Do you ever find yourself getting caught up in the “worst case” scenarios?
Obsessively analyzing the probability of what may or may not happen? Doing everything you can to ensure that nothing goes wrong? Feeling nervous to chase after a dream because you wonder about the potential risks?
I used to be like that. And then I left to travel the world.
Traveling on my own through developing countries I realized that I didn’t always have the ability to avoid disaster. I didn’t always have control over my circumstances. Paradoxically, that lack of control made me feel more powerful than ever. I could let go of the obsession and let life happen.
I believe that even when I feel completely out of control, what I encounter in life occurs as a result of the energy I bring into the world. This is not to say that there’s anything wrong with risk protection and that it’s your “fault” if you encounter tragedy.
Rather, the point is that I take responsibility for what happens to me in life. I choose to live with a foundation of trust, rather than in anticipation of danger. For the most part it works out for me. I’ve been gifted with beauty far more often than pain. When I have experienced pain, I looked for the lesson, and found the beauty beneath it.
Travel, just like life, doesn’t have to be scary. It can actually be the most beautiful, liberating, experience that exists.
So today I’m laying it all out there, the best and the absolute worst things I’ve endured in over three years of travel. My hope is that reading them will show you that even in the scariest moments, you have nothing to fear in this world.
Best: I Overcame My Fears
Traveling on your own through developing countries, you’ll likely be faced with fears every single day. Communicating with people when you don’t speak a word of the language for instance. Or learning to ride a motorbike in the remote rice terraces of Indonesia. Jumping off of waterfalls with locals in Morocco. Getting lost in crazy over-stimulating cities. Sleeping in dorm rooms with absolute strangers. Encountering bugs the size of small cats.
On the road I’ve been faced with every fear imaginable. Instead of running from them, I worked through them. I stuck it out through the hard times, I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone, and I empowered myself to believe that I could overcome it. What I discovered, is that none of the things that once scared me… were actually scary.
This realization has granted me so much more possibility in what I’m capable of achieving and how I’m capable of living.
Worst: I Almost Drowned
Growing up near the Atlantic shore, I was no stranger to big waves. As a kid I ran into the ocean whole-heartedly, allowing the waves to tumble me back onto the shore. Back then I had no fear.
As I got older I developed an ego about this. I ignored red flags and friends who warned me about rip tides. I carried that attitude with me to Costa Rica, notorious for strong currents. On my second trip to Costa Rica, playing out in the waves alone when there were flag warnings, I nearly drowned. I got caught in a rip tide and couldn’t make my way back in. I grew so exhausted from swimming that I actually decided to just let myself drown. Fortunately, the beach had a lifeguard, who came out and rescued me.
Since then I’ve learned the difference between fearlessness and ignorance. If you treat the earth (or anything) with disrespect, it will eventually catch up with you. Now I revere the ocean, heed its warnings, and practice moving in harmony with the waves, rather than fighting them. In general, I strive to balance fearlessness with humility.
Best: I Learned to Relax
Before I walked barefoot in the jungle, lived in a house with tropical critters, and rode my bicycle to “work” in a bikini, I was what many people called “high strung”. I needed constant stimulation, had trouble sitting still, and I fell apart when things didn’t go as planned.
Then Costa Rica squeezed the stress out of me. I witnessed another way of life called “pura vida.” Where people truly lived the words “don’t worry be happy,” and any problem could be solved by jumping into the ocean. I surrendered to a slower pace, one closer to the rhythm of nature, and for the first time in my life I felt relaxed.
The more I travel in developing countries, the more I learn to relax. I’ve witnessed that whether I run out of water in the jungle mid shower or get sick on a 36 hour 100 degree bus ride, stressing about it is never the solution. The key is letting go of what you cannot control and finding happiness anyway.
Being able to find peace and contentment when life doesn’t happen the way I want it to, is the single greatest life skill I’ve gained.
Worst: I Was Scammed. And Scammed. And Scammed.
When you travel, especially on a budget in developing countries, you’re bound to get scammed. It doesn’t matter how savvy you are, there will be times when it’s completely beyond your control.
For instance, crossing the border into Cambodia from Laos and Thailand. Most of the borders into Cambodia are notorious for scams, which involves everyone from bus drivers to tour guides to government officials. They’ll overcharge you, convince you to pay extra for a different bus, and do whatever they can to get more money.
