How do you see travel?
Your answer to this question can greatly influence your past and future feelings toward it. I want to show you how seeing travel as a skill (as much as a hobby) will help you reduce stress, increase enjoyment, and provide a clear path forward to improving your travel experiences.
Destinations. Travel dates. Sightseeing. Transportation. Vacation days. Packing. Checklists. Passports. Reservations. Excitement. Fear.
"Travel" is a simple six-letter word to describe a hobby as complex and interesting as they come. Those five simple letters compress weeks of travel, months of preparation, and a lifetime of experiences into a single bite-sized chunk.
To the uninitiated, travel can seem daunting. How could someone possibly find the time or energy to plan everything? Where does all their money come from? Don't they have a job? Where do they get the courage to throw themselves into the Cambodian rainforest without a lick of the language to help them out?!
To the lightly acquainted, it can seem effortless. They know that the planning phase, while potentially stressful, is often stimulating and exciting. They know that it's not "courage" that they have, but interest or determination. A few trips abroad show that the Boogeyman under the hostel's bunk bed is nothing more than a little waterbug--an slight discomfort that makes us crinkle our noses rather than a monster that makes us flee in terror.
But to the abundantly experienced, travel shows its true face: a mixed bag full of delicious fruit with a few rotten apples thrown in to keep you on your feet.
Traveling can be paradise. Traveling can be hell. Traveling can be everything you thought it would be. Traveling can be everything you never could've imagined. Traveling is what you make of it, what you expect, what surprises you, what happened by chance, what you could control, and what you couldn't. Travel is all of this and more!
Now that you're properly scared about where you fall on this continuum, let's take the fear level down a notch. Hobbies, while a form of enjoyment, are also often skills. Love to make pottery? That's an enjoyable hobby and a skill. Enjoy snowboarding? The same. Even playing soccer with friends? Yep.
"Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance" --Confucius
Comfort with novel experiences often come in 4 phases
- Many things seem difficult at first
- After trying, you begin to think they're easy
- The longer you try, the more you realize that it's even more difficult that you imaged
- Eventually, through perseverance, you attain mastery
Applied Example: Learning a Foreign Language
Let's use Spanish as our example here. To the uninitiated, the conjugations, word order, and tongue trill can seem complex and difficult. To the lightly acquainted, Spanish can seem so similar to English that you don't doubt you'll be able to figure it out in no time. But to those who have grappled with Spanish for 10 years, it's obvious that the myriad phrasal verbs, colloquialisms, and contextual undertones make even a language like Spanish a daunting subject to master.
Travel is no different. Whether learning how to organize trip information or find affordable accommodation, most things that seem difficult today quickly become easy with experience. The more you travel, the more travel skills you obtain, and the sharper your skills become. Don't know how to organize months of transportation information into a useful format? That's a skill. Not sure how to keep track of 14 different websites' airfares to find the best deals? That's a skill. Unable to filter through the results to find what you're looking for? That's a skill.
Like any skill, travel isn't something people are born knowing how to do; it's something learned. And if it can be learned, then that means you can learn it too.
This understanding is an important step to reducing your stress. Past mistakes weren't caused by irreversible character faults, but bad luck or lack of preparation. Current anxieties are natural and will lessen as you build experience. Future problems can be mitigated by being thoughtful, patiently confronting difficulties, and realizing that mistakes are inevitable. You can use each mistake as a lesson to make your trips even better the next time!
Travel, unlike Spanish, has a softer set of skills that can be mastered relatively quickly. Sure, it seems hard at first. And sure, a trip or two can boost your travel confidence to Everestian heights. And sure, the second you make your first big mistake, you'll cry your eyes red as you realize you've still got plenty to learn.
Luckily, mistakes are a totally acceptable part of travel! In fact, though mistakes can often be travel's most stressful component, they can also be its most enjoyable. Learning how to roll with the mistakes is a skill in itself!
For all that could be written on the topic, surviving and thriving with travel ultimately comes down to understanding what you want, learning how to plan for that desire accordingly, having the patience to learn, and the interest to try it again and again (even in the face of mistakes). The relaxed look of the worn-traveler isn't "courage," but the expression that rests on the faces of those who know that they'll be fine just like last time. Experience builds skill, skill builds confidence, and confidence can increase interest in a never-ending feedback loop.
Don't be afraid; be curious! After all, how many times have you heard someone say, "Well, I tried to travel to Thailand once, but I made a mistake on my hotel reservation, so my entire life was ruined. If I hadn't messed up that reservation, my life would be 1,000 times better today!" Mistakes will fade into the past, but your good memories will remain a lifetime.
You'll survive 🙂