By Sarah Roseberry (EPM guest coordinator)
For all of my life, it has seemed like there are two types of people in the world: adventurous or not. If my beginnings would have told me anything, it would be that I was not going to be much of a traveler. I was the kind of kid that would stress out and get homesick if I went to a friend’s house for a sleepover. (I even took my own food with me.) As I grew older, I grew out of my shell a lot, but I am still introverted and very sensitive to my surroundings, more comfortable with the routines of home, happy to be in close proximity to my apartment, my husband and my cat. In my life, calm takes precedence. In other words, I am the least likely person to have a major case of wanderlust.
And yet...I travel. I travel quite a lot, actually. So how did that happen?
Have you ever watched other people and thought to yourself, “I wish I was the kind of person who _____.” I decided at one point in my life to start pretending I was that person, whatever I admired. For instance, I wished I was the kind of person who liked running. I thought, if I was a true adult, I would love to run. So I started taking little jogs in the park near my house, and I discovered that much of the time, I hated it, but for a few minutes every time, I truly loved it. So I could own that attribute and feel like I owned a quality that wasn’t natural to me, but ultimately made my life better. It was the ultimate example of “fake it until you make it.” But I discovered I could apply that to much of my life. And it turns out, I wished I well traveled person.
So, how do I do it? How do I overcome discomfort and (often) fear to make this happen?
The week leading up to travel often filled me with nerves and fear of the unknown. What if I forgot to pack something crucial? What if the food made me ill? What if I got to the airport and couldn’t understand the language? The number of possibilities of failure seemed insurmountable.
But all of those fears are based on two assumptions, false ones at that:
-I, and my travels, must be perfect.
-I am not capable of handling the unexpected and unknown.
There is so much pressure to be had for travel these days. With less vacation time being given and taken in the US than ever, you begin to realize these opportunities don’t come easily for most people. And with costs of living rising, it’s not part of the average budget to pencil in airfare and hotel stays. When you add to that the social media culture of perma-travelers who make their living looking flawless in remote locations, it’s easy to see why there is pressure to have a perfect vacation.
I am lucky there are always people to remind me that expectations are something we can choose to leave behind. I have friends who have recounted me with tales of being in a romantic city with food poisoning, of getting terribly lost, of staying in bed for 48 hours because they were exhausted, etc. Best of all, I have managed to surround myself with friends who are much better at enjoying their travels than documenting them, so I soak up the best from all of their stories and their lessons, and I try to remember that nothing is expected of my times away.
I think the dominating fear for most of us travellers is that we won’t be able to manage, whatever that looks like. We will get lost; we will not be able to speak the language; we will have anxiety; we will embarrass ourselves with our lack of knowledge; we will get scammed spending money on something stupid, etc. In other words, we will be out of our element.
But here is what I keep learning, over and over:
Those things can all happen, and maybe it’s not a bad thing if they do. In fact, maybe that’s the point entirely.
We all have our boundaries and comfort zones, and we cannot grow if we never step out of them. Obviously, we want to be safe and smart about it, but it is human to want to expand. And travel is a perfect vehicle. Much like yoga taxes the body to give the mind a rubric in which to develop, travel provides a set of circumstances for the soul to expand beyond the daily low bar we set for it. It pushes us to acknowledge what we don’t know, move beyond the ego, rely on the outside world for help and use our brains to focus in a way we don’t have to regularly. Autopilot is not an option. To call travel an education is an understatement.
So, while I know that travel will always bring me a bit of worry and push me a little off kilter during the trip, I know that I will adjust, I will adapt, and whatever happens, I will grow. Mostly, I know that whatever happens is meant to happen. No bumps in the road or unexpected obstacles can take away the history I experience, the beauty I see and the ultimate joy I take away from exploring something new.
Now, when people say they don’t understand how I travel on my own, that they would be too scared, I smile to myself, because here’s the truth:
I’m scared, too. But I do it anyway.