In Central America I’ve also had plenty of transportation scams. Most notably with taxi drivers, who have done anything from drive me around in circles to quote me an inflated exchange rate.
I’ve been overcharged, manipulated into playing card games, bait and switched in Morocco, you name it I’ve seen it. As a white American girl traveling on her own, I’m an easy target. The good news is, I’ve never truly been in danger. Usually it has simply involved an unpleasant argument, a longer journey, or paying a few more dollars than I should have.
The scamming may be inevitable, but there are ways to minimize the damage. Over the years I’ve developed some basic guidelines. I always research the local scams before I arrive in a country so I know the game that’s being played, I make sure to know the local currency and exchange rates, I feign confidence with strangers, and when I encounter a scam that’s unavoidable I do my best to not let it upset me.
For more tips on how to handle scams, read my posts How to Survive a Taxi Ride in Latin America, How to Travel as a Woman Alone in Morocco Without Going Insane, and I Scammed a Scammer in Phnom Penh.
Best: I Became Independent
Before I started traveling, I often blamed others for the limitations I felt in my life. I blamed my friends for not being more adventurous or available. I blamed my boyfriend for not being more open and loving. I blamed my family for raising me to be who I was. I blamed everything outside of me for my unhappiness.
Traveling on my own I had to take responsibility for anything from how I would find my way across a country on a chicken bus to where I’d be sleeping that night. I realized that I alone determined how my day, and ultimately my life, would unfold.
I learned what made me happiest and I took the initiative and the responsibility to make it happen. I acknowledged that my happiness and my life was up to no one but me.
Worst: I Ran Out of Money
When I decided to commit to a life of travel, running out of money was my greatest fear. And it happened to me. More than once.
Like the time traveling in Southeast Asia, when I was working as a freelance writer and didn’t line up enough gigs. Consequently I found myself on an island with only $30 in the bank. Or when I completed my Yoga Teacher Training and hadn’t worked in a month and had a negative balance.
It wasn’t easy, but running out of money has been the best thing that ever happened to me. For one, it pushed me to hustle. It reminded me to not get too comfortable. It challenged me to start adding more value to my creative endeavors. More importantly, it showed me that even my greatest fear wasn’t actually the end of the world.
Best: I Saw More Beauty Than I Knew Existed
You can never fully prepare yourself for the magic of seeing a sunrise over the ocean on a deserted island. Or watching the landscape change while riding in a long tail boat across the Mekong river. Or flying through glistening rice fields to a karst mountain and discovering a pristine cave pool.
You can never fully prepare yourself for the generosity of people who apparently have nothing. The locals who earn a dollar a day yet invite you to share their meal with them. The strangers on the bus who genuinely try to help you when they see that you’re alone. The children who call you their sister and play with you on the beach.
You can never fully prepare yourself for the beauty of the world. Witnessing it first hand is the best thing that has ever happened to me.
Worst: I Was Stuck on a Tiny Sailboat With a Drunk Captain
Few situations are as uncomfortable as being seasick on a tiny sailboat with eight other people in the middle of the story sea with a drunk captain. Despite the many warnings, I took the notorious sailing trip from Panama to Colombia through the San Blas Islands. We were out at sea for five days with no refrigeration, no shower, and a captain who perpetually drank and smoked weed.
But I did survive, and I was able to practice meditation on a new level. I managed to stay calm despite enduring incapacitating motion sickness. I also learned enough about this backpacker right of passive to give my readers the best advice in my post How (Not to) Sail from Panama to Colombia.
Best: I Realized Happiness
Like many people, I once attributed my happiness to my outside circumstances. If I had a great boyfriend, then I would be happy. If I had the career of my dreams, then I would be happy. Consequently, my moments of happiness were fleeting.
Since traveling to Costa Rica, I’ve realized that happiness is far more expansive than I once thought. Happiness can actually be experienced in every moment. This idea is embodied in the national mantra of Costa Rica: “Pura Vida.” Directly it translates to “pure life,” but it is used to express much more than that.
When the sun is shining, you’re having fun with friends, you’re falling in love, and you’re riding the high of the wave, you absolutely say Pura Vida. But you also say Pura Vida in your moments of greatest struggle. When it’s pouring down rain, you’re fired from your job, and when you’re heartbroken, you still say Pura Vida.
Pura Vida means choosing the path of happiness regardless of your circumstances. That happiness exists eternally. That happiness requires simply turning within and acknowledging that happiness is not only a choice, happiness is your true nature.
