Do the Thing that Scares You

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why so few people actually make their travel dreams reality. Anyone who is a frequent traveler knows the common refrain from others of “I wish I could do that!”  To which I always answer that you can. For some reason people don’t seem to believe this.

A lot of it is priorities, but I think another huge barrier for many people, is fear. There are a lot of misconceptions and fears surrounding long-term travel. Among them

  • Fear of being unsafe
  • Fear of being lonely
  • Fear of missing out on life at home
  • Fear of deviating from the status quo

And maybe the biggest of all:

  • Fear of the unknown.

My original plan for this post was to go through these one by one pointing out the logical reasons that these fears ring hollow. It wouldn’t matter though, because fear is not a rational emotion.  I have these anxieties from time to time and I have traveled enough to know the truths behind them. Instead, I want to point out something about these boogie monsters that I think a lot of people don’t really think about:

Fear can be a good thing.

Or rather, overcoming your fears can be a really good, healthy thing. Looking fear straight in the eye, taking a deep breath, and forging ahead anyways. It’s certainly not an easy or particularly fun experience, but it’s on of the most important skills you can learn.

It is important because even in life at home we often have to do things that are scary. Things like first dates, or job interviews, or having babies, or really any major life change at all. Ife we played it safe all the time nothing would ever happen to us. We certainly wouldn’t have much fun.

Moving to London, without a job, or any contacts, was absolutely terrifying to me. Of course I was excited, but in the days leading up to my arrival it was all I could do to make myself get on the plane. Still, I did it, and it’s a good thing too. Because if I hadn’t I would never have made amazing friends, or fallen in love, or backpacked through Bosnia, or flown a glider. The bigger the risks and the scarier things seem, the greater the rewards.

Now, I’m not advocating that you do things that are irrational or dangerous.  There is a big difference between playing Russian roulette and learning to scuba dive even though you are afraid of fish. There is a difference between defying your fears and defying common sense, and I think if you can stay connected with the logical part of your brain it’s easy to differentiate between the two.

It’s about learning to trust yourself. It gets easier as your go. The first time you strike up a conversation with random people at a hostel you may be secretly petrified, but each time you get a little bit bolder. Suddenly you are the chatty friend who talks to random people at bars and nobody believes you when you tell them you are secretly an introvert.

I know that I will be terrified when I leave for my Round-The-World trip in September. Logically I know it will be amazing, but there are still a million undercurrents of fear in my ocean of excitement. I will go though, and I will force myself to meet people and to encounter situations that I will have no idea how to handle. I will throw myself out of plans and sleep in dingy hostels and meet random strangers. And I’ll come out on the other side better for it.

I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite authors, who was a vagabond and world traveler in his own right, Mark Twain:

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”

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48 Responses to Do the Thing that Scares You

  1. bronwyn February 23, 2010 at 8:14 AM #


    I recently discovered your blog and love it. This post in particular resonated with me. I have a few irrational fears (I fear escalators that aren’t in working order, ‘things’touching me in the sea or a dam of water, etc.) and after recently ending a relationship realized how much I am limiting an opportunity to create some amazing memories by not at least trying the things that scare me.

    Subsequently I am investigating scuba diving schools, obtaining my bike licence and travelling to Europe by myself this year.

    I recently heard the following which is now a feature in my daily mantra : Your dreams are only as big as your fear (Nancy Dornan).

    Here’s to doing more scary life-changing things!

    • Steph February 23, 2010 at 11:28 AM #

      Hi Bron!

      Thanks, I’m glad you like the blog! For some reason the idea of scuba diving freaks me out too. So I’m definitely going to try to make myself do it next year.

      thanks for the quote.

      • Claire September 2, 2010 at 12:02 AM #

        By finding what’s at the root of our fears, I think we can learn a lot about ourselves and our patterns of thinking. An extrovert might be afraid to spend a week alone camping while an introvert might find nothing more uncomfortable than having a job in sales. Each would probably learn a lot about themselves by pushing the limits of what they’re comfortable with and doing what doesn’t come naturally. People set a lot of boundaries for themselves without ever considering the origin of the limits.

        It seems fear of the underwater world is common 🙂 I read this article specifically hoping it would give me the nerve to scuba dive too!

        • Steph September 2, 2010 at 4:28 PM #

          I’m definitely going to have ot make myself do it- can’t chicken out now! It’s definitely healthy to examine your fears and figure out what’s really bothering you (I think I might be slightly claustrophobic… or maybe i just hate sharks).

