Dhaka is a very large, crowded, and busy city. In fact it’s one of the most densely populated and polluted cities on Earth. This means travelling across it is somewhat fraught. The best way to get around is by “CNG” – a gas-powered (hence the name) auto-rickshaw that’s basically a metal cage on wheels. The driver unlocks the door, you get in, then they lock it behind you, effectively trapping you inside, while they then brave the traffic on the city streets.
It’s a scary feeling, knowing you’re trapped and your safety is entirely dependent on someone else.
On one of the journeys I took in one, I was reminded of a reply I posted on someone else’s blog, talking about how travelling isn’t scary, and you should always be pushing your own limits to experience new things, but always keeping in mind what you think you’re capable of, and not extending yourself too hard lest you have a bad experience out of your control that puts you off travel completely, when a strange thought suddenly came into my head.
Control. Setting limits and pushing them. Escape strategies. Trusting yourself and others. This sounds like something else I know a bit about …
Let me start by saying that I in no way condone the storyline of ’50 Shades of Grey’. It’s more a tale of the grooming of a naïve innocent impressionable woman rather than that of a consensual couple on an explorative journey of BDSM, and would be considered more than a little abusive by much of the kinkster ‘scene’. However, aside from the fluffy handcuffs sold by Ann Summers, and the possibly long-forgotten anthologies by Nancy Friday, it’s the nearest mainstream comparison I’ve got.
While kink and travel may appear to be directly opposed – one involves giving up control, the other is very much about taking control, in some ways the two are much more closely aligned than you might expect.
Let’s take, for an example, first steps. I’m British – this means (invoking harsh but, in my case accurate, stereotype) I speak English and am uniformly useless at any other language. In addition, I’m an introvert, so time alone and personal space are important to me. This means that when I decided to take my first solo trip for a long time, I didn’t just book a flight to some random place willy-nilly; rather, I asked people who had travelled where they thought I’d be best to go. I thought long and hard about what I wanted to get out of the trip, and the sorts of situations I’d feel comfortable in, bearing in mind I did want to test my limits, albeit in the right environment. They all suggested South-East Asia – historical, cultural, relatively cheap, a place where I didn’t need to learn the intricate details of a foreign language, and somewhere full of other travellers I could connect with if I was feeling low. They were right – it was an awesome three week trip that set me on the road to who I am today. Had I gone to Francophone West Africa instead, I suspect it may have been too different, too intense, and too stressful – it’s a lovely part of the world with a lot to offer, and I’d argue Benin is one of my favourite countries to travel in, but there’s no way I would have felt like that had I not travelled extensively around more familiar parts of the world first.
In addition, because it was my first solo trip for a while, and I was going to somewhere different to what I was used to, I did some research beforehand; seeing what I wanted to see, what the local foods were, other people’s experiences of bus travel, the rough costs of accommodation, etc; I sussed out what was realistically possible, what was worth seeing – I fleshed out several possible itineraries. In the event I followed none of them, but that I did the research meant I was comfortable being able to change plans and itineraries.
It is the same with kink. As a beginner, when you take those first steps into the lifestyle, especially as a sub, it is very much a journey into the unknown. Even if you have prepared yourself mentally beforehand, there’s no sense in doing too much too soon, lest it overwhelm you and make you panic. That first time someone wraps rope around your wrists is a seminal moment, it’s the ‘point of no return’. You have to be sure that this is what you want, before you commit.
You wouldn’t try out a new bondage position, either as a rigger or a bottom, without knowing how to do it and looking for advice on how to do it, lest something goes wrong; in addition if you’ve never been tied up before, you wouldn’t usually choose to be suspended vertically the first time someone put you in rope; it would be just too big a step for most people.
Of course all this is prefaced with a huge Your Mileage May Vary. The only person who knows your limits, knows how far you can push yourself, is you. The danger, in both kink and travel, comes in pushing yourself too hard, too far, too soon, and finding yourself out of your depth with no quick way out.
That said, if you feel it’s all getting too much for you, you can always ‘safeword’. At any point you can always go ‘I’m not comfortable, I don’t like this’ and leave. In travel terms, home is only a booked flight away. Although you try not to use your safeword, as it will immediately mean the end of a session, sometimes you’re just not feeling the vibe, sometimes you’re not comfortable, sometimes you need your home space. Just remember it’s not a failure. The most experienced of travellers get angsty in towns and countries sometimes for no explainable reason. The most experienced rope bottoms will have days, sessions, where they’re just not able to be tied in those positions. Sometimes it’s something about the specific event; try a new position, go to a new country. But sometimes it’s just not going to work that day, or that trip.
It’s incredibly important to remember that no matter what has happened, no matter how shallow or deep you are, safewording is not a failure, it’s a safety mechanism; to keep doing something that makes you uncomfortable, or that physically hurts, will affect you in the long run and make you hate the concept. Better to not work that day, not work with that rigger or sub again, not go to that country again, than not do anything again at all.
It’s the same if someone is making you do something you don’t want to do, either in kink or in travel – a companion who demands you go with them to a particular tourist site, a local guide who insists you use their services, etc. You are always allowed to say ‘no’.
There’s another similarity too between kink and travel, especially for me personally – and I think one that will feel familiar to many travellers. I’m a control freak, especially about time and place – I always need to know where I am, and what time it is, at any given point on my travels, especially when on inter-city buses. Sometimes, however, you need to lose control to feel less worried. Take for example taking a bus in Africa; you know it will leave, but you don’t know when, so the only thing to do is to wait, you can’t rush, it will happen when it happens. And that loss of control, the not knowing when you’ll leave, when you’ll arrive, or what you’ll do en route, is strangely liberating. But you have to trust the drivers, the bus operators, to know what they’re doing – and sometimes having that faith is quite hard to accept. I’ve talked a bit about this before, when I wrote about travelling on buses in West Africa.
This is similar to being tied up – you give your control over to someone else and you have to trust that they’ll get you to the right place, in your mind, but that act of giving up control can be very calming; knowing you can’t do anything means you don’t worry about it.
One slightly amusing comparison I have made is that being hogtied by someone you trust for a set length of time is no different from being stuck in a foreign country until your flight leaves. You know unless you actively do something you’re there for a fixed amount of time, but you know you will eventually leave, so either you tap out (which in travel terms doesn’t achieve anything, since your flight is fixed), or you just relax and enjoy it.
In a similar way I’ve compared the act of flying itself (especially on a budget airline) to being falsely arrested or caged up at a fetish night. You know you’ll be released eventually, but before then you’re stuck in an enclosed, uncomfortable, space with the same view out for several hours, surrounded by other people who aren’t going to communicate with you, no interesting way to pass the time, and any sleep you get will be bitty and interrupted.
As a final note, if you want the feeling of experiencing both kink and travel together, to feel that ‘loss of control’ while on the move, try being driven around blindfolded. It’s a very weird experience; your other senses heighten quite strongly and you feel every turn of the wheel, no matter how slight, and every bump in the road. You lose track of both time and direction – it’s quite unnerving but also strangely liberating and rewarding.
Are you a control freak? How do you handle losing control?