Travel Makes You Fearless

Shanghai

Almost exactly a year ago, I was getting ready to go to Asia for the first time. Despite the fact that I travel quite a bit, something about that trip made me very nervous. I remember buying trip insurance (which I never do) at the last minute. I was scared something would happen and we wouldn’t be able to get help or communicate with people.

Of course, it was an unfounded fear and looking back, one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever been scared of. Japan is one of the easiest places in the world to navigate with one of the most welcoming and accommodating people, and the trip went off without a hitch. But back then I had a fear of the unfamiliar that I’ve largely lost at this point.

After a successful guided tour in Morocco, I felt the only way I could ever come to Thailand was on a similar kind of trip. I couldn’t imagine taking my own trains or getting around. So I spent years researching affordable tours of the country but the cost was always ridiculous, which is another reason why I still hadn’t been here.

Now, I find myself living with a lot less fear of the unknown. The byproduct of living abroad for several months is that it turns the unfamiliar and scary into the familiar and safe. And slowly, you come to realize that everything can be familiar and safe, you just don’t know everything yet.

By the time I planned this trip to Thailand, I had already been living in Prague, and I was no longer concerned about getting around in a place where people don’t speak English. I no longer assume that something unknown is inherently unsafe. Every place can be dangerous and every place can be difficult to navigate. But you’ll get by, like millions of people have done before you. And you can find helpful people almost anywhere. In fact, for a place that I had been worried about visiting without a trusted guide, I’ve found that the locals in Thailand are really happy to guide you.

I was alone when I arrived at my 7-hour layover in Shanghai. And though a year ago, I felt apprehensive about going on a carefully planned vacation to Japan with someone else, it felt perfectly casual to venture out into Shanghai by myself for a few hours. My largely unplanned day trip caused me no fear or concern, though it was touch and go when I was crammed into that subway. But I survived.

I didn’t feel out of place surrounded by people speaking Chinese. I’m so used to hearing a different language all the time that Chinese is hardly different from Czech. I don’t feel intimidated being the only outsider in the room, because I’m always the outsider. I rather embrace that than be fearful of it.

Then I got to Thailand sometime in the evening and I accidentally walked across a highway and then through several dark alleys with my luggage. But instead of being fearful, I was just amused by the novelty of it. And as the vacation went on, I felt even more secure that I’d get where I needed to go. Because slowly but surely, you get used to your surroundings, no matter how foreign. And after a couple of days of Bangkok traffic, I was jumping into the street like a seasoned pro. You don’t have to be scared; you just have to trust that people will stop.

Bangkok traffic
If you’re lucky, you’ll get a traffic cop to help you out.

A very wise, very good friend recently told me “The world is your house. You can stay in any room you like.” And why would anyone be scared of their own home? But if you are, maybe you should try venturing into some of the other rooms.