My first reaction was to giggle madly.
This is often my initial response to fear: I start laughing. Some sort of deranged startle reflex, maybe, shock at seeing something so frightening on a tranquil hippie paradise of a Thai island.
So when I saw the spider that was bigger than my hand, with legs that could span my face, I giggled. (Then I took a video for my Insta stories because I’m a millennial.)
I slowly backed out of the room and went for help: a broom to reach that son of a bitch because he had decided to perch in the upper corner of my high-ceilinged room, and maybe a person to do the dirty work of spider murder for me. I pantomimed to the unimpressed Thai staff and a cheerful man accompanied me back into the spider lair.
He proceeded to knock the spider off the wall and under the couch, smile beatifically, and depart.
Now not only is there a spider in my room, but now I don’t know where he is. I am not overly afraid of spiders, but I deeply dislike being surprised by them. And this dude was now hiding and probably waiting around until I decided to get halfway into my long-sleeved bathing suit to come out and drop casually onto my head as I flail in the cheap nylon fabric, or perch on my chest watching me with all his eyes while I sleep (nightmare scenarios I envisioned).
And I’m all alone.
It’s up to me to find a solution. I debate setting fire to my bungalow. I contemplate picking up and going to nice cold Finland, where no giant spiders could survive. Could I just leave? It was a 17 hour journey to get to Koh Phangan from Bangkok. Also what if the spider is in my bag and joins me?
Thanks to Google, I determine this SOB is a Huntsman spider, common in the tropics and famous for being giant and scary-looking but not actually harmful to humans. They can jump though (AHHH). Ok, so it won’t kill me. That means I shall kill it.
I screw up my courage and shoo him out from the couch back up into his hiding spot in the sliding doors, and sally out to buy some sort of bug-murdering spray like a soldier heading off to war.
I am alone, but I can do this. I have murdered so many cockroaches in my infested Boston apartment, I am a champion spider killer, I can even kill the demon centipedes that live in drains back home that have also led me to contemplate burning the whole place down. Clearly, I am not of the save the bugs persuasion. Swift elimination is the only route for me (I could never be a Buddhist).
With moral support from the arachnophobic French woman in the bungalow next door, my mysterious Thai spray in hand (it has lots of pictures of dead bugs on it which seems promising though I can read nothing else) I charge the hiding place of my spider. I shriek occasionally when he flings his leggy body around the room, climbing all over the mosquito net that envelopes my bed but I keep up a steady toxic spray. A few very long minutes later, his crumpled body looks tiny as he succumbs and I sweep his corpse outside.
I feel like the victor of a long, hard war (in fairness this took nearly two hours which is a lifetime of watching a giant hairy thicc arachnid traipse all over your bed).
This is solo travel summarized in a very dramatic way: sometimes it means you’re free to wake up and meditate under the sun rising over the Gulf of Thailand on a white sand beach. Sometimes, it means you come back from that lovely meditative state to embark on a war with a fierce foe who is native to this land you’re a stranger in, and there’s no one around to help you.
One of the hardest things about traveling alone is relying entirely on yourself. I have been single a long time and lived alone for years, so at home I’m quite self-reliant.
But the problems at home are routine, comprehensible, and I have a cat to help with the pest control. Abroad, they’re as exotic as my surroundings: how to kill jumpy hairy spiders, finding a place to vomit when you have violent food poisoning and your hostel bathroom is full, how to buy clothes in a land where everyone is 5’1″ and an A cup and you seem to them to be a busty giantess.
Sometimes you can ask for help (Thai people will be brutally honest in assessing whether you can squeeze your Western ass into those pants when asked). But often you’re on your own.
With every new challenge I solve on my own, like getting on the right bus in Bulgaria or successfully not ordering tripe in offal-obsessed Lyon, I grow a little more confident.
Each border crossed, each bout of stomach problems survived, each jolting bus ride endured sees me grow a little more comfortable with discomfort, with uncertainty, with asking for help when I need it and doing my own spider murdering when that doesn’t pan out (I should probably not rely on Buddhists to do my killing in future). And it’s okay if there are still a few heart flutters and shrieks in the process.