Photo: Zach Dischner
I BEGAN MY FIRST overseas trip about a month before my 51st birthday, planning to be away for two months to travel to Morocco, Spain, Italy and Greece. Until then, travel had been a “one day” thing I would do, but after my 50th birthday, I realized “one day” wasn’t going to happen by itself and I didn’t want to look back and regret not taking that step.
Preparing for that solo trip I was scared, uncertain and ignorant about what to expect about any aspect — being in countries where English may not be widely spoken, finding my way to the train, then the hotel, making sure I got the travel connections, ordering food. Every single thing was either emotionally or mentally challenging.
To ease some of my anxiety, I mapped out my itinerary with regimented efficiency – two weeks in each country, no matter what, and two days in each city or town — which didn’t leave any room at all for any hitches (and there were a few!). Before I left home I completed 8 week courses in Travel Spanish and Italian — which was enough to speak Spanglish or Englian.
Trying to control my fear and uncertainty obviously influenced how I traveled, especially in the first couple of trips. In Peru, on the way to Machu Picchu I couldn’t tell anyone in my hiking group I was scared spit-less, that I didn’t know if I could finish the Inca Trail. We had just finished hiking one day of the Trail, going an extra 2 hours to make camp and it had already pushed me more than I’d ever anticipated, not just physically, but mentally. I had only met the other nine hikers in my group days before. We all got along well, but I hadn’t shared anything too personal with anyone — I take a while to open up to people. But God, I sure wish I could have just spilt my guts and said, “I’m scared.”
Since then, allowing my fear or lack of knowledge to be seen, has been so valuable to me. It’s okay not to know. In Monteverde, Costa Rica I was 59 years old, getting rigged up to go zip lining on the longest line in the world — just over 1½ kilometres and between 100-200 metres above ground. All around there was bustling activity, instructions given and metal clicks as the staff also rigged others up. Amidst the heightened energy, I felt the butterflies bashing against my chest and my eyes must have been popping out of my sockets, because the guide asked, “How are you feeling?”
“Nervous!” I said. What an understatement.
He was in his forties, with brown eyes that saw through bullshit and looking at me carefully, asked, “Do you want to go on the Superman line?” This is where you put your arms out to each side as if you’re flying and have no contact with the line except from the brace on your back. It was one of seven lines through the course.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I want to, it looks fantastic, but I don’t know if I’ll be too scared when I get there.” It was a little humbling, feeling my pride crashing to the floor.
He rigged me up so that I had the option and looked me in the eyes and said, “You only live once. Pura vida!”
Pura vida indeed. It felt so liberating zipping down all seven lines, feeling the fear but also feeling freedom. It was such an expansive and confidence building experience.
Travel is where I have experienced in a compressed amount of time, a variety of physical, emotional or mental challenges that stretch me. It supports me in keeping an inquiring and open mind, a curiosity about other cultures and traditions. As I accept the challenges of each journey by accepting my fears, I develop a sound self-awareness, self-esteem and confidence.
It is through travel that I have been able to progressively transform this fear of the unknown and work with it in a healthy way. Now, when I show my vulnerability and admit to others when I’m scared or nervous, I’m so appreciative of the connections I form with people, the way it opens me instead of keeping barriers in place. As I accept my own insecurities and doubts, dropping the artificial pride within me has helped me become a more compassionate, tolerant and accepting person.