When I tell people my newest hair brained scheme (the last was to do a homestay in Guatemala for a summer, the next one is to travel from Beijing to Hong Kong on the Chinese trains on my own), the question I get asked the most -after ‘how can you afford to backpack for so long?’ – is ‘aren’t you afraid?’.
I guess in a word; the answer is yes. I’m obviously scared that something bad might happen to me, when I’m in a country where I don’t know anyone. I’m worried that I’ll lose my passport, that I’ll end up in hospital (which given my track record is pretty much a dead cert), that I’ll get completely and utterly lost one day and never find my way. I don’t think this is travelling’s fault, however, I’m just generally a worrier.
And in my heart of hearts I know that I’ll probably be ok. I went to a foreign hospital every year for three years on the trot and it always got sorted out. I could fix a missing passport. I’ll probably get lost, but that’s part of the joy of travelling. I’m hardly going to disappear into an abyss, never to be seen again.
Contrary to popular opinion, the idea of travelling alone actually calms me. When I disembarked the plane in Guatemala, I didn’t know anybody in the country. I wasn’t even aware of anyone I really knew in the USA at the time. I asked an airport attendant where the toilets were in broken Spanish and they didn’t understand what I was saying. I’d just landed in a very foreign country, I didn’t have a clue where I was meant to be going next, and apparently I couldn’t speak the language. And I felt completely liberated.
It felt like I’d just flown right into a blank canvas. This was my trip, and I could make this whatever I wanted it to be. I didn’t have a car, I didn’t have any expensive possessions on me, I didn’t have a job. I had enough money to feed and accommodate myself for seven weeks, and that was all that I needed. It’s weird to know that you’re only responsible for what is on your back, but it’s a great feeling.
When I compare that to a normal day in the UK; which involves getting up, driving to work, working for eight hours, driving home, cooking dinner, going to bed, and rinsing and repeating the next day, I’m terrified. I agree with the whole ‘we work to pay for rent for a flat we don’t spend any time in’ argument – living this way just seems so fruitless to me, and frankly, it’s this that scares me most. I can’t contemplate the thought that this could possibly be it. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my job and I love cooking, reading and running; which are all things that feature in my daily routine, but planet earth has a radius of 24,902 miles. The idea of there being so much more out there, and the idea that all I do is travel 13 miles to go to work every day, terrifies me.
Normal life has so many scary responsibilities that you just don’t come across when you’re travelling. I got flashed for a speeding ticket the other day, and all I could think was ‘this won’t happen in China…’. Of course, if I rented a car there, I could probably get myself in all sorts of scrapes. But with the kind of travel I’m planning on doing; sustainable and involving lots of trains and buses, living out of a backpack and with the only expensive items I own having full insurance, I can pretty much guarantee that I won’t be forking out £100 for a speeding fine while I’m there. And if I miss my train, I’ll get the next one. It won’t matter.
When you’re on the road, you don’t really have these everyday anxieties to think about. You have less possessions and little is expected of you. Even the minor commitment I made when I was in Guatemala – to go to Spanish school for five hours a day – was only done on a week by week basis. I could have upped and left any Friday, if I wanted to.
Relationships are different on the road too. You don’t have to conform to anyone’s idea of you, you can be your complete self without any judgement, and there’s no set schedule for how things must pan out. Leaving and saying goodbye might be sad, but you accept that these things are just inevitable. Then you run straight into the next phase of your adventure. You know the quote ‘you can’t start your next chapter if you’re too busy reading the last one?’ it’s much harder to dwell, reading your last chapter when you’re travelling. The pages of your adventure turn of their own accord, and you can only stay on one page if it’s absolutely where you want to and are meant to be right now. Things just happen when you’re on the road, and because of the lack of rules and restrictions, there’s no right or wrong way to do anything.
It’s these rules and restrictions in everyday life that freak me out. The fact that what you’re doing is either right or wrong. If you get a speeding ticket, if you have a bad day at work, or if you get dumped you feel like you’re doing something wrong. It makes you feel like you’re failing at life. And it can seem like you’re going to be in this situation forever, because of the repetition of routine.
Travelling is different. Sure, bad things can happen on the road; as I previously mentioned, you can get ill, you can lose something important, or you could be in a place you don’t know enough about and accidentally wander into a rough area and have something bad happen. But the pace of travelling means that these things are extraordinarily easy to overcome. The easy going way of life that you adopt when you’re travelling means that these kind of things don’t matter so much. You don’t fall into the same pit of despair when something goes wrong, because you know in a week that everything will change.
Travelling enables you to be completely rid of normality, of routine, of excessive possessions. And do you know what you also leave behind when you get rid of these? Worry and fear. You start to trust your own intuition, you stop hypothesizing ridiculous situations and you start to live for the moment. You remind yourself that it’s ridiculous to think so far in the future and instead you appreciate what is around you right now. You stop putting make up on and don’t bother with your hair. You do so much walking around that you feel constantly fit and healthy, without forking out for a monthly gym membership. You stop caring about the way that you look or, more crucially, the way others think you look. You start realizing the inner beauty of humankind. You begin doing things that you never before believed you had in you. You’re living to the beat of your own drum and enjoying life in its purest form.
How could this be scary?
Travelling isn’t scary – it’s just unknown. Not being educated about a place you’ve been to can be really daunting. I’ve definitely been there. But the more you travel, the more you realize that in the majority of countries, you can stay safe. Most people in the world are good, and want to help you out. And in the unfortunate circumstance that something bad happens to you? In most of these cases, a similar thing could happen at home.
Once you embrace the unknown, you can have it all.
As humans, we’re made to constantly evolve and develop. What way of doing this could be better than visiting new places and making new friends in all corners of the globe? I really don’t believe that we were made to stay in one place, work in one job and do the same things our entire life. And the idea that that might be it, that’s what terrifies me most.
I’m not saying that everybody should take off for a nomadic life; obviously everybody is different, and I know that the crazy schemes that I come up with definitely wouldn’t be for everyone. Likewise, there’s lots of people who have found their passion in their daily job; and that’s absolutely fantastic! Life’s all about finding and living your passion, and I just know that navigating foreign countries and cultures is mine, at least for now. One thing that I think is universal is that everybody should stop fearing the unknown; in fact, they should run towards it with open arms and say ‘I’m delighted to meet you’. Whatever your unknown may be.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to settle down, if I’ll ever be content to have a routine and normality, and to settle for the idea that it might be that forever. Maybe I’ll reach a time in my life when I’m delighted at the prospect. But I think, even if I get a permanent base and have a family, I’ll always want to embrace the unknown. I’ll always have this phobia of a repetitive life of normality in front of me.
I might be apprehensive about what may befall me when I go travelling, but I’m also pretty confident that whatever scrapes I get myself in, I’ll be able to resolve them. I’m more excited about the unknown rather than scared. But the idea of staying in the UK, racking up speeding fines and buying countless material possessions that I don’t need at all – and that being all I do until the day I die? Well that absolutely terrifies me.
As always, these opinions are my own and I’m aware that some people may completely disagree. Which is great – the world would be a boring place if we all agreed, wouldn’t it?
If you want to read a little more about why I travel, check out Maybe I Lack Fulfilment, But I Travel to be The Best Possible Version of Myself. Or if you want to read a little more about my upcoming plans, take a read of My China Wishlist! Don’t forget to read over my Central American archives which will tell you about the travelling I’ve done so far, and take a glance about how I’ve been bringing adventure to South West England.
What do you think? Does the idea of travelling scare you, or does normality freak you out? Comment below and let me know! And if you enjoyed this article, don’t forget to share it and follow me on Facebook for more.