It’s been three years since we’ve taken a flight. Three years since the heightened anticipation leading to departure engulfs me.
It’s a unique feeling in these final days leading up to a trip. Excitement for sure, especially this time around after being landlocked for nearly three years, but a lot is fear and uncertainty. In the years that I have traveled, I have put on a tough face and braved whatever lay ahead, but truth be told- I am scared. Every. Single. Time.
To combat the fear, I focus on my checklists, triple check the bags, make photocopies of passports, clear space off my phone and devices, and do just about anything to keep the time ticking.
Because when I stop moving, I feel it in my throat. That worry. That fear. And I find myself asking, “Why the hell do I do this?”
How My Relationship With Travel Began
For me, it goes back to second grade when I fell in love with Kenya after befriending a priest who sat with me in my speech lessons to practice his English. He spoke of his country and his arrival to America and I was in awe. From then, I studied the globe, countries, people, languages, and cultures.
From then, wanderlust consumed me.
I never doubted that every place I saw on the map, I could someday reach on foot instead of in my mind. I never doubted that my dream “to do” list wouldn’t be accomplished, which even at the age of 10 included “horseback ride across Mongolia” and “scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef.”
Travel became a lifestyle as a child, even if just in my imagination and in the books I read. My relationship with the world manifested to my soul, but like all relationships, there is a steady ebb and flow of highs and lows.
Days before departure are always a low point.
Travel in the Face of Fear
But it never stopped me- that internal fight I constantly have that makes me want to cancel all travel plans and stay cooped up on my couch where I am safe in what I know.
No, I never act on those impulses driven by fears. Somehow the adventure and wanderlust always win in the end. And I am grateful for it.
Knowing I am scared reminds me I am human and in a sense, this is humbling. These days before departure when the fear creeps in provides a sense of enlightenment of my place in this universe. It provides insight into what is of value to me.
When I was 18 and first began traveling without a support system, it forced me to be aware of my surroundings, especially as a young woman. And most importantly, that fear put into perspective what matters most in this life. Not the material possessions I had collected that adorned my first apartment. The vintage cameras I used to collect, the new wardrobe from IKEA filled with clothes, shoes and jewelry, even my first set of kitchen plates and utensils.
None of that mattered when I took a trip.
Traveling in the face of fear taught me that this body and this mind are the most valuable things I possess in this lifetime.
Now, as this new adventure awaits, with my 4 and 1 year old in tow, it is this lesson that I find most rewarding and important to instill in them. The ability to leave it all behind. All their toys and friends and grandmas and family. To step on a plane with simply a backpack full of enough clothes to last a few days and the world of the unknown ahead.
They, of course, have no fear. My little 4 year old excitedly telling anyone he meets how he is going to London and Paris and Bruges. How he is flying on a plane and how the days are ticking down.
And once we take off, he won’t even remember that new Jackson Storm truck he earned or stack of books he reads through each night with his dad. He will be traveling. Experiencing life in his own body. His feet moving. His mind expanding. With no worry of those consumer goods we are inundated with.
Bonus: That Fear Actually Makes You Smarter
It is a natural instinct to fear the unknown. It has been throughout all of history. And this instinct, psychologically and physiologically, ignites a different part of the brain into action, thus making us smarter in a sense.
This life is the sum of our time in this mind. Between the ages of 0-6, our minds grow rapidly, and then a little slower, and then those myelin-coated axons sending the rapid fire signals to our senses and response systems begin to fall into a rhythmic, predictable pulse.
So how do we stretch our brains and keep it growing as adults?
Answer- You travel. Travel teaches adaptation - going outside your daily norm helps you become more flexible in terms of your decisions and outcomes. Not everything works out as planned when you are unfamiliar with something, which is often the case when traveling, and this forces your mind to expand and bend to respond to new situations. This therefore advances your processing, critical thinking, and adaptability- all areas of psychological functioning. So traveling actually makes you “smarter” in that it gives your brain the opportunity to learn new systems of response- hence adapting.
So, am I scared to trek off for 4 weeks, especially after three long years of no international travel and the world in a very different state than when we had last flown? Hell yes.
Will I still do it?