  2. Kyle February 23, 2010 at 8:48 AM #

    Great post! I think that there is one more fear that keeps people from doing something: fear of failure. I think a lot of people don’t try something new because they are afraid they will fail at it.
    .-= Kyle´s last blog ..The World’s Smallest Niche Business =-.

    • Steph February 23, 2010 at 11:29 AM #

      Good point Kyle. Fear of failure is a huge one.

  3. Abby February 23, 2010 at 9:37 AM #

    YES. Great post! I’ve been tackling a bunch of fears myself: fear of feeling safe after being robbed, fear of snakes, spiders… speaking another language even. (And definitely the fear of the unknown after losing my job and moving to Costa Rica in the first place!) Good to know I’m not alone!
    .-= Abby´s last blog ..Electric Bicycles =-.

    • Steph February 23, 2010 at 11:30 AM #

      I saw that scorpion picture on your blog- tackling fears is right!

  4. Keith February 23, 2010 at 11:25 AM #

    Well said, and I think you’re dead on correct here. I’m starting to question people who say “I wish I could travel like you.” Do they really? Or do they feel some obligation to say it? I think that they think they’d like to travel like you, but when it comes down to actually doing it many wouldn’t be interested. Perhaps for fear, as you describe.
    .-= Keith´s last blog ..State of the Savage: February =-.

    • Steph February 23, 2010 at 11:31 AM #

      Yup, I am always so intrigued when people say that. I feel like a jerk asking follow up questions though so I usually just smile and nod.

  5. floreta February 23, 2010 at 11:38 AM #

    I have this motto.. Look fear straight into the eyes and do it anyway! It’s really helped me take more risks throughout last year and onto this year! I find it intriguing when people say they wish they could do what I’m doing… You’re right, they CAN. But it’s not the “right” time or blahblahblah. There is always some excuse. Some people’s priorities just don’t push them over the edge in the way that people who actually DO do it, do. Yes, I get plenty lonely and plenty anxious in my thus far, new journey, but this is all absolutely worth it. I’m living my dream.
    .-= floreta´s last blog ..A Quiet Confidence =-.

    • Steph February 23, 2010 at 7:56 PM #

      Yeah excuses seem to abound in these situations. If you really want to do something you need to just DO it.

  6. Becs February 23, 2010 at 1:11 PM #

    Love it, as usual. Before I left on my Working Holiday to New Zealand (an English speaking country!) everyone was like, aren’t you scared? Oddly, until everyone kept saying it, the thought never crossed my mind. I have gotten off planes in countries where I don’t speak the language, now that is scary. But New Zealand? Least scary country EVER.

    Coming from a big city in the United States where your career is #1, I think a lot of people didn’t understand giving up a good job to work and travel overseas with no contacts. It was going against the status quo that “scared” them.

    PS. I hate when people our age say “I wish I could go there!” Shut up about it and go already! What’s stopping you??? (I am not even talking RTW trips, just random vacations….)

    • Steph February 23, 2010 at 7:57 PM #

      Yeah I get the scared question a lot, also the “you’re so brave” comment which always makes me a bit uncomfortable.

  7. Christine February 23, 2010 at 3:08 PM #

    I just finished reading “The Four-Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferriss (highly recommend) and the following passage really resonated with me:
    “What is it costing you – financially, emotionally, and physically – to postpone action? Don’t only evaluate the potential downside of action. It is equally important to measure the atrocious cost of inaction. If you don’t pursue those things that excite you, where will you be in one year, five years, and ten years?”
    Too many people don’t do the things, like travel, that excited them because they’re scared of the potential costs- money, losing a job, missing out on a relationship. But it’s also important to weigh what you lose by not doing anything- a lasting memory, perhaps a new job or relationship.
    Great blog, as usual 🙂

    • Steph February 23, 2010 at 8:01 PM #

      I read that recently as well and it was a great motivator! a lot of people seem to be directed by fear in life which is such a shame.

  8. Sofia - As We Travel February 23, 2010 at 3:12 PM #

    I agree, all we need to do is to trust in ourselves. I often find that hard, but by travelling I’m really forced to do it, so it’s probably good for me.

    Another reason why I think we’re afraid of leaving home and safety is what we will discover that we can achieve. It’s so easy to get caught up with life at home, and when travelling I found so many qualities in myself I never knew I had.

    I like the way Nelson Mandela talked about it in one of his speeches:

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.”

    • Steph February 23, 2010 at 8:04 PM #

      Beautiful quote. Thank you.

  9. Lauren February 23, 2010 at 5:57 PM #

    “Logically I know it will be amazing, but there are still a million undercurrents of fear in my ocean of excitement.”

    What a great line.

