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Over July 4th weekend, I’m proud to say I checked a pretty big thing off of my bucket list: I went skydiving!
This is something that I’d sort of put in the back of my mind to accomplish someday. It’s so effortless to say that, isn’t it? Someday I’ll go to that museum, someday I’ll hike through the Grand Canyon, someday I’ll live abroad… It’s just easier to declare, “I’ll do that one day,” than to actually act on it, even if it means doing a small something that is part of a bigger something. And this doesn’t just go for exploring the world. Anyone can say, “I’ll show more appreciation to others tomorrow,” or “Next month I’ll take the bus to work instead of drive.” Making the change and doing it right then and there is actually much more difficult.
Why do we engage in this sort of self-sabotage? Because we’re afraid, and we allow this fear to prevent us from doing the things that we really want. To achieve these goals, a lot of the times we’re faced with change and/or the unknown (scary!). We see our objectives in the distance, like a tiny island off on the horizon–it is possible to get there–but it’s safer to continue with the comfort of what we know. By saying “someday,” we remain on the mainland while keeping that little island in our sights, and we never actually make advances to try and get there.
Traveling in particular is full of the unknown. You don’t know who you’ll meet, what you’ll encounter, and as hard as you try, you’ll never be able to predict all the challenges and amazing opportunities you’ll face. This is part of what makes traveling so exciting, but also kind of frightening.
It’s great to shake things up and scare yourself from time to time, and that’s why I like trying new things and going new places. Yes, it can be intimidating, but most of the excuses people have for not traveling come from a place of fear. You’re afraid you might run out of money, possibly lose your job, or you won’t be able to make friends. Whatever your excuse may be, there’s a good chance that it’s mostly composed of fear.
The good news is, if you can come to terms with your anxiety, traveling and exploring will not only become much more attainable, but it will feel infinitely more enjoyable. Here are some steps you can take to kick fear in the ass and better prepare you for adventures, near and far.
1. Start small
Thinking about running away to Cambodia to teach English for a year? That’s awesome! However, be aware: if that’s your foray into living a more adventurous life, then you’ve certainly skipped the kiddie pool and taken a dive right into the deep end. Seriously, I am all for spontaneity and grabbing life by the balls, and if this plan of action is really calling your name then you should go for it! But if you’re feeling super hesitant or want to build up your confidence for travel, start on a smaller scale.
You can actually create the adventure in your life that you need–go on a hike somewhere unfamiliar, attend a show for a band that you’ve never heard of before, or take a class in something you’ve always wanted to try. Also, get in the habit of introducing yourself to anyone interesting you meet–not only could that person be an absolutely amazing new friend, but it will help you hone the ability to talk to anyone, which is a valuable skill to have on the road.
The main thing to keep in mind is: new. Try new things, meet new people. Doing this as often as possible will give you a taste of how wonderful it is to venture out into the unknown. The more often you do it, the less you’ll view unfamiliar territory as something to avoid.
2. Get a hold of your finances
For the longest time, I believed travel was a luxury I couldn’t afford. Cruises, weekend vacations, international trips–none of that seemed possible for me. I felt like I could barely pay rent each month, so how was I going to travel at all? Now, I travel domestically much more often, and I’m trying to save up for a bigger trip in the near future. I changed two things.
First, I faced my debt. Wow, this was (and actually still is) quite hard to do. Living with debt, no matter how small, can feel paralyzing, and more often than not I’d rather be tragically binge-eating potato chips in a Snuggie than examining credit card statements or letters from Sallie Mae.
Understand that I’m not sharing this for pity. I’m sharing this because money plays a huge factor in the frequency and type of travel someone does, and there are a lot of travel fears that stem from cash, or the lack of it. Also, I’m not the only human being in the world with debt. If you’re out there, have debt, and think you can’t travel, I want to convince you otherwise.
It’s the hardest thing, but you have to sit down and actually figure out the number you owe. This sounds silly, but for the longest time I didn’t even know how much in debt I actually was. I was so afraid to open those letters each month, so I shamefully put them in a drawer to remain blissfully ignorant. In fact, when it came time to figure out how much I owed, I cried. However, after seeing the number and making a plan to slowly but surely pay it all back, I felt lighter. That unknown amount of loans and credit cards was what was weighing me down, but the actual number was far less worrisome.
