As I stood in line waiting to board the MV Explorer, I thought to myself, “There’s no turning back now.” I looked around at all the other adventurous, excited college students surrounding me as the bright Bahamian sun beat down on my head. As I knew would be the case, there was not a familiar face in sight. I was about to board a ship that would take me thousands of miles away from everything that I knew and loved. Everything that was comfortable and familiar would be completely out of sight for the next four months. I was completely, out-of-my-mind terrified.
But, that’s the thing about travel. It can be scary. It can be uncomfortable. It can push you in ways that you never wanted to be pushed. It can challenge your body, mind, and spirit to the point of exhaustion and frustration. But honestly, this is one of the big reasons that I love it.
I left my parents behind on the dock that day and sailed away on what would be the greatest journey of my life, a voyage around the world that led me to new and exciting places that I have only ever dreamed about. Because that’s the thing about fear, sometimes you just have to let go of it and hope for the best.
And let me tell you, testing the limits of my fear did not end there. Around every corner lurked a new experience that had me, sometimes verbally but often only in my own head, shaking in my boat shoes. I seemed to constantly be asking myself, “How far will you go?” “Will you take a risk and step out of your comfort zone?” “Are you actually going to pee in that dirty hole in the floor of this speeding train?”
Sometimes, it was individual experiences that I feared the most. I prayed the entire time I was clutching my little Vietnamese motorbike driver as he whizzed in and out of traffic on the crazy, jam-packed streets of Ho Chi Minh City. With only a flimsy, loose helmet covered in Looney Tunes stickers between my head and the pavement, it’s safe to say I saw my life flash before my eyes more than once as we narrowly escaped accident after accident. I’m pretty sure that I may have cracked one of his ribs I was squeezing so tightly. Poor guy.
But then, I remember looking around me and realizing that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The sun was shining, the wind was in my hair, and a beautiful and interesting new city was all around me. I loosened my grip, opened my eyes wide, tilted my head back and just let go.
Now, I’ll be honest. This day did not leave me totally unscathed. I ended up with a pretty nasty, possibly third-degree, burn on the inside of my right calf from jumping off the wrong side of the bike and brushing up against the exhaust. I’m not going to lie, it hurt.
But you know what, I can handle a little burn. I had an amazing day riding around town on the back of that motorbike, and I experienced the city in a way that I never would have sitting in the back of a taxi. Plus, that exhaust left me a pretty badass scar and now for the rest of my life I can point down at my leg and tell stories of the amazing experiences I had back in Vietnam. Letting go, so worth it.
Sometimes it was a whole country I was afraid of. India completely petrified me. I think it was because I knew that I was going to see things that I had never seen before, and some of them would be really disturbing. I tried to prepare myself for the poverty, the congestion, the filth, the heat. However, thinking about these things just made me more and more nervous. But scared or not, the day our ship pulled into the port of Chennai I knew that I had to just do it.
As I stepped out onto the deck and began to descend down the gangway stairs I immediately felt the intense, strangling humidity take me over and I breathed in a thick, dusty air that I had never before experienced. Again, there was no turning back and I was forced to let go of my fears and give into this new country.
India was definitely overwhelming. The rickshaw drivers and the beggars were remorseless, the streets were crowded, the heat was unrelenting, and the smell was, well the smell was interesting I’ll just say that. I could have easily let my fears and frustrations get the best of me and not seen what was lying under the surface of all of this, but I’m so glad I didn’t. It wasn’t always easy, which anyone who was ever endured a third class bedbug infested Indian sleeper train can attest to, but it was worth it.
I ended up really letting my guard down and taking in all of the wonderful things India had to offer; gloriously spicy and delicious food, vibrantly bright colors, beautiful and welcoming people, and a rich, unique, and splendid culture. It is truly an amazing country, and I wouldn’t change my experience there for anything. I got to learn about a place and people so different from my own, which was an amazing gift. Again, letting go, so worth it.
It’s funny that the more scared I am for something, the more fun, rewarding, and valuable it ends up being. Though I tried to seem fearless during my travels, I was definitely far from it. Whether it was jumping out of a plane in Hawaii, swimming amongst humongous wild jellyfish in Thailand, eating completely unrecognizable (except for that it kind of resembled worms) food in Japan, standing merely three feet from flowing lava on the top of a volcano in Guatemala, or venturing into a unknown Baptist church in a South African township for a Sunday service, I released my fears and did my best to never look back. Without a little fear travel wouldn’t be an adventure, and in my book that’s just plain boring.