    What you say is right on the money. I came to Australia knowing no one, and a month in (tomorrow, officially), I’ve seen and done some things I never thought I’d get to experience. The reward is often better the greater the risk is, as you said.

    • Steph February 23, 2010 at 8:04 PM #

      Thanks Lauren! I’m glad your gamble is paying off so well already!

  10. Andi February 24, 2010 at 10:37 AM #

    I LOVE this post! I should print it out and carry it with me and give it to everyone that I encounter, because I would say 99% of the time when I talk to people about traveling there response is exactly what you said above.

    I really like this observation you made: Or rather, overcoming your fears can be a really good. Because I definitely think you learn a lot through embracing your fears, but the simple fact that you overcame them to begin with is the most powerful part.

    Best wishes on your upcoming RTW trip. September will be here before you know it!
    .-= Andi´s last blog ..Brasil: Day 5 (Part 1) =-.

    • Steph February 24, 2010 at 9:02 PM #

      Thanks Andi. If I had a dollar for everytime someone said “I wish I could do that” I could travel for a very long time.

  11. Alexis Grant February 24, 2010 at 12:06 PM #

    You’re right on target. Most often in life, it’s limitations we place on ourselves that keep us from following our dreams.

    I blogged about this when I got back from backpacking solo through Africa a year ago:

    So many people asked how I could do that as a woman, and the answer is: because I wanted to.

    Best of luck with your RTW trip. Can’t wait to follow along!

    .-= Alexis Grant´s last blog ..Restless writing with Mary Morris, travel memoirist =-.

    • Steph February 24, 2010 at 9:12 PM #

      That is fabulous, and backpacking through Africa is damn gutsy. Good job.

  12. marta February 24, 2010 at 1:22 PM #

    we totally agree. i think people are often scared or just find excuses to avoid to do things but chris is the proof that if you really want something you could achieve it. he really used to hate flying that we would prefer rather to drive London to Venice instead of taking a silly flight of barely 2 hours. He still doesn’t like flying but has taken already 8 long-hour flights and survived 🙂

    • Steph February 24, 2010 at 9:18 PM #

      fear of flying is a perfect example and so hard for some people to overcome!

  13. Catia February 24, 2010 at 8:36 PM #

    I was terrified stepping onto the plane and officially out of my old life to become a nomad. The need to try another approach to life was far more important than the fear. I found myself almost involuntarily pushing ahead, even though my heart was racing and my knees were a bit weak.

    Since that day I’ve been facing (and overcoming) so many fears that I’m already feeling a bit of a change in me. It’s been worth every skipped heart beat, every jelly-kneed step and every moment of tummy flutters.

    I’d agree that facing your fears and just doing it is far more important than some people realize. People are often stronger than they think, and the world is usually less scary.
    .-= Catia´s last blog ..Packing List for Round the World Travel =-.

    • Steph February 24, 2010 at 9:21 PM #

      Glad it was all worthwhile in the end.

  14. Chris - The Aussie Nomad February 25, 2010 at 6:26 AM #

    I will conquer my fears, and my upcoming trip will be the time for it. For people that know me, my trip is completely left field as I am a shy quiet type of guy (honest).

    When I board that plane everything will change. No longer will I be saying no I’ll be saying yes. I will make new friends and I will have the time of my life.
    .-= Chris – The Aussie Nomad´s last blog ..Three Steps To Perfect Vegemite Toast =-.

    • Steph February 25, 2010 at 9:36 AM #

      woo! Great attitude Chris. Traveling helped ease my social anxiety quite a bit so I’m sure it will be great for you!

  15. Taru February 26, 2010 at 2:40 PM #

    I always think; what if I die tomorrow?
    I don’t want to regret a thing I didn’t take the chance to do, the day when I can’t do anything any longer.
    .-= Taru´s last blog ..Spring Med sailing =-.

    • Steph February 26, 2010 at 2:57 PM #

      It’s true, life is short and unpredictable (a fact I’ve been mulling this week). It’s important to live it to the fullest.

  16. Audrey February 26, 2010 at 8:54 PM #

    Great post and topic! People sometimes laugh at the concept of travel and personal growth, but I do believe you pick up important life skills through travel. When you’re on the road long term you are forced to deal with many of your fears and go outside your comfort zone almost every day. It can be scary, frustrating, tiring and sometimes you want to throw in the towel so that things can be “easy” again. But you’re right, you come out the other side all the better for it. You have a new confidence and it becomes harder to “scare” you from what you can do and what is possible in this world.
    .-= Audrey´s last blog ..Antarctica: A Decision =-.

