I come home after work one day, sitting in my dimly lit room, the sunset peering over the edges of the blinds, and I give Dan a call. He answers, happy to hear from me but confused by the sudden attempt to get in touch. It’s been 5 months since we last spoke. I bring up a conversation we had months ago, remembering his interest in Asia, and I ask him if he wants to plan a trip. He says “sure…” his voice trailing with uncertainty and non-commitment. I tell him that I’m serious.

“Once my internship is over,” I say, “I’m going. I’ll do it by myself if I have to, but I’d rather you come with me.” Caught off guard, Dan hesitates and then says, “Let me call you back.” An hour later he calls me back and says with a glint of excitement in his voice, “I’m going to quit my job. Let’s start planning.”

I’d been in Houston for 3 months now, my first foray into independence as an adult. The truth was, I’d always been too scared to do anything like this — drop everything and move clear across the country on my own. My anxiety, unable to trust me with big decisions, always called the shots. It buzzed like a broken alarm at every choice I made, reminding me of the catastrophes that could go wrong if I didn’t listen. And so I did.

The problem was, though, that I was getting tired of listening to it. My little suburban town felt suffocatingly small. My group of friends, though amazing, felt boringly familiar. I began to crave change and adventure, the exact change and adventure that my anxiety was warning me against. But I’d had enough. So I took an internship and moved down to Texas, driving 26 hours to get here with all of my belongings packed tightly into my 2008 Acura. And from there, my attitude snowballed. I was going to do it — I was going to plan a trip, and my anxiety would have to listen to me for a change.

That’s when Dan and I got to work.

Anxiety Phase 1: The “What if” Army

A month in to trip-planning (four months from departure), Dan and I started mapping out a route. For our Southeast Asia tour, we wanted to hit five major countries: Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. We spent hours on the phone and over FaceTime, discussing finances and timing, trying to establish the best sort of structure to our trip. It was at this point the anxiety started to build.

My particular brand of anxiety has a way of idealizing things until they become real. Before Houston, I daydreamed of living in a nice apartment on my own, with no one to answer to, and with endless opportunities to do and see what I wanted. But when I started actually planning my move, the anxiety sprouted and grew like a weed.

“What if you end up hating it?”

“What if you don’t make any friends?”

“What if you run out of money?”

“What if you need help?”

Naturally, this started happening with the Southeast Asia trip, but instead of my usual small what if’s I was now dealing with much more catastrophic scenarios.

“What if you get sick?”

“What if you get lost?”

“How will you call for help in a foreign country?”

“What if you get kidnapped or mugged or worse”

It was very, very difficult putting those what if’s in the background of my mind. They kept trying to creep back up with every mention of the trip. I’d have conversations with friends about it, fake-smiling about my excitement as new catastrophes invented themselves in my brain, but I was steadfast. They weren’t going to stop me this time.

Anxiety Phase 2: Self-Doubt

At about three months away and, despite the meticulous planning and research, that little nagging voice in my head kept trying to push me back in my lane, little by little, shining a spotlight on my fears and repeating its bullying negative mantra:

“What do you think you’re doing? This isn’t for people like you. Traveling is for free-spirited, carefree people, not anxious worry-warts.”

This particular thought took root in my mind through most of June. “This isn’t for you. This isn’t what people like you do.” Anxious people like me, I thought, don’t travel. We stay in our lane — in our comfort zones. I was falling for the anxiety trap, that dreadful anticipation that tells you that unless you stick to what you’re comfortable with, catastrophe is absolutely 100% bound to happen. But thankfully, I had Dan to help me out with it. Having him in the trenches with me was pulling me out of the anxiety cycle and keeping me focused. I wanted it — I wanted the adventure, and dammit I was going to get it.

You may also like: How My Temporary Life Abroad Became My Own Microcosm of Reality

Anxiety Phase 3: Excitement vs. Nerves

With two months before the flight (and over a few weeks), we recruited two more friends to join us. Our college friends Ben and Mike, similarly craving adventure, decided to join Dan and me for our stretch in Thailand and Laos. My anxiety was being tempered more and more by the comfort of my friends. My biggest worries — getting lost and getting sick — were softened knowing that I’d have a solid group with me, as well as a fleshed-out travel route. And almost miraculously, as the anxiety reduced, my excitement bubbled up with each new incredible thing we were going to see. Volcanoes in Indonesia, tropical diving spots in Thailand, architectural ruins in Cambodia — the tides shifted in my brain and began to replace the worry with enthusiasm.

Anxiety Phase 4: Proud Reflection

Just one month away from the big day I was finishing up my stint in Houston, closing the chapter of my internship down here and getting ready to head back up to New York. All packed up, I took a look at my apartment, again dimly lit from that glowing Houston sunset, and thought of how seminal the moment was in my life. Houston was an important and formative stepping stone for me. It pushed my boundaries out of my comfortable New York life and propelled me toward this new adventure I was about to face. Never in my life did I plan such an outrageously long and exciting trip, and I never would have considered it had it not been for my decision to come to Texas. I had needed to know that I could manage on my own — that if push comes to shove, I could be my own best friend and enjoy my own company. I handed in my keys, closed the door, and headed to the airport.

Anxiety Phase 5: Retreat!!!

At two weeks out, I forgot literally everything I said about being blissfully ready for this trip. I was in full-blown panic mode, with some sort of strange cocktail of enthusiasm and nerves. It was real now — I was to leave in a week and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. We didn’t know any of the languages, any of the geography, any of the cultural norms of these countries. We were in way over our heads. I sat in my room, this time in New York, my brain repeatedly relaying between desperate concern and panicked enthusiasm. My parents were no help — constantly reminding me of travel horror stories they had seen on the news, telling me I can always change my mind and cancel. But thankfully Dan, Ben, and Mike were all in the same boat as me. We all had this weird anticipatory cloud over our heads, unsure if what we were about to do was the right call or a huge mistake. But we waited it out. The flight deals were booked and there was no turning back.

Anxiety Phase 6: Well, It’s Happening

I woke up the morning we left in a panic. This was it — the big day. I had hardly slept at all. But strangely enough, it was a calm panic. I was worried and concerned but focused in a sort of “let’s do this” mentality, like an MMA fighter stepping into the ring. My mom drove me to the airport and even parked to see me off inside. I met up with Dan, Mike and Ben, all of us brandishing shiny new backpacks, fully stocked with what we hoped would be enough gear for two months. Feeling weirdly emotional, I hugged my mom and told her I’d see her in a few months, and that I’d check in as soon as we had WiFi. The four of us then headed off through airport security and got ready to board the plane.

Read what happens next in Part 2: Dealing with My Travel Fears During My First International Trip

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About The Author

Gilad Gamliel

Gilad is a 26-year-old backpacker with anxiety, OCD and Hypochondriasis. He spent most of my life thinking that travel wasn’t for people like him -- nervous, neurotic, Type A people. But after his first trip, he realized that anyone can - and should - give backpacking a try. He’s now found subtle and clever ways to turn his anxieties into positives and hopes to share his experiences with the world. His website Anxious & Abroad is a travel guide dedicated to showing nervous and first-time travelers that they don’t have to be carefree or careless to enjoy what the world has to offer. You can follow his travels on Instagram @gil.ad.ventures.