AJ and I had dinner with my parents recently and my mom was asking me about my upcoming trip to Nepal. “Aren’t you nervous that something might, you know, happen?” she kept saying. “How do you know you can trust the guides you’re going with?” It reminded me of a topic I’ve been wanting to write about recently, and I figured there’s no better time to talk about it than when I’m off in the literal middle of nowhere with no internet or phone access whatsoever. Travel anxiety is a real thing, and it’s something I deal with to this day – even as my feet are firmly planted in my 21st country! Hi from Nepal, by the way. I wrote this before I left, but it’s the thought that counts, right? Right.
Even seasoned travelers still get anxiety. I wouldn’t even consider myself a seasoned traveler, really. I have never backpacked for months at a time through remote villages. While I sometimes use public transportation when I’m visiting a new place, I’ve never relied on it solely for weeks or months at a time. I have been to very few places that are that far off the beaten path. But still, I’ve had a lot more experiences than most people I know, and I constantly get asked the same question: “Aren’t you scared?”
Amanda and I found our guide, Jose (center) via TripAdvisor. We ended up becoming friends and hung out with him and his friends after our days were over! He did not attack us, obviously.
The short answer is that yes, I’m scared – I’m always scared – but it’s probably not for the reasons you might think. I don’t really worry much about my personal physical safety (in short – I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about being physically assaulted). That doesn’t mean I don’t think about it, I just don’t worry about it – and there is a difference. Physical safety is very low on my list of concerns for a few reasons: 1) Most places aren’t nearly as dangerous as we think from our American bubble 2) I do a ton of research before I go (shout out to Trip Advisor) and hire people I trust and stay places that have been vetted and 3) My overwhelming experience on all of my travels is that people want to help you out. I choose to place my faith in people while still listening to my gut, and so far, it’s been a huge success. A lot of people think that poor countries are inherently dangerous, but that isn’t really true. Are you maybe more likely to have your stuff stolen? Maybe, but that doesn’t necessarily mean people are violent or trying to hurt you. It’s important to make that distinction, figure out what you can do to keep yourself safe, and then go anyway.
So what do I worry about? It sort of depends on the place, but I often worry that I won’t have fun. This hasn’t happened to me yet, but I do spend a lot of time worrying that I’ve built the trip up too much in my mind and it won’t meet my expectations. What if I don’t meet anyone on my trip who I can relate to (when I’m traveling solo)? What if the weather is miserable and I’m too hot/too cold/too wet/too whatever? Interestingly, I worry a lot about being uncomfortable, even though I tend to handle being uncomfortable pretty well, and I’ve taken a lot of “uncomfortable” trips (hello, Nicaragua). I know I can sometimes be negative and, while my attitude is solely within my control, I have a hard time digging myself out of that headspace once I find it.
Running the International Friendship Run in Tokyo with US and Japanese friends!
I also worry a lot about food. Not because I don’t like a lot of food or I’m a picky eater – I’m not! But I react so violently to gluten now that I am terrified of being exposed to it on the road and ending up spending the day in the bathroom. Luckily, many developing countries use a lot less wheat than we do in their products (think lots of beans and rice, which is the case in Nepal, too!), so I often find it’s easier for me to eat in other countries. But still, that fear of getting sick is ever-present and really, who wants to spend their whole trip in the bathroom?
I worry about not packing appropriately. Sometimes, that’s not such a big deal, especially if you’re in a developed country where you can buy what you need. But if you’re in the middle of nowhere and you find yourself without some essential item, you’re in trouble. Case in point: I’m hiking from remote village to remote village in Nepal. There’s not going to be anywhere to purchase things if I happen to forget them, except for maybe some basic clothing items. So I am struggling between bringing everything I own so that I’m prepared while also recognizing that I’m going to be carrying it on my back for two weeks! That fear of not having what I need is real, but so is the fear of bringing too much stuff, being miserable, and ditching it along the trek!
Learning how to (sort of) throw a discus in Jamaica
I worry about my friends and family back home. It’s weird, because I don’t worry about things happening to me (which is definitely what my parents worry about), but I have a ton of anxiety about something happening to someone close to me back home and not being there. In Nepal, I will have NO phone access except maybe the occasional landline, so if there is an emergency back home, it will be very hard for me to find out about it. That’s really scary! I will miss talking to AJ, too – he is my rock and the reason I’m even remotely sane – and I worry about handling tough moments without him to talk to. But I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again, so I remind myself of that often.
The opening of the bridge in Nicaragua!
In what is a newly developed fear since coming back from Nicaragua, I also worry about readjusting to being back home. I have had such a hard time coming down from the high of that trip, and I still am not really over it. I know Nepal has the potential to be just as transformative, and while that’s a tremendous – and amazing! – blessing, knowing how hard it is to come back home is also tough. Nicaragua left me questioning everything about my purpose in life and what I’m doing with it, and if I’m being honest, that’s exhausting. I’m mentally preparing for the same thing to happen this time, and I am trying to make peace with the fact that travel will change me – and that’s a really, really good thing.
The thing that keeps me traveling is knowing that despite my struggles with anxiety and fear of the unknown, I have always had a great time and learned something about myself on every trip I have been on. While it can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster before, during, and after, it is always worth it! I’m not likely to stop traveling any time soon – but I’m also not likely to stop worrying about it. Sorry in advance!
LEAVE A COMMENT: Do you experience travel anxiety? If so, what do you worry about?