Dream of having the confidence to travel solo?
Read my book Get Lost to find out how!
I realize that some of my loyal Internet Strangers out there might be skeptical that travel can teach you how to overcome obstacles. How can going to Paris and spending time with the French make you feel confident? How can waiting for two hours on an airport security line boost your self-esteem?
Well, I am living proof that travel can teach you to overcome obstacles! Before I started traveling, I had suffered from depression and anxiety since I was a child. At one point, I was so crippled with anxiety that I couldn’t leave the house. I was afraid that I was so ugly that people wouldn’t want to look at me.
The year after I graduated from college, my mom died after a year-long battle with ALS (the ice bucket challenge disease). I really didn’t know how I could make it without my mom. She had been my rock and support for my entire struggle with anxiety. So I made an impulsive decision and took a short trip to Washington, DC for the weekend. I had no plans and no idea what I wanted to do.
Fast forward back to the future and my life has completely changed. I’ve been traveling seriously for five years, and it’s been ages since I’ve felt either depressed or anxious. As you can see in this photo above, I am even confident enough to declare myself Queen of Ukraine. I know travel can build your confidence because I am living proof. Let me teach you how!
approximately top 5: how to overcome obstacles through travel
1) you get to make a lot of mistakes
You might be thinking, “WHAAAAAAAAAAAT?” Or perhaps, “Bwuh?” How can making mistakes teach you how to overcome obstacles? One of the reasons I suffered from anxiety is that I was scared of making mistakes. I had been a good student, and I was always praised for getting 100 percent on my schoolwork. For some reason, I was convinced that if I made a mistake, the whole world was going to collapse on me.
As I started to travel, I realized the problem was that I hadn’t been making enough mistakes. The first long trip I took was to three different cities: Atlanta, Savannah, and New Orleans. This wasn’t even a particularly hard trip for me, as my father is from Atlanta and my mother is from New Orleans, so I was very familiar with those cities. There was really no excuse for messing up these trips.
However, I still made an endless list of mistakes, starting with booking a bus ticket for Savannah on the wrong day and having to eat the price of the ticket, sneezing repeatedly on a poor young member of the US Armed Forces heading for Biloxi, and walking down the streets of New Orleans with the back of my skirt tucked in my pantyhose.
Yet here is where I learned that making mistakes isn’t that big a deal. No one laughed at me, or at least if they did, I could not hear them. No one died. (Not even that poor serviceman who probably caught pneumonia from me.) I should have been making mistakes long ago!
Don’t make the mistake I made by not making mistakes. Start to travel today so you can make as many mistakes as you can! The more mistakes you make, the easier it will be to cope with them. Learning how to bounce back from mistakes is the number one way travel can teach you how to overcome obstacles .
2) learning languages is an obstacle
Really, learning any new skill will teach you how to overcome obstacles. But learning new languages is one of the most enjoyable obstacles. I have been bilingual in English and French since I was a kid. However, when I was younger, I never wanted to speak French with French people. I was afraid that they would criticize my accent.
On my first solo trip to Paris, I felt my heart in my throat every time I spoke in French. Would the French shopkeeper or waiter burst into a hearty HOH HOH HOH if I opened my mouth? Well, sometimes I’d get corrected. But I decided to take it as a learning opportunity instead of being deeply offended that someone had offered me a suggestion for improvement. And sometimes a French person would even compliment my accent, which is the best compliment an American can ever receive.
Even if you are monolingual, learning at least a few words in a foreign language and using them on the road is a great confidence booster. Get Duolingo (it’s free!) and teach yourself a few phrases in just about any widely-spoken language from Spanish, Romanian, or Turkish. I guarantee that the first time you make yourself understood in a new language, you’ll see how travel can teach you how to overcome obstacles!
3) you get to step out of your comfort zone
Yes, I really did take this photo from a hot air balloon in Jaipur. I could spin you a sob story about how I was scared, but did it anyway, but that wouldn’t be true. I’ve never been scared of heights. But I still feel proud of myself for accomplishing something new and checking an item off my bucket list.
