Do the Thing that Scares You

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why so few people actually make their travel dreams reality. Anyone who is a frequent traveler knows the common refrain from others of “I wish I could do that!”  To which I always answer that you can. For some reason people don’t seem to believe this.

A lot of it is priorities, but I think another huge barrier for many people, is fear. There are a lot of misconceptions and fears surrounding long-term travel. Among them

  • Fear of being unsafe
  • Fear of being lonely
  • Fear of missing out on life at home
  • Fear of deviating from the status quo

And maybe the biggest of all:

  • Fear of the unknown.

My original plan for this post was to go through these one by one pointing out the logical reasons that these fears ring hollow. It wouldn’t matter though, because fear is not a rational emotion.  I have these anxieties from time to time and I have traveled enough to know the truths behind them. Instead, I want to point out something about these boogie monsters that I think a lot of people don’t really think about:

Fear can be a good thing.

Or rather, overcoming your fears can be a really good, healthy thing. Looking fear straight in the eye, taking a deep breath, and forging ahead anyways. It’s certainly not an easy or particularly fun experience, but it’s on of the most important skills you can learn.

It is important because even in life at home we often have to do things that are scary. Things like first dates, or job interviews, or having babies, or really any major life change at all. Ife we played it safe all the time nothing would ever happen to us. We certainly wouldn’t have much fun.

Moving to London, without a job, or any contacts, was absolutely terrifying to me. Of course I was excited, but in the days leading up to my arrival it was all I could do to make myself get on the plane. Still, I did it, and it’s a good thing too. Because if I hadn’t I would never have made amazing friends, or fallen in love, or backpacked through Bosnia, or flown a glider. The bigger the risks and the scarier things seem, the greater the rewards.

Now, I’m not advocating that you do things that are irrational or dangerous.  There is a big difference between playing Russian roulette and learning to scuba dive even though you are afraid of fish. There is a difference between defying your fears and defying common sense, and I think if you can stay connected with the logical part of your brain it’s easy to differentiate between the two.

It’s about learning to trust yourself. It gets easier as your go. The first time you strike up a conversation with random people at a hostel you may be secretly petrified, but each time you get a little bit bolder. Suddenly you are the chatty friend who talks to random people at bars and nobody believes you when you tell them you are secretly an introvert.

I know that I will be terrified when I leave for my Round-The-World trip in September. Logically I know it will be amazing, but there are still a million undercurrents of fear in my ocean of excitement. I will go though, and I will force myself to meet people and to encounter situations that I will have no idea how to handle. I will throw myself out of plans and sleep in dingy hostels and meet random strangers. And I’ll come out on the other side better for it.

I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite authors, who was a vagabond and world traveler in his own right, Mark Twain:

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”

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48 thoughts on “Do the Thing that Scares You”

  1. This blog certainly resonates with me! I am leaving in 10 days to Poland from the USA. I graduate in 2010 from college and have been working on and off for 2yrs since graduation. I had a well paying job but I felt I was missing something in my life. My aunt and uncle live in Poland and I will be living with them when I move there. I’m not gonna lie, I am completely scared out of my mind as to what the heck am I doing! I don’t speak the language well, I have adequate savings but I don’t have a job secured, is this a smart thing to be doing?!?!

    I have thought many times about backing out and just staying put in the safety of the states but I think I will always regret not doing something like this. Even if it is a failure I can at least say to myself I tried!

    I have to say my biggest fear is getting work. I have dual American and European citizenship but not knowing a 2nd language really could be a hassle a negative to employers.

    Keeping my fingers crossed for success in life! Best of luck to all of you travelers out there as well! Life is too short to not try something that scares you to death! 🙂

  2. Fear of the unknown is perhaps the biggest inhibitor of my plans, but I’m slowly learning to conquer it! I loved this post. It resonates with me and proves to me once again how strong the travel community is. People in this community aren’t afraid to follow their instincts, a notion that would fill others with dread and eventually remorse. I say embrace the change! Life the life you imagined!

  3. Thank you for this post. For the past 2 1/2 years I have been pining for a big, solo trip, but now that I have an opportunity to do so, I am suddenly scared out of my wits. I almost gave up. Until I revisited your blog.

    1. Aww I’m glad, don’t give up! I’ve never met anyone who regretted getting out to see the world.

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