I never would have considered myself a timid, nervous person, but I certainly wouldn’t have classified myself as brave, either. My decision to go abroad to teach in a homestay in Italy stemmed from multiple years of yearning for adventure. Adventure, which I had always dreamed of having, but never managed to.
What is it that kept me (and countless others) from traveling when it’s one of our biggest dreams? Fear. Fear is the thing that holds you back. You fear leaving what you know for something you don’t. You fear not being able to buy the right plane ticket. You fear asking your boss for time off. You fear not being able to understand the language, or taking money out of a foreign ATM.
You fear what will happen if you break out of your comfort zone.
Fear is a funny thing, though. Once you face it, you realize that what you were so afraid of really wasn’t as bad as you thought. Yes, it’s a cliche. Face your fear, and you’ll return “Conqueror of the World.” Yes, this cliche is sometimes false– some fears are there for a reason (tight spaces or deep water, anyone?). But sometimes a fear coincides with something you really want, precisely for that reason– because you really want it. You fear what will happen if you don’t get it. And you fear what will happen when you do.
Committing to traveling (not just deciding to go) is perhaps the biggest hurdle. After you take a deep breath, squeeze your eyes shut, and click ‘purchase’ on your plane ticket, the rest of the steps seem to fall into place. You’ll make a packing list, and then actually start packing. You’ll round up all your travel documents. You’ll plan your itinerary, book some reservations, and constantly feel like you’re walking around in a haze, because you’re finally going after your dream.
While all this planning will give you a confidence boost, nothing compares to when you’re actually overseas. I felt like a five-year-old at first, baffled by even the simplest things–like paying the bus driver, turning on the shower, and flushing the toilet (Europe has some wacky bathrooms, okay?). But as I slowly became accustomed to all the differences, my confidence in myself grew. When you travel, especially alone, you have to depend on yourself. And with each passing day, you realize how resourceful you can be.
I don’t know when exactly the switch in my brain flipped. Perhaps it was a gradual change, after days of asking strangers for directions, eating alone in cafes, deciphering maps, and meeting adventurous people day-in and day-out. I went from being afraid to leave the airport, staring at an unflushable toilet, to booking hostel stays in major cities and traveling to them alone, without a second thought. Now, instead of sitting at home dreaming about the possibilities, I sit with my laptop abroad and plan out when I will go horseback riding, hiking, skydiving.
Traveling breaks you out of your comfort zone. It shakes up all your preconceived notions of the world and the people in it. It catches you off guard, occasionally frustrates you, and often leaves you breathless. It’s impossible to predict what will happen when you travel, and for this reason, you become adaptable. Able to roll with the punches. Brave.