I don’t know where I picked up this line of hooey but, my life’s motto is, “If you’re not a little uncomfortable, you’re not really living”. I know, that right there sounds like some self-help book, motivational poster, grade A horse pucky; something said by some type A asshole to make the rest of us feel bad. But, the thing is…it’s actually true.
I’m scared of everything. I can’t tell you how many times in conversation I’ve said, “Oh my god, xyz is my BIGGEST fear!” only to have the other party remark facetiously, “But I thought your worst fear was _____ (fill in this blank with wasps, heights, spoiled food, falling down the stairs, flying, ordering take out over the phone, public speaking…well, you get the point)”. Okay, okay, I have a lot of worst fears.
But I also have this nagging feeling that I don’t have enough time. When I think about the 40 hours I spend at work, the time spent commuting to and from work, the time spent doing enough housework to have food prepared to eat, clean dishes to actually eat that food off of, and clean the clothes I need to show up to work in, it seems like there isn’t much time left for actual living. Seriously, I’m getting anxious now just writing all that.
In my early 20s I heard an oft repeated adage, “This life is not a dress rehearsal”. Basically, you don’t get a do over, whatever you want to do, you better do it now kid. As an anxious person, that resonated with me because, obviously, it gave me a whole new anxiety, a fear that I would die with regrets; should haves which could never be rectified.
I thought about the things I always thought I would do next time. Throughout my life some of my common “next times” were to go to an ivy league school; to be something great like a doctor, lawyer, or politician; to learn another language; to move back to a big city; to be remembered for something.
WHAT NEXT TIME??? I realized that I do not, in fact, belong to a religion which ascribes to a belief in reincarnation so, holy shit, I’d better get moving. That’s when the fear of time passing too quickly became cemented as my number one fear in life… that and wasps. Let’s be real, wasps are scary bastards.
Out of nowhere, a friend suggested a trip to Iceland. Though I had been raised between Hawaii and London, at this time in my life I hadn’t even been on a plane in nearly 10 years. To compound matters, I was 100% broke. But I went anyway. With all my worries, I still thought, “What if I die in a car wreck on my way to my boring ass job and my last thought is ‘dammit, I never got to see Iceland!’?
I have a lot of fears about what sad shit could be my last thought; most of my thought process in life is trying to mitigate that eventuality so that hopefully my last thought will be something like, “damn, that was a good life”. Remember, you only get ONE.
The trip to Iceland sparked a new need to go everywhere, see everything, and meet everyone. But I had one problem after that, no one wanted to, or could, travel with me to other amazing places. So, eventually, I resolved to go by myself.
What I’m about to tell you is something I haven’t shared with many people, the completely dorky events of my first solo trip abroad. Brace yourself, so many cringe worthy sentences ahead…
I planned my trip out with the confidence of an experienced traveler. I would go to Costa Rica and see everything there was to see. After a night of sleep in the capital city of San Jose, I would head out in earnest to the jungles of Puerto Viejo, on a multi hour trip on a local bus, and maybe even walk across the border to Panama just for fun!
What really happened? I got to San Jose and immediately thought, “I’ve made a tiny huge mistake”. Iceland was pretty familiar right off the bat, San Jose was not. I met a German girl on the flight who didn’t have accommodations set up yet and told her about the hostel I was staying at and suggested that we could take a taxi there together (I was really just shit scared of going it alone). Once there, it turned out there were no beds available for her in the all female rooms (like the one I had carefully reserved for myself). I went with her to check out the mixed gender dorm and was taken aback by the one and only resident, a very odd older man who they told us had lived there for close to a year. Umm, no, I would not be okay with that and was not okay with that for her either. I suggested that I could also stay in that room so she wouldn’t be alone. Pretty brave, right? Nope, in reality, I knew her now; I didn’t know the people in my safe and pre-reserved all female room…I didn’t want to be alone again.
The next morning, taking a sunrise bus out to Puerto Viejo, I left her my name, email address, and where I was heading on a little scrap of paper while she slept. Not because I thought we’d be lifelong best friends but because I wanted someone to know who I was, where I was, and where I was going…in case something bad happened next.
Riding along in that bus, jamming to my tunes, I felt silly for being paranoid…until a boulder came flying through the windshield, cutting the bus driver’s neck open in the process.
“What the actual fuck?!”
Sitting on the side of the road, waiting for a replacement bus driver (no replacement bus though, we would complete the rest of the trip with an open windshield), I now KNEW I had made a horrible mistake in coming here. Just who did I think I was anyway?
Arriving at my literal jungle bungalow, I was concerned that I seemed to be the only guest. It was the off season. Oh…great, just me and the jungle…cool…I guess. The bungalow didn’t have screens on the windows (and you know I HATE bugs), and in fact had no locking mechanism whatsoever. In the jungle heat, those windows were clearly meant to remain open 100% of the time.
During the day, I went to the beach, to a sloth sanctuary, to watch the surfers at Salsa Brava…but at night which, by the way, starts at 6pm near the equator, I would sit in my bungalow, under the mosquito net, with all the windows closed, in 90 degree heat, watching old episodes of the Simpsons on my laptop until I fell asleep (Simpsons reruns are my anxiety calming go to; don’t ask me why, because I honestly don’t know).
Finally back in San Jose, at a nice hotel (one with locking windows and everything!), I took one look around (finally seeing San Jose in the day light) and knew I was not going to be going out past sunset or going anywhere unless it was in a taxi. I went to a museum and to a grocery store. I had five days in San Jose, and that’s all I did. I was too scared, too out of my comfort zone, to do anything else. My hotel room had a kitchenette, so I went to the front desk and asked the guy there to order me what essentially amounted to four night’s worth of dinners and a tres leche cake from a well rated restaurant nearby and spent the next four days hanging out at the hotel pool, reading a book, and heating up my meals in my room at night. And I’m not mad about it.
At the time I felt so unbelievably lame, but now I know that the secret to being happy when traveling anywhere and under any circumstances is to think about what you would be doing if you weren’t there. If I had been back home I most certainly wouldn’t be lounging by the pool, reading a book, and eating delicious cake every night. I’d be stressing about work and not having time to relax and read my damn book.
So, who cares what you do when you get to a place, anyway? Just do what you’re comfortable with until you’re comfortable with doing a little bit more. At least you went and did a thing, even if it was literally one thing in two weeks.