If you’re reading this, that means you love to travel! Forget about being nervous. Whether you have visited 20+ countries or have just come from a road trip to your nearest city, you know the value of travel! When you travel, the world seems so much more exciting than normal. The sights you see are more beautiful, the food is more delicious, and the people you meet are more carefree. Even when you meet challenges, learning to overcome those challenges has made you more versatile and more resilient. You can handle tough situations with more ease and confidence, and you can’t wait to travel again!
So why do you still get nervous before you leave?
This is a question that I have asked myself many times. Before I left for my first backpacking trip, I was overcome with nerves and had trouble sleeping properly that night, but I figured that was because I hadn’t traveled alone before. When I decided to go to a small town that didn’t have any accommodations listed online, I was terrified that I would have to end up sleeping on the street because I wouldn’t be able to find a place to stay for the night. Before I moved to Beijing, I started worrying about whether my Chinese was good enough to prevent problems and hope to god that I wouldn’t have to get a taxi because drivers get mad at you if you don’t know directions.
While I have no illusions that I will ever get over my doubts, I try to redirect them in a positive way.
[Recommended Read: How to Book Accommodation on Arrival]
What Travel is About
To overcome fears about traveling, you have to answer one question: Why do you travel? The possibilities for growth and self-discovery are immense, especially if you travel alone. Some of the benefits of traveling are below:
- Incredible sense of freedom
- More expanded worldview
- Deepening of relationships
- Development of skills, like language or handling unexpected situations
- Sense of adventure
- Blissful distraction – you can leave your worries behind
- Ability to educate yourself, especially in language, culture, and history
- Great stories to tell
- Amazing and exotic food
There are millions more reasons! Travel, to me, is a chance to live a different sort of life. The more places you’ve been, the more beauty you can see around you, especially in a world that is set up to report as much bad news as possible. Even if you aren’t trying to, travel also makes you more interesting. There’s always something to talk about if someone asks you what’s up – just tell them about all the places you’ve been!
Why Travel is Worth It
When you leave behind the comfortable and boring, and move into the unpredictable and adrenalin-inducing greater world, you are opening yourself up to new experiences, new skills, and new confidence. There’s a reason that people are more attractive if they have traveled the world.
But with all of these great benefits comes the discomfort of letting go of something predictable, where you always know where to go for dinner and how to use the public transportation system. While traveling, you ask yourself to constantly adapt to new environments and new cultures, moving around just as you get used to where you are. Because of this constant challenge to yourself, you can grow incredibly fast, learning to speak a new language in months rather than decades, but it can also be stressful.
Some people can thrive in highly unpredictable and stressful environments, but they are in the minority. They’re the people who have hitchhiked through South America and have made their living by joining the circus in Bolivia. Needless to say, they’re not the majority. But even those of us who get nervous before traveling are doing ourselves a favor!
Why Having Nerves Means You’re on the Right Track
Being nervous usually means that you anticipate something going wrong, or that you’re not sure what’s going to happen. As we all know, that nervousness is completely justified. Things go wrong. Wallets get lost, you get lost, you forget to bring something important. Being nervous can go hand-in-hand with being excited. They’re not contradictory feelings.
But with every challenge – whether it goes well or not-so-well, is a chance to grow. It’s a chance to prove to yourself that you can handle something different, and live through it!
My Travel “Horror Story”
The first challenge that I faced while traveling was on a small island in a lake in Bolivia. I had trekked part of it and had gone to the wrong place in search of the boat to bring me back to the town, and by the time I realized it, I was 30 minutes walking away from the actual port and already late for the last boat of the night. Even though I was alone, thankfully I had some cash with me if I needed to find a place to stay on the island for the night. I didn’t know what to do, and broke down crying in panic for a minute.
But I was determined to try getting off the island (I briefly thought about swimming, which in retrospect is the single stupidest idea I’ve ever had in my life – it would have been a couple hours at least). I asked for directions in the 20 Spanish words I knew, and happily made it to the port – only to see all the boats were gone. There was a single boat left, and only one person cleaning it, but I had no other options and asked him whether he would be able to take me back to the town. He explained that it was a private boat, but the tour group was just about ready to leave and he could ask them. Luckily, they agreed, but that was the single more emotionally and physically exhausting experience of my life.
When I look back on the experience, though, I am really proud of the way I handled it. Even though I was very panicked at the time, it turned out to be just fine. And the best part is that afterwards, I have an awesome story to tell.
[Recommended Read: How to Learn a Completely New Language While Abroad]
How to Create a Contingency Plan
While it was nice to be able to face a challenge and get through it, I’m not so eager to have the same experience again. Hence: the contingency plan.
With anything, taking some time to go through potential ways everything could go wrong is actually calming, because you can see how absurd some things are. (Getting run over by an elephant in Thailand? I mean, I guess that could technically happen but chances are close to 0.) For things that really could happen, the best way to prepare is to actually prepare. What will you do when things really happen?
- If you lose your passport? Where’s the nearest embassy/consulate?
- If you lose your money/wallet? Do you have multiple debit cards or extra cash stashed in a secret compartment?
- If you lose your phone? What is information that you need? How do you back up your photos?
- If you get sick? Do you have basic medicines (aspirin?)?
- If you meet a person who gives you the creeps? Do you know how to get out of the situation?
- If you lose some important item or run out of it (like contact solution or feminine products)? Do you know whether and where to buy more?
- If you have too much stuff to fit into your bag when you leave? How much does it cost to ship things? What are you willing to leave behind?
Keep Moving Forward
These are some of the most basic things that can go wrong, and if you have thought through handling all of these crises, you’ll have thought through probably 90% of all potential problems. There is not much else to worry about after that. Anything else that goes wrong, you can use your answers to the above crises to help you through ones that come up.
For my getting lost story, there’s not much that could be prepared for beforehand. As long as I brought the map of the island with me and could point to where I needed to be, I was going to be okay. At the time, my Spanish was terrible, but I still managed!
Being nervous about traveling – whether it’s your first time or twentieth – is COMPLETELY NORMAL! As I like to say, if you don’t feel nervousness and excitement (fine line between them), what you’re going is not enough of a challenge! It doesn’t mean you should dive in head-first to everything and just hope it turns out for the best, but if you can reduce risk and have a great time, embrace the nerves!
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What was a time when you felt nervous before traveling? How did everything go during the trip? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments!