Anxious Abroad: Dealing with My Travel Fears During My First International Trip Gilad Gamliel November 7, 2019 Personal Travel Essays, Travel Stories This is the second of a two part series. If you haven’t yet, please read part one: Fighting Through the Phases of Fear I Felt Before My First International Trip I’m sitting on our Singapore Airlines flight squashed between two strangers, checking the flight map as my leg nervously twitches. Almost there. Only two more hours left. How did this happen so fast? I’m not ready. I want to turn back. We started our trip at New York’s JFK Airport and now we’re almost in Bali, literally halfway around the world, and I’m painfully aware of how far we are from everyone we love. I doze off watching a movie rerun and awake to the flight crew saying that we’ve begun our descent into Bali. It’s happening. Country 1: Indonesia – Scary & Overwhelming Mike, Ben, Dan, and I kicked off our four-country tour in Bali, a world entirely unfamiliar to us new travelers. As soon as we left the airport we were inundated — swarmed by locals. We were obvious tourists and they fought to get our taxi business, aggressively yelling at us and pushing each other out of the way. I was instantly overwhelmed, paralyzed and locked in place. I wanted them to leave. I wanted a second to collect my thoughts. I didn’t want to be taken advantage of. I didn’t want to be oversold on a ride. I didn’t want to go in a car with a stranger. We were finally pulled one way by a particularly persistent cab driver who proceeded to take us to our hostel. I looked out the window as we drove, and saw traffic like I’d never seen before. Mopeds and cars interspersed on the road, weaving between each other chaotically, honking, speeding up, slowing down, cutting each other off, yet all somehow seamlessly without any collisions. I sank into my seat. This was a lot. I wasn’t sure I could crack it here. We pulled up to our hostel, grabbed our bags and walked inside. As soon as I saw the inside, I breathed a sigh of relief. It was a little oasis in the middle of all the chaos. We were greeted by some friendly faces — other young travelers from around the world, some from Europe, others from Australia. English started to catch my ears again and I felt the tension dissipating. Since landing, I’d been craving a home base. I’d felt uprooted throughout the flight, but I’d felt particularly lost when we arrived at the airport. Hostels, I began to see, would act as our pseudo-headquarters while we were away. “Okay,” I thought, “I can manage this.” Over the course of the next week, the guys and I toured Bali with our two new travel buddies, a couple of bubbly girls from Canada that we met at the hostel bar. We chatted and bonded and explored together, which released much of the built-up tension from my mind. We had a blast as a group, but were eventually forced to part ways when the guys and I headed over to Java. And just like the first time, there we were again, uprooted with no headquarters. But the anxiety felt milder than before. I was getting used to it. Country 2: Thailand – Getting Bold After the full-immersion in Indonesia, I was looking forward to a much more tourist-friendly trip in Thailand. Fantasies of English-speaking locals and familiar foods were calling to me after our deeply local Indonesian experience. We arrived in Phuket and it became quickly clear that this would be different. English signs greeted us at the newly renovated airport, cab drivers gave us some space at the gate, and our hostel was situated in the bustling Patong Beach portion of Phuket. Invigorated with a relieved sense of comfort, I began pushing my boundaries bit by bit. In Koh Phi Phi, I took a stab at scuba diving, something I’ve always wanted to try but never had the guts to. In Chiang Mai, I tried some sketchy-looking street food at the night market. In Pai, I rented a moped and drove around to the nearby waterfalls and hot springs. It was a domino effect; as I settled into the backpacking lifestyle more and more, I became more open to trying new things, while craving my comfort zone less and less. By the time we moved on from Thailand, I’d tried a good handful of things I never in my life thought I’d experience. I was accustomed to the weekly move from hostel to hostel and I was eating almost exclusively street food. I was on a roll. Country 3: Laos – Down But Not Out As soon as we got to Laos, we headed into the jungle for a three-day trek — an extended adventure complete with ziplines and treehouses to stay in. Yes…you heard that right. Ziplines. Something adventurous and daring that fully challenged my crippling fear of heights. It was another check off the list of things I never thought I’d do. Riding the high from the hike, we took a night bus to Luang Prabang, where Dan and I said goodbye to Ben and Mike. It was a turning point for me. Our group felt so big and impenetrable. Nothing could ever happen to a group of four. But a group of two…that’s a different story. As soon as Ben and Mike caught their cab to the airport, I sank back to that moment in Bali when I was overwhelmed with change. I knew now how to travel as a group; how do I do it with just the two of us? All of a sudden, I felt scared again, hyper-aware of my surroundings and my distance from home. I shrank back into my comfortable hostel world, feeling uneasy about walking around town. What would Dan and I do if we get lost or get in trouble? Would we look like bigger targets to locals with bad intentions? We’d have to figure it out as we went. You may also enjoy: My Day in the Life as an Indonesian English Teacher Country 4: Vietnam – Travel Pros Strangely enough, Dan and I bounced back rather quickly. Almost immediately after Ben and Mike left us in Laos, we made a few new friends at our hostel and started traveling with them through Vang Vieng and Vientiane. We end up in Hanoi, Vietnam, ready to head down the coast of the country, and at that point, we felt like travel pros. Catching night buses, booking hostels last minute, venturing out for street food at night — it had all becoming second nature as we approached the halfway mark of our trip. In the north, we did the usual Vietnam excursions: homestay hikes in Sapa, cruises in Halong Bay, cave exploring in Phong Nha. We continued to head south through the country and made an important pit stop in Dalat. It was my travel turning point. In Dalat, the primary thing to do is canyoning — that is, rappelling down cliffs and waterfalls dozens of feet off the ground. I, conversely, am, and have always been, deathly afraid of heights. However, the nerve I’d been working up during the trip prompted me to join in on the trek, and I am so glad I did. Canyoning was a big moment for me. Thinking back to that scared and uprooted guy in Bali, it was a complete and clear distinct opposite. I wasn’t just existing abroad anymore — I was thriving. Little by little, I had pushed open those comfort zone boundaries, continuing to reach for something more thrilling or daring, and it had led me to this — climbing down a 50-foot waterfall with just a rope tied to my waist. This was it — the peak of my trip. Everything I had worried about didn’t matter. I knew how to handle it, and I knew how to handle it so much, that I was able to give myself enough mental space to psych myself up for something so extreme. After that, the trip was a breeze. Dan and I knew exactly what we were doing and how to get around without the help of other travelers or information centers. We were on top of the world. Country 5: Cambodia – The Journey Ends Finally, we came to the end of our trip — our last country before returning to normalcy. Dan and I spent the last few weeks hitting up all the usual spots: the killing fields in Phnom Penh, the Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, and the stunning islands off the southern coast. We were so primed from the previous countries that we were almost on auto-pilot in Cambodia — going with the flow, linking up with more new travel friends, and taking things day by day rather than stressing about tomorrow. On the last night of our trip (night 61), Dan and I lamented about how frustrated we were that we had to go home. After meeting other travelers who had been away from home for six months or more, our trip seemed painfully short, and we no longer craved the routine or normalcy of home. But, as with all good things, our trip had to end. We grabbed a cab the next morning, this time expertly negotiating the price with the driver and making our way back to the airport, freshly confident in ourselves, and ready to plan our next trip.