I can’t recall the exact moment I decided to travel internationally by myself, or when I finally settled on Costa Rica as my destination. But when people asked “how/ why/ and aren’t you scared?” my elevator speech went something like this:
“I had really wanted to go abroad, somewhere scenic but ripe with culture (aka anywhere in the world), somewhere that didn’t speak English but whose language I knew (Spanish or Chinese), somewhere that wouldn’t require an entire day’s travel, (ruling Chinese speaking countries), somewhere cheap but safe. I was originally going with a friend, who couldn’t make it due to timing… then my coworker wan’t to join, but she couldn’t make it work financially. By then I was already emotionally invested and mentally set on the trip -so I just kept going, full steam ahead.”
That’s only somewhat true. I would have welcomed friends and companions on my flight, but truthfully never tried too hard to coordinate (my boyfriend even jokes that I never invited him!) because truthfully, I had always wanted to take the journey by myself, for myself. I had saved the money, mapped out my vacation time, and knew I was capable of researching and planning the whole thing. So it was decided: 10 days around Costa Rica, over the July 4th holiday weekend, flying in & out of San Jose.
I was excited sharing news of this decision, but there were definitely voices of concern. Some from friends (what am I going to do? won’t I get bored being alone?), some from coworkers (do I know enough Spanish? how will I get by day to day?) but mostly from my mother. She was concerned about everything from mosquito bites to food safety to abduction.
I dismissed these outside fears to lack of information and an open mind, but then my mother dove in to researching Costa Rica. Her perspective and worry had tainted everything she read though -one in a million news stories became the norm, statistics were blown out of proportion when numbers had nothing to benchmark against. (whereas my rose-colored research consisted of travel blogs, Lonely Planet and daydreaming. naive perhaps.)
She did everything she could think of to make me reconsider the trip -anxious and teary phone calls, persistent emailing, enlisting my father to intervene, and even suggesting that she herself “would love to see Central America and it’d be so fun if she could come along. Mother daughter time! Hiking and bonding!”. Being the stubborn pain-in-the-butt daughter I’ve always been to her though, I refused, got offended, hot-headed and insisted even more vehemently that I was going.
I am stubborn and prideful, and I am definitely also a procrastinator. My way of dealing with anxiety is to not think about anything until the absolute last second… and then jump in and take action. Aka procrastination. This technique may work with giving a presentation or dealing with first date nerves, but it isn’t the most adult way to plan your first solo international trip.
A few days before I began getting really anxious about the whole thing. Between life’s usual busy-ness I had never found the time to properly study maps, book hostels, procure a mini medicine cabinet to pack along -all the little logistics you never have to think about when you simply travel to a different town in the U.S. It was overwhelming and scary… and got even scarier because I didn’t want to admit it to anyone. I couldn’t humble myself and face it. This whole trip was about pushing my limits, growing out of my comfort zone -and this was when I first started to feel that. (I hadn’t even left my apartment yet!)
I felt like I couldn’t open up and be vulnerable about my worries, especially after that showdown with my mom. The more I thought about everything possible that could go wrong, the more real & possible they each became. The more possibilities and concerns I had, the more I froze up and spun around in inaction.
What am I trying to get at here? Lessons learned, proverbs to live by?
Honestly, I don’t know, I have no wise words to give. But I snapped out of it somehow. Time snapped me out of it somehow (there is only so much inaction you can do before it’s time to board your plane). It wasn’t until the plane was landing when I looked out and saw the lush, green, rolling hills, that it all actually hit me.
I caught my breath, captured that surge of energy and renewed my resolve to hike, eat, photograph and love the heck out of this trip. Pura Vida.