For more on Costa Rica, check out my ebook The Ultimate Guide to Costa Rica.
Worst: I Got Food Poisoning… A Lot.
I like to travel adventurously, and a big part of that means eating adventurously. However, with a sensitive immune system from a lifetime of Western medicine and antibiotics, I got food poisoning… a lot. We’re talking unable to keep anything down on remote tropical islands and in crowded hostels in developing countries. A couple of years ago it got so bad that I wondered if I would have to stop traveling.
Then I discovered an extremely effective probiotic beverage that I could make a continuous supply of while traveling, for free. Read more about what kefir is and how you can make it in my post How to Travel the World and Never Get Food Poisoning.
Even chronic food poisoning ended up being a blessing. It introduced to me the world of holistic health and wellness. Now I eat, live, and feel healthier than I ever did before I left to go traveling.
Best: I Found My Tribe
How many of us go through life with people around us, but lacking true connection? Despite my outgoing personality, I struggled with cultivating and maintaining friendships for most of my life. I often felt left out and wondered if I “fit in.”
On the road I discovered so many other misfits. People who defied convention. People who marched to the beat of their own drum. I befriended yoga teachers, healers, nomads, surfers, all kinds of people on a quest to discover more in life and more in themselves.
Today I have inspiring friends all over the world who come from all different perspectives. More than that, I have a tribe of like-minded individuals who support me.
Worst: I Got Bitten by a Wild Dog
The only time I’ve needed emergency care in over three years of travel was when a wild dog in Thailand bit me. Even this situation could have been avoided. I couldn’t get a good wifi connection at my hostel, so I decided to walk over to a restaurant on the beach in the dark. With my laptop open, the screen blinding me, I accidentally stepped on the dog. Terrified, he bit me multiple times.
How could this have been avoided? If I had been more mindful and aware of my surroundings, rather than distracted by trying to get wifi, it would not have happened. Though even this emergency wasn’t all that bad.
I went to a 24-hour clinic, got the rabies vaccine, and after about 6 courses of treatment over the following month I only spend $250. That cost was without having health insurance or travel insurance and it hardly broke the bank.
Best: I Discovered My Life’s Purpose
As humans we’re blessed with the incredible privilege of discovering the meaning of life. Though sometimes that privilege can feel like a curse. I remember feeling unsure about what I should be doing with my life. I knew that my purpose extended beyond working in a cubicle at a Marketing company, but I didn’t know how.
Leaving to go and travel the world was the first step I took onto the right path. Since then, the world has continually revealed the meaning of my life. What I mean by this, is that I’ve discovered how I can experience the greatest bliss and use my unique gifts to better the world.
If you’re hoping to do the same, check out my post How to Figure Out What the F*&K You Should be Doing With Your Life.
Worst: I Endured a lot of Sexual Harassment
Let me start by saying that sexual harassment happens everywhere in the world. It’s an unfortunate manifestation of fear. I believe that when men sexually harass women, it’s because they’re afraid of their own femininity and in turn try to dominate all femininity.
Nonetheless, there are certain parts of the world where sexual harassment seems to be more rampant than others. The places where I’ve experienced the worst sexual harassment include Nicaragua and Morocco, however all of Latin America has a well-deserved reputation for sexual harassment being “normal.”
It does get exhausting, at times even disillusioning. However I’ve never felt like I was in danger, and if I ignore people they usually stop. I’ve also noticed that when I confront the person they usually become embarrassed. The more you can humanize yourself, the less likely the harassment will be.
If you want to avoid it altogether, I experienced little to no sexual harassment in Southeast Asia (with the exception of one man who exposed himself to me and masturbated on the street in Chiang Mai).
Best: I Fell in Love
People ask me if I’ve ever found love on the road.
I find love on the road constantly. It’s there every time I look out the window of an airplane, when I run recklessly into the ocean, when I taste something I can’t pronounce the name of, when I sit in silence watching a sunset, and each time I exchange a smile with someone new.
The true, lasting love I’ve found on the road is a love for this beautiful world. Mother nature and all of her wonderful gifts are my greatest loves of all.
Worst: I Had My Heart Broken
Mother nature isn’t the only one I’ve fallen for. There have been a few times where I’ve fallen in love with men on the road, and each time I’ve found myself heartbroken. The relationships have ranged from disappointing to disastrous.
