, “I’m taking you to a good place.”
If it were now, I would forcefully stop and get off, but back then, I couldn’t do that, and the carriage kept going for about 10 minutes. As we entered a back alley, the surroundings changed dramatically – the buildings became dilapidated and the streets less crowded.
When the carriage stopped in front of a building, I noticed a sign with two crossed pistols. The driver said, “This is a shooting range. You want to try shooting, right?” I was practically forced inside, thinking, “I’m in trouble now.”
Inside the shooting range, there were handguns and human-shaped targets lined up.
In addition to the driver, there were several men at the shooting range. They handed me a handgun and told me to shoot at a target. I fired about 10 shots as instructed. After I finished, the driver said, “Did you enjoy that? Here’s the bill.”
It was about 40,000 yen in Japanese currency. At the entrance, a man with a gun over his shoulder seemed to imply that they wouldn’t let me leave without paying. I had no choice but to pay, but I didn’t have that much money on me. When I mentioned this, they asked if I had money in the bank.
I had a Citibank account for overseas use, so I told them I could get the money from the bank. They made me get back on the carriage, this time with one of the men from the shooting range as a lookout, and took me to the bank.
After withdrawing the money and stepping outside, the two were waiting for me. I handed over the demanded amount. There were quite a few people in front of the bank, so I felt relieved, thinking this would be the end of it.
But then, the carriage driver had one last thing to say, “Aren’t you going to give me a tip?”
I replied, “No, thank you.” I wonder why I even said “thank you”…
But that was the best resistance I could muster.
“OK! See you again!” they said and left in the carriage.
I never wanted to see them again.
This incident happened about a month into my journey. It was a harsh lesson that I needed to protect myself.
Looking back, I think it was a relatively mild form of extortion. They could have taken everything I had.
Later, I found out that the usual rate for shooting ranges was around 10,000 yen – so it was more of a rip-off than extortion.
However, I decided to view it as a tuition fee for the lessons I learned, which helped me complete the rest of my journey.
The Battle with Loneliness: Realizing How Much I’ve Been Supported by Others
“Traveling abroad alone sounds so enviable.”
At the beginning, it was a battle with loneliness, really.
“One of my goals for this journey was to find out what happens when you go to a place where nobody knows you and you can’t speak the language.”
The loneliness was more intense than I had imagined. The only people I spoke to were hotel receptionists and store clerks when I shopped. I was close to falling into despair.
I lacked the courage to speak to people outside, and after the incident where I lost money, I felt even more hesitant. I realized how much I had been in environments surrounded by family, institutions, university, and part-time jobs, where people shared the same space or goals.
I also recognized how much I had been supported by casual communication with others. I started thinking about how I could initiate communication with people.
From my university experience, I figured that going to a drinking place would be easier because alcohol tends to loosen up conversations. So, I began visiting bars near my accommodation.
I thought that bar counters or standing bars might be better places to strike up conversations with strangers than table seating. Initially, I just clinked beer bottles with others.
Even this small act felt like communication and made me happy. While toasting, someone asked me in English, “Where are you from?”
“Japan,” I replied.
“Wow, Japan, huh? What brings you here?”
“I’m on a wandering journey.”
“That’s cool! Have a great trip!”
And then they walked away.
The conversation didn’t continue.
The next challenge was to start talking myself. But what should I talk about?
I decided to try asking questions:
“What are you drinking?”
“Is that good?”
“What’s your name?”
Though they answered, the conversation usually ended there.
Communication is hard, haha.
But as I kept trying, I started to understand the knack of communicating with strangers in unfamiliar places.
Show interest in the other person, let them know about yourself, and create common topics.
Once I got the hang of these points, conversations flowed more naturally. Here’s how it went:
- Create an opportunity to start a conversation (like a toast).
- Ask questions (What’s your name? What are you drinking?).
- React to their answers (Nice to meet you! That looks delicious!).
- Share something about yourself (I’m Ralf. I’m interested in trying the local delicacies here).
- Discuss a common topic (I’m planning to explore the area tomorrow; do you know any good places?).
This flow worked in pretty much every country I visited.
I believe it’s an essential skill for enjoying yourself in unfamiliar places.
Later, when I worked as a salesperson, this skill became one of my major strengths.
Summary: There is Nothing Greater Than the Knowledge Gained from Experience
In this article, I wrote about experiences that, at the time, did not immediately make life easier for me, a self-identified social misfit.
However, several years later, these experiences became invaluable in helping me live life in my own way.
It might be something I can say only in hindsight, but “There is nothing greater than the knowledge gained from experience.”
I plan to write about my experiences entering society in future articles. The lessons I’ve mentioned here reappeared when I faced challenges, and they helped me overcome those obstacles.
I also realized that there’s nothing in life to fear anymore.
In the next article, I’ll write about the encounters that changed my way of living during my overseas wandering.
If you’re even slightly interested, feel free to check it out.
Following me on social media will notify you when new articles are published!