About a week ago I met a French girl, Margot. She is travelling on her own and has been on the go for a few months. She decided to do a project while travelling and is making a short documentary about girls travelling alone. We immediately had hundreds of things to talk about and when she learned about how I fill my days she got really excited. “Can I interview you? It only takes 20 minutes or maybe less and…” I was honoured, even if the interview would have taken the whole day I would have participated. I love her idea for a documentary, and to be part of that, of course I want to! So after visiting the temple where we met she set up her camera in an empty block of land. She asked me all sorts of questions. Mostly related to travel, my experiences and motivation. One question in particular stayed with me and has been on my mind through the hills of western Java for the last two days. Margot asked me to describe what comes to mind when thinking about the word fear.
For those of you who think that a girl travelling alone on a motorbike is like a fearless pirate, blindly attacking every obstacle with a run-up, sword high in the air, yelling “Arrrgggg”. I’m sorry to crush that idea but in actual fact fear is part of my daily existence. There is a little bit of fear in every action, every step, every kilometre I ride. From the fear of getting sick from eating street food, to running out of water, to the bike breaking down, to being scared to have an accident. Other times I’m scared I won’t find a place to sleep or decent food. Or I fear having to go to the toilet and there is no toilet paper… Actually in most places in Indonesia there is no toilet paper, just water, your left hand, and soap. This no longer has to be a fear, it’s pretty much a given there is no toilet paper.
Anyways, back to the point, the question really is what am I actually scared of? It seems to me that what I’m actually scared of isn’t something outside me. Not the food, not the sleeping arrangement, the traffic, the no-toilet paper, the rain, the cold, the heat, the flat tyres, the breakdowns… No, what I’m really scared of is possibly not being able to cope with these situations. Let me say that again, I don’t fear running out of water, I fear not being able to cope with running out of water. So basically I’m scared of my own possible inabilities.
Now this gives me something I can work with. I mean, there is no way I can change the traffic or the heat, but what I can change is my thinking and my behaviour towards it. Are you still with me? Here is how I deal with my fears. First I’m changing my thinking from: “OMG what am I going to do if….!!!! Freak out! Massive Freak out!” to: “Whatever comes my way, I believe I can deal with it”. Second, I check in with myself with regards to the reality and acuteness of my fears. Take running out of drinking water for example. When travelling through remote areas I can make sure to carry a days worth of water. Other times, in densely populated (read: there is someone trying to sell something every 50 meters) areas I know I can always buy more water. Lastly, it also helps to assess the worst case scenario and some possible solutions: “If I run out of water somewhere far from any store I can ask locals for drinking water or find a creek and use my water filter or put water in a see-through bottle and kill the bugs using sunlight or create some sort of Bear Grylls contraption with plastic bags around leaves or….”
Taking these three steps in the approach of my fears gives me peace of mind and the freedom to really enjoy my travels. On top of that, the confidence that I can save myself in every possible scenario creates a more clearheaded approach when I do find myself in precarious situations. And, with every issue that I face and solve my confidence grows. So instead of choosing between fear or fearless, I choose to fear less. To rationalize my thoughts and change them if necessary, and to believe in my own competence and problem solving skills. This choice to fear less has gotten me to places I otherwise wouldn’t have been and it is making this trip more amazing each and every day. Now I risk sounding like a cheesy tv ad but … If your fears are holding you back from living your dreams, well just give it a go, you never know where you might find yourself.