Foreign Travel is Scary and Dangerous

Going to a foreign country for the first time can be scary. I want to put that fear into perspective. I met a guy from Afghanistan while I was in Melbourne earlier this year. In the course of our conversation I asked him about how he had ended up in Australia. He had a fascinating story to tell.

Afghanistan Travel


How does a refugee from a war torn country make it to Australia?

My wife and I met Ali in a cafe in Melbourne’s trendy Fitzroy district. He was sitting by himself and, as my wife and I were sat near him, we struck up a conversation.

Before I tell you Ali’s story, I want to remind everyone of the amazing times we live in. For most of us, a couple of weeks salary will buy a plane ticket to the other side of the world. There are thousands of blogs and websites to help you find a place to stay, plan sightseeing trips and get a feel for exactly what you can expect.

When you arrive, you can be certain there will be plenty of English speaking people to serve you at restaurants, hostels, train stations and for virtually every important interaction you will have. Your credit and bank cards will be widely accepted so you won’t have to bring much cash.

There are abundant internet access points so you can keep in touch with family, and you can even make unlimited free video calls to anywhere in the world with Skype.

There are will be restaurants and cafes that cater to western tastes and if you are really homesick, rest assured that a McDonald’s or Starbucks are never too far away.

Travel is no longer difficult, unless you are someone like Ali.

Forced to leave his homeland for the sake of family.

If you have fears of traveling, consider what Ali went through.

Despite the poverty and the difficult conditions caused by the continuing unrest in Afghanistan, Ali was reluctant to leave behind the relative comfort of family and friends. In the end, he was forced to leave by his own father. The harsh reality was that Ali represented the best chance of a better life for the family as a whole and, to that end, he reluctantly packed his bag and left.

Ali set off for Pakistan with little money and few belongings. He had none of the things that many of us take for granted when we go abroad; no MacBook Air, digital SLR camera or smart phone. Ali was a real minimalist, in every sense of the word. Still, he made it to Pakistan and from there he was able to board a ship to Singapore.

Escaping to a better life is no Mediterranean cruise.

I asked him what kind of ship it was. He joked that it was just like the Titanic, with beautiful restaurants, live music and extravagant ballrooms. He then explained that it was a tiny, overpacked cargo ship that was thrown around so violently in the sea that he didn’t expect to live to see Singapore. A couple of years later, his cousin tried to make the exact same trip and sadly didn’t survive the voyage. The boat sank with everyone on board. Of course. it’s not the first time that ocean-going craft packed with refugees have been lost in unforgiving waters, and it won’t be the last.

Luckily, for him and his family, Ali did make it to Singapore. (Take a moment to check the Google Map below to see what a trip by boat from Pakistan to Singapore and then Australia entails. This is no Mediterranean cruise.)

View Larger Map

Now imagine what happens to refugees when they arrive in a foreign country tired and hungry, with little money and no return airfare. Ali was immediately detained by immigration, but at least he was getting three free meals a day and a warm place to sleep.

Singapore immigration held him in custody and repeatedly questioned him about his reasons for being in the country. After several days of saying that he was there on business, immigration finally relented and released him.

Escape to captivity: no one wants a refugee

It is sad indictment on our society that western nations built on liberal immigration policies, now largely shutter their borders from those who are most in need. Think of the countless desperate people that risk their lives just for a chance to do minimum wage jobs in a developed country. They are grateful for any opportunity. All they are looking for is a basic level of human dignity.

Back to the story

From Singapore, Ali managed to arrange passage on a tiny boat to Australia. It took all his money to get there, but his family had prepared for this in advance.

With animated hand gestures, Ali explained how the boat would be tossed around on the giant ocean waves, perpetually on the verge of capsizing. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to be in cramped quarters with dozens of other seasick refugees hoping for a better life at the end of the journey.

Somehow the barely seaworthy craft survived the voyage and Ali finally arrived in Australia. Australia welcomed the refugees with open arms. Open long enough to arrest everyone and throw them in a makeshift detention camp. Ali spent more than two years separated from a life in Australia by a chain link fence.

A refugee liberated by hippies

According to Ali, he was finally rescued from the misery of the camp by a group of, in his words, ‘hippies.’ He said there was a commune near the refugee detention camp inhabited by a group of people who lived off the land. One night they came in and cut a hole in the fence and helped several people escape. Ali was one of the lucky ones.

He wasn’t clear on the details after that point, but he eventually received refugee status and was finally able to legally work in Australia. For many years, he sent as much money as he could to his family who had since relocated to Pakistan. Apparently, there is a way to wire money by cell phones for as little as $10 per transaction. It used to cost a small fortune when the banks and loan sharks were involved, but some clever entrepreneurs figured out a way to do it without gouging the low income money senders.

A better world

When you are planning your life changing trip to the other side of the world, think about what Ali went through, and know that you will never encounter even a fraction of those hardships. We live in amazing times with unlimited opportunities to really make a difference in the world. Choose to be bold and do something about it. There are billions of people worrying about where their next meal will come from. We are lucky enough to not have those worries, let’s not waste that privilege.

In the normal course of the breath there is lot of unsuspected circumstance which force a person to take medicaments. You can order online medicament to treat chronic treatment of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis or spasticity. Some services offer to their customers Kamagra. A lot of young men consider about Generic Cialis Oral Jelly. Our article tell more about the symptoms of erectile disfunction and Cialis Professional. (Read more generic cialis professional). The signs of sexual health problems in men turn on failure to maintain any erection. A common class of antidepressants, which include Zoloft, can kill the mood in bedroom. Note that your physician has preassigned Kamagra or any other generic because she has judged that the favor to you is biger than the risk of dangerous side effects. Do not use unwanted medicaments. Take them to your local dispensary which will dispose of them for you.

