About facing your fears

“Aren’t you scared?”

This is one of the most common questions I get when I tell people that I travel by myself. Truth be told, I’m usually most scared of returning home. Of hearing comments like this. Of people trying to cast their fears upon me. Why is it acceptable to work like crazy for decades until eventually getting a burnout, but travelling solo is dangerous?

In reality, fears always outnumber the dangers. I’m not saying I don’t have any fears, but I try not to catch any irrational ones. I feel there are three important things that anyone can do to reduce living in fear all the time.

Stop reading the news
News make people ignorant. News make people believe Australia is full of sharks, Italy is full of mafia and Russia is full of terrorists. Well, I lived in Australia for four years and never once saw a shark. I travelled solo to Rome and didn’t get kidnapped. I spent a day in St. Petersburg and returned home safely. Newspapers and websites have to make money too, and they do it by picking a single story that will get read. What do you think sells better: “Millions of people travelled to Thailand and had the time of their life” or “Young tourist dies in traffic accident in Thailand”?

How many articles or headlines did you read yesterday? And how many of those do you remember today? Of course it’s good to stay up with current events, but we can’t possibly know everything that happens in the world. If something actually big enough happens, I always find out about it through a friend, a colleague or my Facebook newsfeed. It’s important to not take unnecessary risks, but also to not let your fears become irrational. For example, travelling to Eastern Ukraine at the moment is not advisable, but I met several travellers who visited Western Ukraine without any problems!

News don’t teach us much, so stop reading (or at least believing) a one-sided narrative of events and go find out about things yourself. It’s the best way to learn.

Don’t care so much what other people think
Prior to my trip, I got to hear how dangerous, stupid and selfish my decision to travel solo for three months is. These comments always came from people who had never couchsurfed, made a long trip or travelled solo. It feels disappointing to not get support from loved ones in something that makes you happy. In the end though, the only person who stops me or lets me do what I want is me.

People I meet on the road probably wouldn’t believe this but I was so shy when I was younger. I remember being a 10-year-old kid and standing in line to the grocery store check-out. My mother remembered something she was supposed to buy and went to get it. I didn’t wish for anything more than for her to come back before it was our turn. God forbid I would have to speak with the cashier and tell her that my mother will be right back. I was really shy all the way to my early twenties. Then I got a scholarship to study in Australia and being there on my own forced me to come out of my shell. I’m sure it’s also a cultural difference, since people in Finland don’t really talk to strangers, and in Australia — it’s all they do! I still feel shy quite often, for example in job interviews. As I grow older I’m also starting to accept the fact that I might just be a quieter person than most people. I kind of like it, I never feel as if there are awkward silences — just silences. I’m not introverted though and if I make a connection with someone I can talk about pretty much anything. I even write a blog that anyone can read!

Last year, for three months, all I owned fit in a backpack, but I didn’t care. And neither did anyone else. My friends didn’t care that I used my security pouch as a handbag at their wedding. They were just happy that I showed up. My hostel room mates didn’t care that I had dirty shoes from hiking in the Tatra mountains. They were just happy to have someone to talk to.

My point is: people don’t really care what you do. It’s all in your head. Because in the grand scheme of things, what one human being does on a small planet called Earth, is insignificant. Nobody thinks it’s strange that you sit alone in a restaurant or in an airplane. Hey, you might actually make a new friend! Just speak with people and they’ll be more than happy to share their time with you. And usually, if you’re by yourself, they’re the ones who start talking to you.

Just do it
Because when you want something enough, it’s the only possible way. And what kind of life is a life where you don’t face your fears? It’s the best way to grow as a person. Of course I was freaking out a little bit about my decision, but once I went through with my plan, it felt completely natural. I mostly just wondered why I had doubts in the first place and why I didn’t do this sooner.

I was obviously a little bit worried about finding work after returning to Finland. Prior to my trip, I worked for a great company, but there wasn’t enough work on offer for full-time employment. Luckily, we were able to make an on-call contract, where I could return to this company depending on the workload. Unfortunately, they couldn’t offer me that much work after I came back from my trip. But guess what? Within one week of returning to Finland, I had found a new full-time job. I like how my friend Misha puts it: “Life just carries you when daring to go on adventures”.

I had read in many travel blogs to bring a door stopper. I had one with me, but never needed it. I think listening to your gut instinct gives a very good indication whether a situation is dangerous or not. Sometimes I slept in a person’s living room, and a couple of times in the same room as my host if they had a small apartment. During the three months I travelled through eight countries, I never felt threatened.

You know what my biggest fear is? Waking up at 85 years old with 50 000 € in my bank account and regretting not doing even half of the things I wanted to do. Because you can always sell your time. But you can never buy it back.

My mother gave me a guardian angel that I carried with me throughout the trip. So don’t worry, I’m safe.

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