Does travel make you nervous?
By our Benifallet Ambassador, writer, personalised travel guide & self-help development author, Jane Clements
I can think of a hundred reasons why travel is bad for you. I can give you a thousand excuses for why you should stay at home. But I can show you a million and one reasons for travelling!
None of the following will apply if, when you travel, you never speak to a local person, try unfamiliar food or leave your hotel complex. But if you are willing to try new experiences and you are inquisitive about how other people live, do please read on.
1. Travel broadens the mind and educates you
It is impossible to cover the history of our world during our school years. Depending on which country you are from, you probably learnt about the dinosaurs, the ancient civilizations, the great European wars and your own kings, queens or religions.
You probably didn’t learn about the tribal tensions on another continent or a civil war in another country. I doubt that you are aware of the meanings behind all of the ritual customs and ceremonies that teenagers around the world go through, or the overwhelming and overriding importance of families and honour in some cultures but travel can open your eyes to these things.
If you come from a country where freedom of speech and human rights are fairly practiced, are you in a position to judge the way that another person lives? Maybe the women appear subservient to you or the men refuse to denounce their political leaders, but to be conspicuous may mean a public beating, imprisonment or death. Or maybe those women are actually members of a matriarchal society and they are the ones who hold the power and the respect in their community.
Those cute little kids offering you postcards at a tourist site or beggars with bent limbs at bus stations can break your heart. How many of those young women that you see parading up and down in some of the more salubrious streets are selling their bodies from choice and how many have been forced there, sold by their families?
When you travel do explore museums, visit attractions and learn about the culture and the history. Read books with stories set in the country that you are visiting, spend time with local people and do some volunteer work. You may be uncomfortable with some of the things that you learn but you may gain an understanding about why a society behaves as it does.
One of the most moving places that I have ever visited to date has been the S21 Prison and the Killing Fields in Cambodia.
Many people spoke to me about that time in their very recent history when a third of the population was killed. Their stories moved me to tears, but they also gave me a deep insight into the psyche of an entire country and a deep respect for the strength of humans in the face of adversity.
This may sound radical to you, but also please take some time to travel solo. Yes, it is great to share that magical sunset with a friend or share a cab to a museum, but you are more approachable when you are alone. I have lost count of the number of times that somebody has struck up a conversation with me when I have been drinking coffee or looking up a bus timetable.
I was in Estonia and trying to find out what bus went where when two young men approached me and asked me if I needed help. Forty five minutes later we parted company, but not before I had received a concise history of Estonia’s recent independence, the bus timetable and a couple of phone numbers in case I needed help whilst in Talinn. Oh, and I got a warning not to jay-walk because they had just been stopped and fined for breaking the law!
2. Travel can expose you to new ideas and opinions
The subject of religion is constantly at the forefront of the media, who, in my opinion, rarely present a balanced viewpoint, preferring instead to sell newspapers with dramatic stories and scandals.
Find out the truth for yourself. Visit a cathedral, mosque or a synagogue. Ask questions of a monk or of your fellow travellers. You may not agree with the views of others but you can at least understand and make an informed opinion for yourself.
You may not enjoy sport but it can be the cohesive glue that binds whole segments of a society. Find out what the national sport is of a country or a region and try and go along to a game. If that is not possible then at least join the locals and watch a match in a bar or a cafe. In the countryside of Ecuador the local sport was cockfighting. Whilst I do not condone this practice, I can at least now speak from first hand authority on it having been a part of the crowd. Something I haven't tried, that I think I would definitely prefer to cockfighting are Llama Treks.
Terrorists have long beards, Americans love guns and Eastern Europeans drink vodka all day. The Dutch are tall, the Chinese are short and Westerners are fat.
Stereotypes are formed through ignorance and fear. We make ‘others’ different but in reality we are all the same. There should be no ‘others’. The majority of humans on this planet are a hotch-potch of genes but we all bleed when cut and cry when hurt.
Interaction is the key. You can start small. Try car sharing to your next destination instead of taking the bus. My driver across Spain was an ex-priest and we also had in the car a very excitable young Italian lady and a Spanish lady who slept all the way. On that trip I learnt about some of the most beautiful places in Italy to visit, the pitfalls of being an au pair and a lot about the church in Spain, religious beliefs and the expectations of one’s family.
