This post originally appeared in the “Fear” special edition of Solo Travelist Magazine in August 2014, and is reposted here with permission.
As a semi-nomadic female at large in the world, I am constantly reminded that possible catastrophes lurk and threaten at every turn. I have also heard every “don’t go” plea in the book.
“The world is an awful place; there are things in it that you cannot fathom.”
“Why would you travel there? Isn’t it dangerous?”
“What if something happens to you?”
“What if something happens at home, and we can’t reach you?”
“What will you do if you run out of money?”
“What if you lose your stuff?”
What if you get mugged? Or raped, or assaulted?”
Here’s the thing. I love that rush I get when I disembark from the plane or a train and find myself in a new country, city or town. Where I may or may not speak the local language. Where the food will offer me tastes and textures I’ve never experienced before. Where I will be the only person for miles around with blonde hair.
But as much as I love the thrill of the newness, traveling by myself also terrifies me. Deep down, under all the excitement and butterflies, is raw fear. I am scared. I have come to accept fear as a natural, unavoidable part of solo travel. And I believe that if you don’t feel at least a little bit nervous, then you may not understand the risky venture that travel truly is.
I booked my first international trip shortly before I turned 18. I stood on the brink of a lifetime of adult responsibility – and I wasn’t sure I was ready for it. I’m still not sure, nearly 15 years later. My answer to this was to enter fully into the world and learn as much as I could. So, a few weeks before my 18th birthday, I walked into a travel agency and never looked back.
I bought a return ticket to London for my first foray into the world, and the knowledge that I could change my mind and come home at any time certainly helped with the anxiety. It still terrified me to venture out alone, not quite an adult, and nearly 10 thousand miles from home.
What I couldn’t possible have known then was that when those fear butterflies in my stomach turn into stampeding elephants, I know I am doing the right thing. If I hadn’t confronted that fear and traveled anyway, then I could not have learned all that I have learned about myself.
Like how I can reply on myself to get out of trouble.
Like the fact that nothing is irreversible or irreplaceable in this world (except your camera’s memory card!)
Like the discovery that my status as the black sheep in my family was not what really defined me (and the infinite happiness of doing what you love leaves no time to brood over such matters anyway.)
Like the knowledge that I actually have the guts to follow my ambition to backpack and work my way through Europe (and since, Asia and Africa) – a dream a nurtured for many years in my teens.
The truth is, the same sorts of things can go wrong overseas as at home. Life isn’t perfect anywhere in the world. Crime knows no borders. Airlines will ALWAYS lose bags. Assholes are actually everywhere. What matters most is not what happens to you, it’s how you decide to respond. Travel isn’t really all that scary when you consider how it can transform your reposnses to life. It will uplift you, build your insight, and enrich your sense of self.
Face your fears – but in the end, allow travel to be your teacher. It will shape you into a more confident, assertive, friendly, open, trusting, giving and caring version of yourself. And when you look back on all that beautiful change and growth you’ll see that the scariest thing of all would be never to have left your own hometown.
Feel that fear. Embrace it. And go anyway.