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. I travel and I blog but I am not (yet!) a traveling blogger but ditto to what you say on people telling me all the time “I wish I could do that” – the one phrase that frustrates me the most and comes close to only this one: “Do it before you have babies…” because apparently that will ruin my life (while it will still be the best thing that happens!??) I remain confused on all that but clear on one thing: One Must Travel! And what you are doing, facing that fear and turning it into courage is brilliant. Best of luck and do be safe.

    1. Thank you! I see that “do it before you have kids” mentality a lot and it IS confusing. I figure I will just keep doing the things that make me happy for as long as I am able…

  2. Yes! This is exactly what I tell everyone who wants to work or travel abroad. Much of what I write and preach to young professionals is all geared at giving them the tools to go and follow the ‘road less traveled’. The reality is that no matter how many tools you have in your toolbox, if you don’t know how to put them to best use, then they won’t work.
    I heard this a while back and I have used it to live a more adventurous and fulfilling life. “Fear is being scared and doing nothing about it. Courage is being scared but still taking the chance to do it.”

    Have courage all you upcoming travelers! (Trust me…the world is a wonderful place. @Steph – I did the same thing after college and went on a gap year. I moved to Australia after traveling around the world for 4 months with no apartment, friends, jobs. I kid you not, within a day of getting there, I had an apartment, friends and 2 job leads. It was a super star day!)
    .-= Olga @ Going Global´s last blog ..Do Women Have Extra Considerations When Choosing to Work Abroad? =-.

    1. Well said Olga. Learning to deal with fears and anxieties without letting them control you is a huge life skill.

  3. Great post and topic! People sometimes laugh at the concept of travel and personal growth, but I do believe you pick up important life skills through travel. When you’re on the road long term you are forced to deal with many of your fears and go outside your comfort zone almost every day. It can be scary, frustrating, tiring and sometimes you want to throw in the towel so that things can be “easy” again. But you’re right, you come out the other side all the better for it. You have a new confidence and it becomes harder to “scare” you from what you can do and what is possible in this world.
    .-= Audrey´s last blog ..Antarctica: A Decision =-.

    1. It’s true, life is short and unpredictable (a fact I’ve been mulling this week). It’s important to live it to the fullest.

  4. I will conquer my fears, and my upcoming trip will be the time for it. For people that know me, my trip is completely left field as I am a shy quiet type of guy (honest).

    When I board that plane everything will change. No longer will I be saying no I’ll be saying yes. I will make new friends and I will have the time of my life.
    .-= Chris – The Aussie Nomad´s last blog ..Three Steps To Perfect Vegemite Toast =-.

  5. I was terrified stepping onto the plane and officially out of my old life to become a nomad. The need to try another approach to life was far more important than the fear. I found myself almost involuntarily pushing ahead, even though my heart was racing and my knees were a bit weak.

    Since that day I’ve been facing (and overcoming) so many fears that I’m already feeling a bit of a change in me. It’s been worth every skipped heart beat, every jelly-kneed step and every moment of tummy flutters.

    I’d agree that facing your fears and just doing it is far more important than some people realize. People are often stronger than they think, and the world is usually less scary.
    .-= Catia´s last blog ..Packing List for Round the World Travel =-.

  6. we totally agree. i think people are often scared or just find excuses to avoid to do things but chris is the proof that if you really want something you could achieve it. he really used to hate flying that we would prefer rather to drive London to Venice instead of taking a silly flight of barely 2 hours. He still doesn’t like flying but has taken already 8 long-hour flights and survived 🙂

  7. You’re right on target. Most often in life, it’s limitations we place on ourselves that keep us from following our dreams.

    I blogged about this when I got back from backpacking solo through Africa a year ago: http://allonsy.wordpress.com/2009/03/20/so-you-want-to-travel/

    So many people asked how I could do that as a woman, and the answer is: because I wanted to.

    Best of luck with your RTW trip. Can’t wait to follow along!

    @alexisgrant
    .-= Alexis Grant´s last blog ..Restless writing with Mary Morris, travel memoirist =-.

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