I am very nervous in large crowds but when I was invited to join a group of travellers to watch a football match in the largest stadium in Rio de Janeiro I jumped at the chance. I am not a great football fan (I prefer rugby) but the atmosphere at the game between the top rival clubs in Rio was electric. I was nervous – especially when the riot police filed out onto the pitch - but I coped with my fears and I was a little less nervous the next time that I had to go into a crowd.
When you travel and listen to people you realise that everybody has a story and you become less judgemental. I believe that is one of the reasons why travellers find it hard to adjust to life once they stop. People who only have routine in their lives will often create dramas around gossip. This can be dangerous. It divides and isolates and it can ultimately lead to bullying or marginalising people.
Remember: you do not know what life events have affected anybody else, so please don’t judge based on looks, clothing or behaviour. In fact, don’t judge.
3. Travel builds your self confidence
Think of all of the things that could possibly go wrong when you travel. The list is endless but no matter what the media like to portray, the majority of travellers get through their trip with no major dramas.
However, when you are far from home and you don’t speak the language, it can cause a complete meltdown to find that you have got on the wrong train, your hostel is fully booked or you lose your bank card.
But think about it. Nine times out of ten you will find a good way to deal with the situation. And the other time – well you will probably survive - and just think what a great story you will have to tell your friends when you get back home.
4. Travel makes you stronger in so many ways
It educates you and opens your mind. It can expose you to extremes of poverty and generosity. You may find reserves of mental strength that you never thought were in you. I can guarantee that you will return from your trip away a different person.
The shy ones among you may find that you end up organising a trip out from your hostel or sitting on a train platform, surrounded by local children and leading an impromptu language class.
If you begin your trip with low self confidence, then a month or so sleeping in a mixed dormitory could soon boost that. You will find that you are more than capable of helping a fellow traveller negotiate a difficult situation, or maybe you can cook a delicious meal which everybody raves about.
You may not realise that you have changed until you have some sort of a drama. You will deal with it and then later you will realise that the old you would have run around flapping and panicking. This is THE BEST boost to your self-confidence ever. Step by step you will begin to believe in yourself and your ability to cope. You will start to love yourself and you will realise that you are unique and talented.
You need to eat. Now you could stick to impersonal fast food outlets and takeaways. Or you can hunt down the local market. Hover and watch the regular customers and do as they do. Take a seat at a communal table, point to whichever pot of whatever takes your fancy and eat a traditional wholesome meal for very little money. Believe me, the owner will be over the moon because you have chosen their stall and they will often fish out the juiciest pieces of food for you from the pot.
What scares you the most about travelling?
Believe me; once you have arrived at your destination things never seem so bad. I sometimes get nervous before a trip to a new place. I often build a picture in my mind of dark, dangerous streets and alleyways with robbers lurking on every corner but I have a trick which settles my mind.
So I browse images of my destination on my computer which will show me a normal place with beautiful buildings. I look at the parks and the ordinary people going about their daily lives and then I become calm again.
And I slow down. Instead of powering through a country I will use my visa allowance to the maximum. I volunteer my time and enthusiasm in exchange for food and accommodation. I will live with a family or work in a hostel and I will connect with people at a grassroots level.
This autumn and winter I am going to settle in Catalunya. I am feverishly trying to improve my Spanish language skills and I am devouring books which are giving me some historic background to the Civil War and the current political situation.
It has been fascinating to learn that in Benifallet, the village where I am currently based, there are still people around today who hid and lived in the caves in the mountains during the war.
I have a proposition to put to you.
If you are still nervous about travelling, why not come and explore this region of Spain with me? We will probably get lost a few times but driving on the right side of the road is no longer the wrong side and I have found some pretty cool activities to do and places to visit.
And to get you into the spirit of travel you can design the trip yourself – or at least you get to pick your preferred style of holiday but I will do all the donkey work for you and put the itinerary together.
And then we will meet and travel and have fun. You will see new sights and immerse yourself in the beauty of Spain and the only thing that you need to be nervous about is getting infected with the travel bug. And THAT can seriously change your life!
If you are interested in travelling with Jane, aka Scarlet Jones Travels, follow this link to her website. Do complete and send off the travel planner to get your tailor made itinerary and quote. Who knows, this year Spain, next year ......?
About Jane Clements, the guest author of this article
Jane Clements, writing as Scarlet Jones Travels has been travelling solo for more than three years.
Usually backpacking, often volunteering and always pushing her comfort zone,
You can find out more at her website: www.scarletjonestravels.com