It was the 16th July 2011 and I couldn’t stop crying.
The following day was set to be the biggest of my life. After five years of planning, saving, and dreaming, I was now mere hours away from setting out to travel the world. This had been my sole focus for the past 2000 days. I’d taken on multiple jobs and worked every spare second I could in order to save up for this trip. I’d moved back in with my parents. I’d turned down the opportunity to get a PhD. I’d bought ugly travel clothes, subjected myself to a ton of vaccines, and spent many 12 hour days breathlessly poring over travel blogs. After counting down for months on end, my departure date had finally arrived.
But I didn’t want to go.
I really didn’t want to go.
And I very nearly didn’t.
Suddenly, I was convinced leaving to travel would be a huge mistake. Now that my departure date was looming, I had to face the fact that this was really going to happen.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the things that could go wrong.
What if my plane crashes? What if I arrive in Dubrovnik and there aren’t any taxis to take me to my hostel? What if I get to the hostel and they’ve lost my booking? What do you even say when you arrive at a hostel? What if I hate my hostel? What if somebody steals all of my things? What if everyone there looks down on me because I don’t have any travel experience? What if I can’t figure out how to get to my next destination? What if I don’t make any friends? What if I get homesick? What if I get malaria? What if I get lost? What if I get scammed? What if I get robbed? What if I get kidnapped? What if I get raped? What if I get murdered? … What if after all of this planning, I discover I don’t like travel?
I get a lot of emails from people telling me I’m brave. I guess back then, with all of those irrational fears bouncing around in my head, I kind of was. I kind of am. But at the time, I felt anything but courageous. I felt like a fraud. I felt ill-equipped. I felt as though I’d most likely be back home within a week.
I get a lot of emails from people telling me they wish they were as brave I am, and I guess I’m writing this post for them. Because leaving your comfort zone and everything you’ve ever known can be really freaking scary. A lot of travel bloggers make it sound easy, like they just packed their bags, hopped on a plane, and immediately began living the dream. Maybe for them it was that easy. But for me, it wasn’t.
And that means that if I can find the courage to travel, you most likely can, too.
And if I’m being honest, if I hadn’t started Never Ending Footsteps, I’m not sure I would have left.
I’d spent the past six months counting down to this trip online, sharing why I wanted to travel, what I hoped to gain from it, where I was dreaming of visiting. On that day before my departure date, my social media feeds were full of people wishing me luck and cheering me on. How could I then tell everyone I’d chickened out at the last minute?
If you’ve read How Not to Travel the World, you’ll know the first chapter opens with me oversleeping and discovering I had mere minutes to pack my bag and leave. The reason why someone who’d planned out every single step of their trip hadn’t managed to fill their backpack yet? Because I wasn’t planning on even going.
But I left anyway. I knew that if I didn’t, I most likely would end up spending the rest of my life wondering what could have been. I didn’t want my brain to be filled with regrets, so I forced myself onto the plane and into my new life, telling myself that if I hated it, I was only a plane ride away from home.
You know how the next chapter of my story unfolds: travel was incredible for me. It was transformative. It changed my life, and me, for the better.
That decision to get on the plane was the best I’ve ever made.
But that doesn’t mean I’ve lost my travel nerves.
I Almost Didn’t Go to Southeast Asia
I was three months into my trip, had spent time hopping around Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia, but Southeast Asia intimidated me. It had been the one place I’d fantasised about the most when I’d started travelling and I’d built it up in my mind as this paradise I’d fall in love with.
So far, though, my trip hadn’t been going as smoothly as I might have hoped. <– This is an understatement. China had been a disaster from start to finish, full of scams and aggression, where someone spat in my hair and the locals fought to take advantage of me. I got lost all the time, I had never-ending stomach cramps, and the pollution had given me what felt like a sinus infection.
I’d been so excited to visit China, then practically hated every moment I’d spent in the country. I was exhausted, I was unwell, and I was over travel.
The thought of going to Southeast Asia and having similarly awful experiences was enough to have me searching for flights home. I was worried it wouldn’t be as great as I was hoping. I was worried the party scene would be too intense and my fellow backpackers would think I was boring. I was worried I wouldn’t make friends. I was worried I’d get dengue or rabies or cholera. I was worried I wouldn’t have the same awesome-sounding experiences I’d read about in other travel blogs.
I Almost Didn’t Go to Morocco
I flew from Vienna to Barcelona, and then during my layover at the airport, it hit me that I was hours away from taking my first steps in a brand new continent. I’d done my research beforehand and read my fair share of horror stories online about solo female travellers in Morocco experiencing nothing but harassment. I thought I could handle it when I was booking my flight, but I was suddenly having second thoughts.
I was so nervous about flying to Marrakech that I walked through to the departures hall in Barcelona’s airport and started scanning the boards for flights to London. I was so close to cancelling my trip and heading home for a few weeks instead.
I was concerned that Morocco would shove me too far out of my comfort zone. That I’d be sexually assaulted by the men. That the public transport would be unsafe. That I’d be mugged, or be a victim of a scam. That I wouldn’t like the food and would get food poisoning. That I wouldn’t be able to find a tour operator to take me to the Sahara Desert. That I wouldn’t make any friends (this is always a concern of mine).
I Almost Didn’t Go to the South Pacific
I was having a panic attack in the bathroom of Dave’s parents’ home in New Zealand. In three days’ time, I was supposed to be boarding a flight to the Cook Islands and I was on the verge of cancelling.
It had been a challenging year for me, and my anxiety disorder that had remained dormant for the first four years of my travels had unexpectedly reared its head.
