Last week I was reading a Blog post about fear and anxiety. I listed a lot of things that I fear including small spaces and insects. The response to my comment took me by surprise:
“…but you are not afraid of travelling!”
I read the comment twice before I realized that there are people who are genuinely afraid to travel. Today you can drop me off almost anywhere in the world and I will not be scared.
But, it wasn´t always like that!
To this day I still remember the first time when I left South Africa for a holiday “overseas”. It was six months after my divorce and I was on my way to London to start a 21 day trip across Europe. This was not a normal vacation or trip. It was a journey of self discovering and healing. I was hoping to put all the broken pieces together and find peace.
I was excited, nervous and scared.
The cabin crew announced our decent . The lights dimmed and a restless silence filled the Boeing 747. I was desperately looking for a hand to hold. I was surrounded by businessmen who were in a hurry to get to their appointments. I have never been to an International Airport and I had honestly no idea where to go to. The man next to me offered to walk me to immigration but then he had to leave. I gladly accepted the offer.
I told myself not to panic because I have arranged for somebody from Contiki to meet me at arrivals. Imagine my horror when the doors opened and nobody was there. I walked up to the Information counter and asked them how to get to the Royal National Hotel. They couldn´t help me. I thought this was insane! How on earth could they not help me? Hello…London is not your home town, Nelieta! They called the police, not to arrest me, but to help.
They pointed me in the direction of the shuttle that runs into the city. The driver knew immediately where it was and took me to Russel Square.
My horror was far from over. I sat at the hotel for 4 hours waiting for the Contiki tour to start. Eventually a girl came up to me and asked me what I was waiting for. Duh, the tour to start! I felt like crawling into a hole when she told me the meeting is tonight and the tour will only start tomorrow morning. I had the day free to do what I want. She gave me a map and recommended Madame Tussauds Wax Museum.
It turned out this girl was also from South Africa and did a lot of travel on her own and with groups like passports.com the student travel agency. I envied her!
I remember running back to her with great pride when I came back from the Museum. Not only did I find the museum but I also managed to use the Underground. A very first for me! We don´t have metro´s or undergrounds in South Africa. She looked at me strangely and all I could do was laugh. I was so proud of myself.
Regular travellers might shrug their shoulders and laugh it off. For me it was a BIG deal. I am not scared any more. Now I am the complete opposite. I cannot wait for the aeroplane to lift off and to take me to my destination. I don´t care any more if I take the Metro or bus and go in the wrong direction (yes that happens a lot). I am not shy to ask for directions. I still cannot read a map and laugh about it when people point it out.
What changed? I call it travel confidence. No even better. Self- confidence with the ability to laugh at myself.
“We must travel in the direction of our fear. Berryman, John
Date: March 2004