I’ve met my soul mate only to realize he was more of a one night. I’ve fallen for someone who told me from the start it had an end. I’ve been swindled by a Latino lothario who even had his sister beat me up one night in a bar.
But I don’t regret any of it.
As much as it hurts, when I’m heartbroken I feel the most gratitude. I experience a rawness that reminds me that I’m alive.
Best: I Found My Home
I may have lived there for most of my life, but Seattle never really felt like my home. I think many people feel that way about the place where they grew up, and possibly even the place where they live now.
Traveling opens us up to different possibilities. We see other ways of living and through that process we become more in touch with what feels naturally good. The more I travel, the more I discover where I truly belong. For me, that place is Costa Rica.
Worst: I Realized There’s no Going Back
I never planned to be a life long traveler. I thought I’d go to Costa Rica, relax for a bit, and come back to my conventional life. When I kept traveling, I thought I just needed to get it out of my system. Three and a half years later and I’ve accepted that this is in fact my life.
The worst thing that has ever happened to me traveling, is realizing that I can never go back.
I’ll never again live in the states and see my family every weekend. I’ll never again live a “normal” life. I’ll never again call my birth home, my home. The people whom I love more than anything in the world, will never be part of the lifestyle that I love more than anything in the world.
But even the worst thing that has happened to me, is also the best thing that has ever happened to me. Because though there may be no going back, I know that I’m moving in the right direction.
What’s the best and the worst thing that has ever happened to you traveling?
I’ve experienced most of these too, but every good moment makes the bad ones worth sticking out. For me, finding my passion in travel is my best experience – life just has so much more zest now! My worst is being scammed -not for losing money but because my fellow human being has taken advantage of me for their own gain – it’s just a very nasty feeling.
Ahhhh I totally agree! It can be heartbreaking when you trust someone and want to connect with them and see how they’ve dehumanized you. But yep, every moment is worth it because travel makes us feel so alive 🙂
Beautiful post! I don’t know how old you are, but you’ve learned at a young age what it takes most people a lifetime to learn, and some never do. Thank you for sharing your travels.
Thank you so much Lynn <3 I'm 28.
You keep inspiring me. In 6 months of travel I’ve been robbed 3 times, gotten in a moto accident, had worms in my arm, and had an ex lover hunt me down all over central america…..pura vida. The ocean is the only thing that saved me! You just learn to keep on moving
Hahaha wow Nat that’s a lot!! Yes there were a lot of misadventures that didn’t make it into this post, including my moto accident and getting robbed. The funny thing is, have you ever noticed that a “bad” day traveling is still better than a “good” day in the real world?
I absolutely love this article and your fearless perspective. After breaking my leg surfing in Puerto Viejo, however, and the astronomical bills that followed, insurance overseas is on my must-have list. Aside from the financial hit, the accident did not ruin the experience, whatsoever. Instead, it completely reinforced my faith in the power of travel. Things could have been much, much worse were it not for the kindness and attentiveness of strangers in that terrifying moment of pain and vulnerability. Thanks for sharing and safe travels!
Thanks so much Camille! (Love your name btw hehe.) What was the recourse when you broke your leg in PV? Did you have to go to San Jose? Would love to know more about the logistics of that. Safe travels to you too dear! xx
I love this post. I find so many aspects of it relatable. I particularly enjoyed the part about how one of the best things of travel is seeing the beauty in the world. I can’t wait to get back out there. I’m so glad our paths crossed in Costa Rica!Joanne
Me too 🙂 xx
Love your spirit and in my younger single days traveled by myself often. At the time I was responsible only for myself and I did have insurance but I never had to use it. Please do consider your family though. My stepson who has loves traveling, fell in Argentina and suffered a life threatening traumatic brain injury. We have had to spend thousands of dollars to go there and then eventually bring him home. I’m sure your family would do the same for you if you suffered a catestrophic accident. Something to think about.
Thanks Tanya, I appreciate it. Actually, I do plan to get travel insurance the next time I go somewhere unfamiliar 🙂
I like this post. Thanks for sharing.
You’re welcome 🙂
I’ve only been living in one country the past few years but since it’s very different from the U.S., I can certainly attest to bests and worsts while here.
Korea is not a full-on developing country because like you mention, they don’t really know how to relax here. Sure there’s tons of wonderful greenspace and beauty inside this tiny country but the people are too busy trying to make a living a become an overnight success to chill out.
