I was recently asked by a friend how she could get over her fears of going abroad. In effect, she wanted to know if I still get nervous traveling. Or whether you reach a certain point of travel expertise where the nerves go away. And if that was the case, how she could prepare herself enough to diminish her fears.
I can’t speak for other travelers, but personally… I get nervous every time I board a plane to go abroad. My stomach churns from the moment I roll my suitcase up the curb and through the sliding glass doors in front of the check-in counters. By the time I make it on the plane I have to remind myself to breath so I can get my carry-on into the overhead bin without taking out a few passengers or dropping all my belongings across the aisle. And then I sit down. Look out the window. Tap my fingers, feet, anything, waiting for takeoff. The level to which I stress out is actually harmful to my body – I have gotten physically ill on a flight abroad and it’s no secret that my health issue is stress-triggered.
But usually, the moment the plane takes off, when I feel that whoosh in my stomach and my head tilts until it’s caught in the seat back, all those nerves turn into butterflies and I get overwhelmed with a sense of excitement. A sense of possibility. Much like what I feel while I’m planning a trip.
It’s that feeling that makes me want to travel again and again.
My stress and the very reason I travel are triggered by the same thing – the unknown. It’s tempting to get nervous when I realize I’ve forgotten to look up the directions to my hotel and have no wifi connection (which incidentally happens every time I travel). But then I am forced to go out, speak to people and find my way. Because Lord knows I’m not hanging out in the airport all day. And when I finally get going en route to my hotel I get that overwhelming sense of excitement (and accomplishment) all over again.
Getting lost is just the beginning.
When I was standing on a street corner in Giza trying to find vegetarian food, the language was a huge barrier. But let me promise you that in the moment, your stomach (or hanger) will take over and refuse to let you starve. I didn’t even remember to feel nervous. I just walked across the street, leaving my confused dad to point wildly and repeat “Vegetarian!” over and over to the street vendor without any luck, and grabbed the only businessman in sight for miles, thinking maybe he knew a little English. I was right and with some explaining (“no meat”), I was able to convey my message. He laughed, presumably because a vegetarian in Egypt was short on options, but proceeded to help me. He said something to the street vendor, pointed at me, asked if fries were vegetarian, “yes,” asked if salad was vegetarian, “yes,” asked if eggs were vegetarian, “yes,” and so on. I ended up with a strange egg/lettuce/ketchup/French fries/onion sandwich, but hey, it was vegetarian food. I didn’t starve. I made a friend. And even learned a little bit about the culture in Egypt. Oh and we went back the next day and didn’t even have to order. The street vendor just smiled and set to work creating the strange sandwich for me again.
So yes, there are so many unknown variables before you travel, especially before you go abroad for the first time (preparing will set many of those fears at ease). And no, I am not afraid of traveling but the nerves don’t seem to be going anywhere either. And I hope they don’t. Because without them I don’t think there would be the little butterflies, the overwhelming excitement, the sense of accomplishment or my insatiable desire to see, touch, discover, understand and explore the unknown.
*Photo via Pinterest