Enjoy the Article?

Go ahead, you know you want to! :-)

Subscribe for articles and interviews about achieving your dreams and making a difference.

My name is John Bardos. My wife and I gave up our business, house and possessions in Japan to search for more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. We've discovered that a satisfying life is about rich experiences, quality relationships and meaningful contribution, NOT consumption.

14 Responses to Foreign Travel is Scary and Dangerous

  1. I enjoyed reading this post, John. Thanks for sharing Ali’s story with us.

    I spent about a month in Sydney, Australia earlier this year, and I met a lot of Iranian refugees through my Iranian-Australian friends. My friends regularly made a trip to a detention centre in order to give some support (delivering Iranian food) to some of the detainees there. I went along with my friends a few times…

    It was quite eye-opening for me, perhaps in a similar way you realized many of us won’t have to go through hardships Ali went through.

    In fact, one of the detainees I met – she wasn’t Iranian, but African… I don’t remember which country she was from, though – said to me, “You’re free. Make the most out of it”. I hope she was released by now or will be released soon enough.

    As far as I’m concerned, many of the Iranian refugees I met in the detention centre mentioned above got a refugee status. I’m looking forward to seeing them again next time when I’m in Sydney.

    • John says:

      Thanks for the sharing your experiences Masafumi,

      Life is very difficult for billions of people on this planet. Most of us don’t have much to complain about.

  2. UnwireMe says:

    Great story John.

    I wrote about the very same thing recently. The fact is that everyone that views this post already has a HUGE leg up on a great portion of the world’s population. Many are just barely subsisting.

    As part of the awareness that comes with travel, I’ve found myself increasingly uncomfortable by the thought that having all the gadgets or “cool” experiences is meaningless if I don’t do *something* that helps a fellow human being.

    Using those advantages we are given to live a life of inward-focus and navel-gazing is greatly squandering the opportunity to make a difference.

    If anyone has figured it out, feel free to point me in the right direction 🙂

    -Rich Polanco

    • John says:

      Thanks Rich!

      I completely agree. Even an unemployed westerner has a quality of life better than 80% of the world’s population. That good fortune should not go to waste.

      I don’t have it figured out yet either, but the redesign of this site will start to high-light those working to make a difference. A fulfilling life can only come from contribution and human connection.

  3. Joe Mobley says:

    “You’re free. Make the most out of it”

    Wow! If that doesn’t make you think.

    Good post John.

    Joe Mobley

    • John says:

      Thanks for the comment Joe.

      It’s very easy to forget how fragile life is. Waiting until some perfect time in the future to do what’s important is foolish.

  4. Ashwin says:

    Wow…Ali’s story was inspiring, John.

    I wish I could do something like that. I am “blessed” given Ali’s story, and I travel quite a bit. What befuddles me is the “shutters” many countries have in place for people who want to travel. I am an Indian and I’ll admit I didn’t have any problems in my travels so far. But I do hear from some nasty stories from a few friends who broke the “western backpacker” stereotype and went backpacking all over the world. Their tales are inspiring too, given that they are checked, rechecked, question, questioned yet again, and sometimes sent back.

    Wonder what the way out is.

    • John says:

      Thanks for the comment Ashwin.

      Unfortunately, the world is still very backwards when it comes to the growing long-term traveller and digital nomad trends. I understand that we live in a dangerous world so some restrictions are necessary, but most countries are ridiculous. Even my Japanese wife, gets grilled when we come into Canada through smaller airports. The big ones are fine, but too many customs officers are on huge power trips.

      Another problem, is the insane visas. 90 days out of 180 for the entire Schengen Area of the EU? That is crazy. Countries like Thailand rely heavily on tourists and expats, yet force visitors to leave every 15 days to renew their entry visa. That is just stupid. Of course, it is much worse for refugees looking for a better life.

      Governments are waking up to the facts of globalization, environmental threats, the internet, etc, but it will be a slow process until the current generation that have grown up with technology, in a truly international environment will gain control.

      However, overall we really do live in amazing times. The opportunities we have now, were completely impossible and unimaginable to our grandparents. I can’t wait to see the changes the next couple of decades will bring.

  5. Ashwin says:

    Hey John,

    I do agree that in spite of all that you and I mentioned ( along with nasty stories that abound), these are awsome times to live in. I decided that I’ll continue to travel and do whatever it takes to see as many countries as possible.

    I am a very slow traveler, though. I barely covered SE Asia and Europe, let alone the rest of the world. I am on, though. I’ll make it happen.

    Thanks a million for these encouraging posts. I am a blogger myself and I know how difficult it is 🙂


  6. Bill Shattuck says:


    It’s absolutely amazing, what people will go through to improve their conditions. I think a book is in your future, containing all these slices of life that you post. Are these posts from your large Mac? Or did you downsize? Take care of each other.

    • John says:

      Greetings Bill,

      Thanks for the kind words! I have a free ebook that I’m working on. Hopefully, that will be out this fall.

      I’m still on the 17″ Mac. I love the screen size, but it is definitely a little too heavy.

  7. Elizabeth TresCosas says:

    Thanks for this story. You have a big heart and I absolutely love this site.

    Thank you for reminding us all what is important to hold dear.

  8. […] has made me much more aware of world inequality and grateful of the opportunities I do have, a point brought home by John at […]

Leave a reply

Please enter your real name and not an alias. People like to talk to real people. I'd love to hear from you, but please comment to extend the conversation, not promote your business.

CommentLuv badge