  17. Olga @ Going Global March 1, 2010 at 3:41 PM #

    Yes! This is exactly what I tell everyone who wants to work or travel abroad. Much of what I write and preach to young professionals is all geared at giving them the tools to go and follow the ‘road less traveled’. The reality is that no matter how many tools you have in your toolbox, if you don’t know how to put them to best use, then they won’t work.
    I heard this a while back and I have used it to live a more adventurous and fulfilling life. “Fear is being scared and doing nothing about it. Courage is being scared but still taking the chance to do it.”

    Have courage all you upcoming travelers! (Trust me…the world is a wonderful place. @Steph – I did the same thing after college and went on a gap year. I moved to Australia after traveling around the world for 4 months with no apartment, friends, jobs. I kid you not, within a day of getting there, I had an apartment, friends and 2 job leads. It was a super star day!)
    .-= Olga @ Going Global´s last blog ..Do Women Have Extra Considerations When Choosing to Work Abroad? =-.

    • Steph March 1, 2010 at 4:40 PM #

      Well said Olga. Learning to deal with fears and anxieties without letting them control you is a huge life skill.

  18. Lis Carpenter March 9, 2010 at 5:23 PM #

    Wow wow wow. I just found your blog through a Twitter list and I can say is wow. I couldn’t imagine moving somewhere without plans. And I have to keep reading to hear about your trip around the world. That’s sure to be interesting:)
    .-= Lis Carpenter´s last blog ..New Life Travel – Inspiring Read of the Month =-.

  19. Steph March 9, 2010 at 6:07 PM #

    Thank you Lis! glad to have you on board 🙂

  20. Farnoosh May 19, 2010 at 8:32 AM #

    I travel and I blog but I am not (yet!) a traveling blogger but ditto to what you say on people telling me all the time “I wish I could do that” – the one phrase that frustrates me the most and comes close to only this one: “Do it before you have babies…” because apparently that will ruin my life (while it will still be the best thing that happens!??) I remain confused on all that but clear on one thing: One Must Travel! And what you are doing, facing that fear and turning it into courage is brilliant. Best of luck and do be safe.

    • Steph May 19, 2010 at 10:52 AM #

      Thank you! I see that “do it before you have kids” mentality a lot and it IS confusing. I figure I will just keep doing the things that make me happy for as long as I am able…

  21. Andrew June 20, 2010 at 1:03 PM #

    I don’t know how I missed this, but it is awesome and timely for me. Especially the Mark Twain quote.

    • Steph June 20, 2010 at 2:21 PM #

      Thanks Andrew! It’s something that is important to be reminded of every now and again.

  22. barrister Jide June 23, 2010 at 7:57 AM #

    i love dis…. am on my way to kill my fear
    may the good lord blees the writer

  23. Ellen April 19, 2011 at 4:46 PM #

    Thank you for this post. For the past 2 1/2 years I have been pining for a big, solo trip, but now that I have an opportunity to do so, I am suddenly scared out of my wits. I almost gave up. Until I revisited your blog.

    • Steph May 1, 2011 at 8:44 AM #

      Aww I’m glad, don’t give up! I’ve never met anyone who regretted getting out to see the world.

  24. Jill December 30, 2011 at 1:16 AM #

    Fear of the unknown is perhaps the biggest inhibitor of my plans, but I’m slowly learning to conquer it! I loved this post. It resonates with me and proves to me once again how strong the travel community is. People in this community aren’t afraid to follow their instincts, a notion that would fill others with dread and eventually remorse. I say embrace the change! Life the life you imagined!

    • Steph January 9, 2012 at 3:32 PM #

      That’s great and very brave of you.

  25. John May 8, 2012 at 7:43 PM #

    This blog certainly resonates with me! I am leaving in 10 days to Poland from the USA. I graduate in 2010 from college and have been working on and off for 2yrs since graduation. I had a well paying job but I felt I was missing something in my life. My aunt and uncle live in Poland and I will be living with them when I move there. I’m not gonna lie, I am completely scared out of my mind as to what the heck am I doing! I don’t speak the language well, I have adequate savings but I don’t have a job secured, is this a smart thing to be doing?!?!

    I have thought many times about backing out and just staying put in the safety of the states but I think I will always regret not doing something like this. Even if it is a failure I can at least say to myself I tried!

    I have to say my biggest fear is getting work. I have dual American and European citizenship but not knowing a 2nd language really could be a hassle a negative to employers.

    Keeping my fingers crossed for success in life! Best of luck to all of you travelers out there as well! Life is too short to not try something that scares you to death! 🙂


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