After understanding my financial situation better, I also stopped buying shit. Whenever I go shopping, I ask myself, “Do I really need this?” More face wash? Yes. New socks since my old ones have holes? Yes. That cute dress from the mall? Nope. I do still treat myself from time to time–I am human–but I try to remain as conservative with my spending as possible.
3. Do research
Knowledge is power, my friends, and if you’re armed with a lot of information about where you’re going or what you’re doing, you’re way less likely to be scared about it.
The internet is a great tool, but don’t let it be your only method of sleuthing around. First you’ll be Googling some country in Eastern Asia to visit, then you’ll find a link that will take you to a Facebook post by this guy in New Jersey whose friend had a terrible experience and had to go to a hospital there, and that will lead you to WebMD where you’ll see all the rare diseases you could catch. Next thing you know you’ll be crying yourself to sleep with the lights on.
Instead, talk with people who’ve been there or done that. There is nothing more valuable than a little sit-down with people in real life who can tell you all about their experiences. If you don’t have any friends who have visited Cape Town or know any family members that learned how to fly a plane, then ask them if they know someone. Chances are, people are going to be super excited for you and want to get you in touch with anyone that might be able to help you.
4. Work hard (so you can play hard)
Whether you work an hourly retail job, a 9-to-5, or you run your own business, remember that nothing is guaranteed. Yes, if you decide to take 3 months off from your job to travel through Europe, there’s a chance you could return to no job. But tomorrow you could have no job. You could have hours cut, the company might downsize, or sales might tank. The point is, now is the best time for you to pursue your passions. However, don’t think that in order to follow your dreams you have to sacrifice your job.
My best advice is to become invaluable in the workplace. Work your ass off. Do your job well, go above and beyond whenever possible, and solve the problems that come your way. If you like your job and would love nothing more than to explore the big bad world and then return to said job, bring that up to your employer and see what options might be available. There’s a chance they might look into hiring a temp while you’re away, or that a portion of your job could be done remotely. If you work an hourly position, perhaps they’ll let you pick right back up when you return. The point is, you never know until you ask.
After all your hard work, you may still find that you went after your aspirations but lost your job because of it. Bummer. But don’t fret! If your work performance before leaving for worldly travels was stellar, you’ll certainly have some great references for other potential employers. Also, if you left on good terms, your former boss or co-workers may even know of some leads for you.
Also, look at your adventures as a chance to grow or learn new skills that you can bring back with you. Traveling in and of itself is valuable, and more than likely, a well-traveled person has a lot more to offer than someone who’s never left his or her hometown. Even if your current workplace disagrees, a different prospective employer may see the value in the time you spent gallivanting around. Whether you’re hiking the Appalachian Trail, WWOOFing in Argentina, or getting in touch with your family history in Ireland, there’s a lot to be learned on the road.
5. Keep those you love and trust informed
Obviously, you’re more than welcome to keep your dreams and desires to yourself, but life is about sharing. When you’re ready, find people you love who are supportive of your goals and let them know your plans. Even if you’re still dreaming things up and everything is in the brainstorming phase, sharing your hopes and ambitions with others makes distant dreams more tangible. Then, once plans become more concrete (airfare is booked or you’ve signed up for some daredevil activity), those will be the same people you can check in with, request to send you things while you’re traveling, or leave copies of important documents with. They’ll actually be able to help you stay safe.
Anyone can sit around alone and think about rock climbing in Arizona or riding an elephant in India, but talking about it with someone is the first step to making it a more realized goal. Suddenly it won’t be some scary, unspeakable hope that you have–it will be a real aspiration that people who care about you will encourage you to go after.
The worst thing you can let fear do is have you say “someday.” I’m so glad that I had the final push to try out skydiving. If I hadn’t, there’s a good chance I’d still be camped out on that metaphorical mainland, keeping my eyes on the island in the distance but never making any plans to reach it. Coming to terms with fears is no easy task, but if you’re able to do it, you’re well on your way to some pretty amazing adventures!
What sorts of travel goals and dreams do you have for yourself? What fears do you have when you think about actually going through with them? What kinds of travel and adventure experiences have you had that were scary but were totally worth it in the end?
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