Dealing with Fear through Travel
Grand admission. I have fears. Lots of them in fact. Enough to have dealt with panic attacks twice for months at a time in my life. The one thing I am not afraid of is Travel. Really. I had less issues moving half-way around the world to a country where I had no job or friends than I do talking to a stranger at a party. Both times I ended up with panic attacks I was able to pull myself out of it by planning an extended trip to Europe. Go figure, travel calms me. I quite often hear from my friends how brave they think I am living in a foreign country and coming here without a plan. I find that odd, as it seems perfectly natural to me.
Travel is my avenue for personal growth. I take the train to talk to people, have time to think and time learning to be alone. I go to places where I don’t speak the language and eat things I don’t recognize to expand my personal comfort zone. All of this in essence to deal with my own personal fears and anxiety.
As I mentioned in my Goals post, I tend to add one fear to work on as a goal for each trip. So I use my ability to travel with less fear to treat other fears in my life. With so many various fears of different degrees, travel can offer experiences to deal with those. “Face your fear”, they say. I write a lot about the mental aspects of travel. Facing fears in travel is definitely one of these aspects I care a great deal about.
I’m not a doctor, nor would I want to be. I speak from my own experiences, but I have read a lot about the nature of fear in humans. I don’t recommend skipping your therapy sessions for Round the World travel. I do think that everyone has fears and that travel offers a unique field to explore and face those fears. For me at least that field encompassed some pretty major things.
Lately when something comes up as a fear, I see that as a signal as something I should probably do. Travel gives a lot of these opportunities.
- Fear of heights? Tons of towers to climb of varying heights. I found jumping from the boat instead using a ladder to help there.
- Fear of being alone? Try traveling with friends and taking one day to just do your own thing alone.
- Fear of the unknown? Buy a regional pass and hop on the next train out of the station.
I know a number of my fears are more social. Travel has become an excellent avenue to explore and work on those. If the fear centers around what other people think, then travel offers the unique chance to be open and do what you want without the worry you will ever see these people again, but often with the chance you could if you wanted to. By providing a time limited arena, any embarrassment only lasts for the length of your stay.
This ties back into the opportunities section. As I mentioned in the intro, moving without any plan frightened me less than talking to people in a party. Travel offers so many opportunities to work through the fear of chatting up people. Especially as it is often so low risk while traveling.
- Asking a hostel roommate where the best place to eat in the last place he visited is an almost no-brainer.
- Foreign countries are great. Hear English? Ask them where they are from?
- Looking for a train, ask the attractive young woman if she knows which track the train to Vienna is on. (Young usually means some basic English in Europe)
All of these are low risk, because it lets the answer be enough if it is, but also leaves open the chance for a conversation. It is another post, but seriously train travel is the best thing I’ve found for learning chat-up skills.
Travel provides time to sit and reflect on what is important. This may help figure out root issues that are causing the fears. Especially if I am working hard on one of my fears, I wear out quickly. Because on travel I don’t have other distractions or commitments, when I get overwhelmed I can take a day off. Sit in a cafe and watch people and ruminate. Looking back at your days and seeing what went right and the success and good times is very helpful especially in the face of an occasional misstep. As with goals, by all means make working on personal fears a focus of your travels, but don’t beat yourself up about it if something doesn’t click. Just trying is progress. Above all, travel is fun. If it stops being fun, take a day to rest.
- Writing in a journal can help with the reflection piece. While in the midst of the action as it were, the significance of things can get lost. Writing down what you are thinking ends up with two benefits. It helps you focus your thoughts and separate reality from fear-reactions. It also allows you to later examine things from a clearer mind. I see things I wrote years ago in different light. I see where certain things have changed and where others have not.
- Meditation also fits here. Travel gives me a chance to clear my mind in such a unique way. Trains are my favorite venue, but sitting on a beach or the back of a boat are great too. You have time while traveling to just think. Clearing your mind and practicing meditation helps relieve the day to day stress that makes the fears worse. If you can let go of the fear while traveling, then you have a start to do it while in the rest of your life.
It is amazing how fast some fears flow away when something else is more important or more frightening. While traveling you encounter so many new things, often at very short notice. Without a long time to worry and think about the fears, sometimes you can face things in the moment while traveling that normally your wouldn’t dare attempt. I also play my fears off against themselves. I dislike being alone enough to force myself to talk to people.
Sometimes we are forced into situations we would rather not be in and then have to deal with them because there isn’t any choice. This can teach two valuable lessons in my opinion:
- That we can deal with these situations.
- The consequences are almost always less than imagined.
- As expected, Keith at Traveling-Savage has already touched on fear and Dealing with the Lizard Brain.
- Suzy also talks about dealing with fear while traveling in her story of a Sicilian Canyon.
I also recommend a book that has helped me a lot. “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” Susan Jeffers ISBN: 9780345487421 Use your favorite website or support your local bookstore for a copy.
So where does fear relate to your travel experiences?
July 18, 2010 @ 11:22 am
Hi again. I am so glad I was able to help with your site. It was nice to chat with you. I'm glad you found my hole in the wall and that reading it helps. I definitely believe that travel is one of the main reasons that my fears haven't overwhelmed me more than they have.
July 18, 2010 @ 7:34 am
Me again. I can't believe I haven't read your blog earlier. You sound so much like me with a lot of your fears. I've slowly been chipping away at that fear of what other people think of me, and you're right, travel is one of the best cures for that. I'm really glad you reached out to me to help me with my site, which led me to finally (better late than never right?) checking out your blog. It really hits home 🙂