“You are so brave.”
People often say after hearing stories from my recent travels.
“You have so much courage to do what you do.”
They affirm when I discuss my life plans.
I’ve been called fearless.
But friends, guess what? I get scared too.
Like, all the time.
Ahem, here goes…
Flying in Airplanes
If you’ve read this post, you know how scared I am of flying.
I am that girl sitting next to you on the airplane who refuses to make eye contact while tightly gripping your arm rest… or maybe even your arm.
How can a world traveler be so afraid of flying?
I remember when my fear of flying prevented me from taking trips. If I did decide to book the flight I experienced sleepless nights anticipating our ascent. I carefully selected my seat on the plane based on which section would least likely explode in the event of a collision.
My first trip alone I flew to Rome for a study abroad program. I was 20. I remember calling my boyfriend on my layover in Paris crying from turbulence-induced trauma. He had to convince me not to turn around and fly home.
Flying often forces me to face my fear, but it still exists within me. If I allowed myself to fixate on it I would literally never step foot on another plane.
Instead I book the flight. I focus on where I am going. I remember that it is a necessary part of the journey. And while I am on that leg, the uncomfortable part where I’m moving thousands of feet above ground, I search deep inside for gratitude. I interact with the kind people around me. I appreciate the uninterrupted hours I’m granted to devour books. I look out the window in awe at how incredible and beautiful the world is and how lucky I am to see it.
Before long I’m on the ground.
Not Having Money
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware of money and the control it can have over freedom and happiness.
Growing up I was often told that we did not have enough. That we could not afford it. That we were struggling. At times financial stress seemed to dominate the energy our household.
By contrast I remember Christmases where I came home carrying thousands of dollars worth of designer clothes. When any financial bind could be solved with a simple phone call and a sob story. When the quantity of gifts and the zeros on checks were symbols of how much I believed someone cared.
I remember hearing the message clearly: life is better with money.
This is the sole reason why I pursued a Business degree instead of something I truly loved. I never wanted to have to think about money ever again. I didn’t want it to be a source of stress in my life.
So I didn’t think about it. I didn’t budget. Instead I aimed to make as much money as I possibly could. I refused to look at the prices on menus or on the tags of designer jeans. I wanted to spend with reckless abandon.
As you can imagine, I lived paycheck to paycheck. Even when I was earning a high salary and worked three side jobs I never saved a dime.
Until I left for Costa Rica.
I lived on the tightest budget I had ever been on in my life. I did not allow myself to buy anything. I tracked every penny I spent. Many times I felt deprived.
Since then I have spent exorbitantly on trips to Europe and lived on next to nothing in Nicaragua. No matter where I went I recognized that the less I spent the longer I was able to travel. Money became the difference between freedom and entrapment.
This is why the thought of not having it is so scary.
However my experiences have shown me that I actually need so much less than I’ve grown accustomed to. They’ve also demonstrated that if I trust that I will be supported I will. Times when I’ve been in financial binds, things miraculously worked out.
Instead of feeling anxiety about my bank account, I remember that scarcity is an illusion and the universe abundantly provides if I just take a moment to ask for what I need.
Years ago someone very close to me said that they did not think I was capable of being happy. The words stung because at the time I thought they were true. I had come to accept this about myself, that I would always be at least slightly dissatisfied.
It wasn’t until I began a simple life as a beach bum in Costa Rica that I truly felt content with where I was, who I was, and what I had. It was life altering.
However, no path is linear.
Each time I return to Seattle I experience culture shock and depression. After a month I generally acclimate but feel a sense of dullness. I feel less alive. I’m happy to see my friends and family, they mean the world to me, but I begin to panic wondering if I’m capable of ever feeling happy again. I question if I ever felt happy in the first place or if I was simply fantasizing a past experience.
The times when I feel discontent while traveling scare me even more. “If you’re not happy here, doing this, maybe you will never be happy anywhere again,” I tell myself. But I know that a single moment can change everything, especially when you’re on the road.
I remind myself that I have the ability and the freedom to be anywhere that I want to be. On the path of life sometimes we need to stay put in moments that feel uncomfortable. We can always choose happiness.
While my physical location and lifestyle certainly affect my happiness, the deeper I connect with a sense of gratitude the more content I feel with what is. I have the ability to change my coordinates and my lifestyle but what truly gives me freedom is having the ability to change my outlook.
In less than two weeks I leave for Vietnam with no anticipated return date. I have never been to Asia before, I don’t speak the language, I will be traveling alone, and I do not have a third of as much money saved as I probably should.
I have no idea what I will experience or what I will feel when I arrive and that terrifies me. What if I don’t like it? What if I’m not happy? What if I run out of money and get stuck there?
The fear is literally nauseating.
I think it’s this exact feeling that keeps many people stuck in a life that they don’t actually want. Facing the unknown can feel much more difficult than staying in a secure but unsatisfying situation.
Two years ago a friend gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received. We were discussing a relationship that everyone knew wasn’t right for me but that I just couldn’t let go of. I remember saying to my friend, “I can’t imagine ever feeling for someone else what I felt for him.” My friend replied, “That’s what is so amazing about falling in love: finding someone that you could not have possibly imagined.”
Beginning this adventure in Southeast Asia I am holding his words close to my heart. Right now, it’s impossible to imagine experiencing the kind of transformation, contentment, and peace that I found in Puerto Viejo.
But I am leaving myself wide open to the unknown; accepting the possibility that I just might fall in love again.