The Secret No One Tells You

Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Abroad Blog Carnival , a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. The host for this month is ‘Reach To Teach’, here you can find other similar articles. I’ll be posting a new ESL related article to this blog on the 5th of every month. Check back for more articles, and if you’d like to contribute to next month’s Blog Carnival, please get in touch with Dean at, and he’ll let you know how you can start participating!


Read the rest of the myths here.


“… we react alike to our tribulations; frayed and bitter at the time, proud afterward. Nothing is better for the self-esteem than survival…”

 – Martha Gellhorn


“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.”

– Ernest Hemingway

Depending on who you ask, and what sort of answer you’re looking for, travel is either something to be afraid of, or it isn’t. For every assertion of, “I could never do that”, there is an equally vehement counter: “Oh but you could; it’s actually really easy.”

The travelers with the greatest aura of romance surrounding them have one thing in common: they appear to be fearless. The mountaineers that make the rest of us look like quivering piles of jello, the eccentric adventurers who bicycle or walk or hitchhike or snowmobile over vast swaths of land, the journalists who work in war zones — all of these people leave us in varying states of awe and incredulity and wanderlust and “I can’t even…”

Even as a run-of-the-mill traveler, I am called courageous every now and again. Which, of course, I appreciate (oops, I misspelled “can’t get enough of”). But it’s difficult to hold on to any courageous feelings when your stomach is roiling and your pulse is crashing in your ears like cymbals in a trash compactor and you’re kinda sorta wishing you’d sprung for the cancellation insurance. (Just kidding. You always get the cancellation insurance.)

And that’s the thing: It’s a fallacy to think that travel and fear are mutually exclusive.

Travel is scary.


I can still taste the moment I freaked out on the plane on the way to South America. It wasn’t really a moment; it was a lot of moments, heavy and infinite moments. It was bone shaking and wretched. My plane had just taken off from the San Salvador airport. It was the last leg of a journey that would spit me out in Peru with only a backpack, a small and self-conscious repertoire of Spanish words, and time. It was the protracted, empty stretch of time ahead of me that scared me the most (my travel planning rarely amounts to more than ‘buy a plane ticket and see what happens’). I’d spent months working and saving and highlighting passages in my guidebook, but it was all ephemeral, a daydream I’d wrapped myself in. It was only when I could count the hours left until I arrived in Lima on one hand, that it became real. It struck me, right in the sternum, that once I got off of the plane, I’d be in a strange place, and I’d be all alone, and everything was up to me. And I panicked, like a jack rabbit who hears the roar of an engine and the rumble of tires on asphalt and starts racing all over the road, and invariably winds up right in front of the thing that it was trying to run from.

The only salve for this acute marrow-terror was the knowledge that I wasn’t going to be completely alone, at least not at first. I had a friend in Lima, which was why I flew there in the first place, and I was going to stay with him and his girlfriend for a few days. I hung on to that, and decided that I could freak out for real once I left them and was truly on my own. When that time came and I had an onward bus ticket from Lima, I figured, well I have the bus sorted out and I have a hostel room booked, so I’ll just enjoy the view from the window of the bus, and I’ll freak out properly once I get to Cuzco. And then when I got there, I met a few people in the hostel bar and I wasn’t really alone anymore; more and more reasons to put it off accumulated. Before I knew it, I was being tossed down the icy rapids of the Apurimac river in a rubber dingy with a bunch of people I’d just met, and I’d forgotten to have my panic attack. Procrastination is underrated.


“It is important in life not necessarily to be strong, but to feel strong; to measure yourself at least once.”

– Into the Wild

It’s good to be scared of something, and then do it anyway. It’s confronting and dealing with the dark parts of life, and of ourselves, that allows us to truly flourish. If you want to sharpen your intuition, you need something to grind it against. Besides, a comfort zone is only a place to which you’ve grown accustomed, not some objective paragon of safety. Bad things are going to happen to you, regardless of your location in the world; that’s just a part of living. It’s like sex. There is no such thing as one hundred per cent safe sex, only safer sex. You can do everything right and still have something go wrong. The key is to appreciate that nothing worth doing is risk free.


Travel is scary because it’s like Schrödinger’s cat — the only way to know what’s inside the box is to open it. And it’s dangerous because you’ll never be the same afterward.


 “You will walk differently alone, dear, through a thicker atmosphere, forcing your way through the shadows of chairs, through the dripping smoke of the funnels. You will feel your own reflection sliding along the eyes of those who look at you. You are no longer insulated; but I suppose you must touch life in order to spring from it.”


– F. Scott Fitzgerald

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