Like you Camille, I’ve had to visit other places to learn the true art of relaxation. In Siem Reap and other parts of Southeast Asia, I felt like I could never leave and really didn’t anticipate my last days there. It’s going to be good to go back in the fall, and to see real relaxation first-hand.
As far as bests and worsts go, my wife and I have experienced everything from pure xenophobia and discrimination to the most random acts of kindness we’ll ever encounter. Life abroad is a challenge but also the most fulfilling time in a person’s life. Thank you for helping me revisit and form that thought through reading your wonderful post, Camille.
You are so welcome thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us 🙂 <3
You’re blog is amazing. Thanks for the inspiration. I gave you a little shout out on my blog today. I don’t write for other people, mostly just myself. So its not a particularly exciting post but I thank you for your inspiration.
Thank you so very much Danielle!! 🙂
LOVED this post. The part about finding your tribe really reasonated with me. I have yet to find mine, but I stopped using it as an excuse. I stopped putting the things I love on hold just because I don’t have friends along for the ride.
I admit, it still hurts when people stare and start in with the questions and opinions.
“Don’t you have any friends?” “I would never do that alone.” “Who did you go with?”
“Are you by yourself?”
“I think it’s a waste to travel alone because travel should be shared. I think it would be such an empty experience.” (This was actually said to me by a “friend” before my solo trip. It hurt lol.)
I decided a long time ago that I’d rather do the things I love by myself than risk never doing them for fear of being alone, or because I’m waiting around for a tribe that may never materialize. Even so, pushing on through other’s opinions of me has been really hard.
Good for you for doing it anyway! I too had many “friends” who responded the same way before I left to go solo around the world. One friend said to me, when I was still undecided, “Go ahead & go and find your tribe!” I wasn’t sure that would happen, but it did! I meet people all over the world who are doing what we’re doing, and so much doesn’t need to be said or explained, because they actually understand! They’re at hostels, in restaurants, coffee houses, swimming with elephants, hiking mountains & surfing. They’re in Australia & Cambodia, Japan & Croatia & Western Europe. I’ve been gone 7 months & am rarely lonely. If you haven’t found your tribe yet, keep doing what you love & you will!!
Yes, yes, yes 🙂
Sam, I completely understand. I think it’s so beautiful that you are following your own heart, even if right now you walk that path alone. Stay strong, stay true to you, and the right people will enter your life. You will find your tribe <3
Life is full of highs and lows and i love that you balance the lessons you’ve learnt from them so well xo
Thanks Amy, sweet as always <3
I think we all experience many, many of these when travelling long term. Running out of money seems to happen to me every other week haha. But, I agree. There’s no going back to a normal life, despite all the good and bad things we encounter on the road.
I couldn’t agree with you more 🙂
The wonderful aspects of travel is that I have been able to meet so many wonderful people that I would not have met had I not left the United States. I have also come to realize that I need less to be happy and I have discovered interests that I would not have learned about if I had not have traveled – especially, taiko (Japanese drumming).
The worst thing that happened because of travel was that I made a lot of friends all over the world – friends it will be very difficult to meet up with again. Fortunately, I was in England last week for my Master’s graduation so I was fortunate to be able to see a lot of them. But there are a lot of people it pains me that I have not seen in a long time – due to distance.
I hear ya! It helps though to be grateful for the time you had with them, and know that not all friendships have to last forever in order to matter <3
Very nice post. I admire your bravery your passion for travel. Wish i could do that. Even after reading most of your posts- I still decided stay in Uk for holiday instead of going somewhere warm and beautiful. Will try to make rany days bit more adventerous by doing more indoor activities- bowling, skating, swimming, lazer shooting and so on. 🙂 🙂 🙂
Thank you sweetheart. I hear you, it takes time. It took me a long time before I finally took the plunge. You will take off when you’re ready <3
I’ve experienced most of your best and worst things when traveling too and it was just great to see it written down.
Especially since for me it is some time ago that I really traveled, it was just great to read your article and feel like being back in this world of travel and wanderlust.
I just found your thisamericangirl.com by hazard because a friend posted this article on fb and I want to tell you how happy I am about having found this blog. I’m looking forward to reading more from you.
Aw thank you so much Caroline! That means so much 🙂 xx
This is a beautiful bit of self reflection. Thank-you for sharing it! I’ve had plenty of these too although managed to avoid getting bitten by a dog somehow so far.
You’re welcome love! xoxo
Wow. Thank you so much for this. You’re such an inspiration.
You are so welcome <3