I know, “Do what scares you” is the type of typical, oft-repeated phrase, like “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, that gets annoying because it can be so general and idealistic.
Even so, I’d say that the non-luxury / non-tour travel I love so much is largely about challenging yourself.
Making your own itinerary. Packing less. Readying yourself for the airport (I am specialized in being terrible at this). Finding your way through confusing transport systems to your accommodation. Eating alone. Being alone sometimes. Talking to strangers (who seem altruistic). Trusting your instincts generally. And if you’re with a partner, getting through the maze of new experiences collaboratively.
So yes – you often have to do things that scare you. Since I’ve started living abroad, I’ve had a lot of people call me brave. I’ve got a lot of feelings about this that are for another time and place, but the simple response is, “well yes and no.” But it’s definitely true I do things that scare me all the time.
And being a former anxiety-riddled, severely introverted, change-resistant individual, I can say with confidence that I have grown to love the challenge and the thrill.
Since I’ve joined a few groups for womxn travelers on Facebook like Girls LOVE Travel and The Solo Female Traveler Network, I’ve been really humbled and inspired by the people from all walks of life who insist on the travel life (often, despite the odds). There’s a place for the star photo editors who pose all over Europe in gorgeous dresses and bikinis. And there’s a place for the single moms who are taking the trip of her life with their child.
When it comes to travel-lovers, a huge variety of experience, passion, and what it crucially comes down to for a lot of people – levels of financial stability.
Because you need money to travel, right?
(I’ll give this famous question the most simple answer possible: As with anything, it depends on your priorities. If I don’t want the house, the big family, the pet, the car, and the city life, and I instead put my earnings to saving for trips, plus throw in a few travel hacks, then it takes a lot, lot less money.)
I think this is a big part of the reason I’ve always been resistant to promoting my travel to some extent, because it feels somehow icky to me. Bragging has never been the point of any of this. I just want to live my life as I like and see fit (and keep in touch with my travel buddies). I want to experience new cultures. I want to get to know people who are different from me. I want to learn from this crazy little thing called life.
Although we can all get sucked into the decadent selfie, ultimately it’s about the memory and not the photo of me doing a fancy yoga position in Tivoli, Italy (which, yes, exists).
I have always been a “budget traveler with exceptions” at heart. Meaning:
- I stay in budget hostels (with at least an 8.7 rating, however – my germophobic upbringing would never forgive me)
- I travel with budget airlines and by bus, even if that meant traveling for 14 hours nonstop (you can also read a creative nonfiction piece I wrote about that experience)
- I Couchsurf – and it changed my life (may write a post about this another time)
- I occasionally cook my own food (though unfortunately, hostel kitchens are often badly equipped or gross)
- I prioritize free attractions first (walking tours, museums, parks)
Where do I splurge? Well… my favorite way to treat myself has always been food and coffee. Forgot to introduce myself. Hi, I’m Chloe’ – unofficial gourmand and aspiring coffee snob.
Now that I’m older and know the game and am not so worried about money, I won’t settle for the cheapest option all the time, plus I feel a lot less bad about splurging for experiences. In my opinion, it’s always been about the ability to feel awash in good, unique, irreplaceable memories. The looking at a picture or reading an article about a place after and realizing, “Damn, I was actually there. I actually did that.”
So let’s return to the original question, what does it mean to do things that scare you?
What scares you is extremely subjective. Back in 2012, I would have never even dreamed of Couchsurfing. Now I do it regularly. But I still (say I won’t) ride a scooter when I finally make it to Vietnam.
Here are a few things I’ve done recently that scared me (BUT I DID THEM ANYWAY AND IT WAS FINE) in no order:
- Moved to (TWO!) countries where I didn’t know anyone or have any connections
- Became a digital nomad with only short-term prior experience as a freelancer
- Worked while traveling for the first time, which came with a lot of new challenges
- Visited Morocco and Egypt for the first time for 18 days with my cousin in the summertime, which involved lots of bargaining and (accidentally) taking trains in 106F/41C-degree heat
- Climbed Knocknarea in Ireland alone, perhaps not so impressive for frequent solo hikers, but a big (literal) step for me
- Visited the American South to go on a cultural safari in my own country
- ^Exclusively bused around the U.S., which I discovered is doable but extremely inconvenient
- Took a plan-as-you-go trip without knowing where I’d be, where I’d stay, or what I’d do more than a couple days ahead
- Survived with only a backpack for 3+ months
- Continued learning Czech with the help of a – to be fair – very kind and accepting Czech family that doesn’t mind my many mistakes. Every time I know I have to speak even still – whether at lunch, at the doctor, or at a family party, I get a jolt of fear, but I also know without ignoring that fear, I’ll never improve.
Clockwise from top left: At a Fjord in the Irish countryside; being photographed taking a photo of the murals in Atlanta, Georgia (damn I’m short!); the sometimes-decadent life of a location-independent freelancer.