And the chance to step out of your comfort zone is one of the best ways travel can teach you how to overcome obstacles. Human beings aren’t meant to be comfortable! We’re meant to grow and change with the world around us!
I’m a big believer in celebrating little successes. Being a human being is very difficult, so don’t take any little bit of beauty or accomplishment for granted. Even if your “new thing” isn’t as exciting as being in a hot air balloon, you should still be proud of yourself for stepping out of your comfort zone.
Did you go on a roller coaster for the first time without losing your lunch? Pump your fists in the air and say, “HELL YEAH!” You can also do the Ickey Shuffle. Whatever floats your boat.
Did you eat a strange and unfamiliar food…and like it? Give yourself a great big hug and scream BOO YA, preferably in the middle of a crowd. (This photo was the first thing that came up in my Google Photos when I searched weird food.)
Little by little, you’ll get more comfortable with stepping out of your comfort zone and with each new thing you do, you’ll see how much you are capable of. That’s how travel can teach you how to overcome obstacles.
4) you get to know yourself
This is easier to do if you solo travel, and I definitely think solo travel can build your confidence faster than some other kinds of travel. It’s fun to make friends on a solo trip, but your only constant travel companion will be yourself. This can get very lonely. On my first month-long solo trip, I was so isolated that by the end I ended up bursting into tears in a Romanian restaurant because an accordion player played “Ashokan Farewell”, aka the Ken Burns Civil War music, and it made me homesick for the United States.
So if you have to spend so much time with yourself, you need to be a great friend/life coach to yourself. This sounds cheesy, but I promise it works. Take the time every day to reflect on what you’re proud of or grateful for that day and what you’d like to do differently tomorrow. Chuckle over a shared joke that only you and yourself will remember. Journal about your favorite adventure you experienced with yourself that day. Having a strong relationship with yourself makes it that much easier for you to have great relationships with others.
5) focus on the world around you
Ultimately the other ways that travel can teach you how to overcome obstacles are leading up to this one. Figuring out how to bounce back from mistakes, learn new things, get out of your comfort zone, and develop a positive relationship with yourself are all so you can get out of your own way. And once you do that, you can focus on all the amazing people you will meet and the beautiful things you will see!
Recently, I quit my day job because it had become toxic and abusive. The day I quit my job, I hopped on a plane to India, sobbing the entire time and drinking my weight in Chardonnay. I met up with a group trip in New Delhi, but I was too upset over the loss of my job to even speak to anyone. But all that misery changed after a couple of days when we arrived at the Taj Mahal.
When I was face to face with one of the wonders of the world and surrounded by a gang of friendly people who had also traveled halfway around the planet to see it, how could I be entirely focused on my unhappiness?
Putting your attention on the world around you instead of yourself is great for boosting confidence. When you meet a new person, instead of worrying about how nervous you are about making a bad impression, remind yourself that they’re probably just as nervous about impressing you and try to put them at ease.
Travel can’t solve all your problems. My work issues were waiting for me when I returned from India. But those issues are now in the past, and my memories of the Taj Mahal will stay with me forever. If you have a problem in your life that is making you miserable, it can give you such a boost to put it aside for a while and have an adventure or go see something beautiful.
This works for romantic problems too. Once when I was having Very Dramatic Man Issues, I decided to go on a trip to Buenos Aires. I figured I could be miserable in my apartment, but it would be better to be miserable in Argentina. And after the first day in Buenos Aires and some strange encounters with the tango, a steak, and some European con artists, I could put my Man Troubles aside for a few days. I promise you can too! Just remember, it’s better to be miserable in Argentina.
That’s How Travel Can Teach You how to overcome obstacles !
Do you believe me that travel can teach you how to overcome obstacles? Would seeing the Taj Mahal help you get over leaving an abusive job? And will the world end just because you sneezed on a buff , square-jawed stranger? Please leave your thoughts below!