The last time I’d experienced panic attacks so close to the departure date of a trip was when I was about to spend a month in the Seychelles, Mauritius, and the Maldives.
I’d cancelled that trip, and in doing so, had calmed my anxiety for a while.
Was I supposed to cancel this trip, too? I was close to deciding to do exactly that.
I was worried I’d have a panic attack in the Cook Islands. That it would happen in a dorm room and everyone would think I was insane. That my anxiety would get worse once I left Dave’s side. That my anxiety would get so bad that I’d struggle to eat. That it would be full of honeymooning couples and I’d spend the entire trip alone. That I wouldn’t be able to communicate with anyone in French Polynesia. That people don’t talk about visiting Bora Bora on a budget because it’s awful to do so.
You’re starting to see a pattern, right?
I freak out about an upcoming trip, I think about cancelling it, I push myself to go anyway, and everything works out for the best.
So eventually, you’d think, I’d stop panicking so much. That I’d realise things often work out and that even when they don’t, I’ll never regret taking a trip.
But my brain doesn’t work like that.
Even though it’s entirely true that I’ve yet to regret taking any of my trips.
It’s About Fear of the Unknown
Every single time I think about cancelling a trip, it’s to a destination I’ve never been to before.
I wanted to cancel my trip to Southeast Asia because I was scared I wouldn’t like it.
I wanted to cancel my trip to Morocco because I was scared it would be too intimidating
I wanted to cancel my trip to the South Pacific because I was scared I wasn’t strong enough to handle it.
Now, if I was to plan a trip to any of those places, I wouldn’t dream of cancelling it at the last minute! I’ve been there, I know what to expect, and I know I love it. It’s no longer unknown, so I no longer have that fear.
I’m embarrassed to admit this, but my summer trip around Europe scared me. I thought about cancelling it, too.
I was nervous to visit Paris.
I’ve been to almost every country in Europe at this point, and I was scared to go to Paris? Yup. I had no idea what to expect. I was worried I’d hate it, I’d get lost, I’d be raped, I’d be murdered.
I was nervous about Venice. Berlin. Luxembourg. Nice. Monaco. Andorra.
These are all easy places to visit. They’re safe. They’re familiar. They’re not hugely different from any other European city. As a European who has seen so much of Europe, I shouldn’t have been intimidated by them.
Anxiety can do some wild things to your brain.
Sometimes I’ve given into my fear of the unknown and cancelled my trips.
I was supposed to go to Palau after my trip to the Philippines
I was supposed to go to India after my trip to Sri Lanka.
I was supposed to go to Malta after my trip to Morocco.
I was supposed to go to Sierra Leone this month, but cancelled it because I’m still nervous about travelling alone to African countries.
It’s a hard question to face, but when I think about whether I regret cancelling these trips, the answer is almost always mostly-sort-of-yes. It’s tough, though, because I know I made the right decision for me at the time. But now? Yeah, there’s definitely a bit of regret and guilt surrounding my decision to give in to fear.
After all, I’ve never regretted taking a trip.
Yesterday, I booked a solo trip to Mozambique for early next year.
I’ve wanted to go to Mozambique for forever, so to score return flights from Lisbon for around $250 was basically my ultimate dream come true.
But I’ve never been to a Southern African country before, so I have no idea what to expect. I’m fearful about my safety, about logistics, about how I’ll get around, about what the country will be like, about whether I’ll make friends. I’m massively intimidated about going there.
Since booking my flight twelve hours ago, I’ve thought multiple times about cancelling.
The Travel Nerves Are Always With Me
That’s what I’ve learned.
I’ve come to discover that every time I book a flight to a place I’ve never visited before, it’s inevitable that I’ll want to cancel it. That I’ll be nervous up until the moment I arrive, no matter how safe and well-visited the country might be.
I’ve learned to live with it and to expect it, but there are several things I do to minimise those nerves and ensure I actually step on the plane.
I think about whether I’d regret not going: Knowing that I could end up regretting my decision to not going on a trip is often what pushes me to get on the plane. I really don’t want to be someone with regrets, and who spends all of their time wishing they’d done something when they’d had the chance. Whenever I think about cancelling my trip, the fear that I’ll end up wishing I hadn’t is what makes me go.
I remind myself I can stop whenever I want: If you can afford to take a trip, you can most likely afford to cut it short and leave. While I’ve rarely done this, just knowing that I have the option to go somewhere else if I hate a particularly place sets my mind at ease.
I meticulously plan my first few days in the country: One of the easiest ways to beat fear of the unknown is to research your ass off about a place until it almost feels like you’ve been there before. Look at photos online, watch vlogs of people exploring the destination on Youtube, buy guidebooks, and book your first few days in advance. I’ll usually hand in my hardcore traveler card at immigration and take a taxi to my hostel, because I know it gives me one less thing to worry about. I’ll stay in the best reviewed hostel or budget hotel in the city. I’ll put together an itinerary for my first couple of days; maybe sign up for a tour to keep myself busy. By the time I come to leave, I’ll have a much better idea of what to expect and won’t feel as nervous.
I listen to Headspace in the weeks leading up to my departure: I feel as though I mention Headspace in practically every single one of my posts these days, but it’s so good at calming travel nerves and fears! I’ll meditate each morning and evening in the run-up to a trip to put me in a much better, um, headspace.
I run through previous trips in my mind: As I mentioned above, I’ve never, ever come to regret taking a trip, so when I start thinking about cancelling a future one, I always remind myself that I’ve felt this way dozens of times before.
Next stop: Mozambique!