Ten things that freaked me out about travelling
Keep calm and carry on ... the chances of actually being caught up in a terrorist attack while you're travelling are about as remote as being hit by a bus that's being driven by a shark. Photo: AP
Call it experience; and maybe a little added cynicism. Whatever it is, there are certainly things about travel that were once a huge problem to the novice me, but which have now paled into insignificance after many years on the road.
Some fears you learn to conquer – others you realise were never a problem in the first place.
Here are 10 of the big ones.
Foreign languages ... a smile and a little sign language will go a long way ? and any attempt at the local lingo, no matter how embarrassingly bad, is appreciated. Photo: Reuters
I know, I know, terrorists really are a threat, and if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time it would be a disaster. And that's something you worry about to start with. But you soon figure out that the chances of actually being caught up in a terrorist attack while you're travelling are about as remote as being hit by a bus that's being driven by a shark. Bad things do happen – but they probably won't happen to you.
First time you hit a country with hygiene standards that are a little below Australia's, you panic. I'm going to die! There's meat lying out in the open, grime everywhere, a cat roaming around under the tables, and a chef who looks like he could use a polite introduction to soap. But you know what? It's those places that usually do the best food. And if it's popular you're unlikely to get sick.
I'm no linguist – I'm the first to admit that. But I no longer have the old fear that I used to of trying foreign languages, and of travelling through places where English is rarely spoken. After a while it's obvious that a smile and a little sign language will go a long way – and any attempt at the local lingo, no matter how embarrassingly bad, is appreciated.
You always hear people moan about getting to Europe and their DVT or their leg cramps or whatever, and you start to worry. Just how bad is this going to be? But I don't mind the long-haul flights – watch a few movies, eat some food, listen to some music, close your eyes for a while and you're there, in another continent, ready for an adventure.
It's a strange feeling when you give up your home for long-term travel, when you hand back the keys to your apartment, pack all your things into storage and realise you no longer have a place to call your own. It's daunting. But after a while you start revelling in the freedom of it. No strings attached.
Dire financial straits
Being broke sucks, don't get me wrong. But it's not the end of the world. A life of travel inevitably means a lack of Australian financial touchstones like Holden cars and quarter-acre blocks and fat superannuation accounts, but you soon get over that when you're having fun on the other side of the earth.
Ask any traveller – they get such a bad wrap. Americans are loud and obnoxious and annoying, according to most people. So that's what you expect when you meet your first American tourist. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that the obnoxious American is a lazy cliché – sure, some exist, but you'll also meet some great people who hail from the land of the free.
Anyone who doesn't get a little nervous when they first set off on a big overseas trip alone must be some Terminator-like machine. It's frightening, taking on the world on your lonesome, with no one to rely on but yourself. But it's also hugely rewarding – not to mention free of arguments that include the phrase "but I wanna go here"...
Not public transport at home, that's always been fine. But when you're in a foreign country and you don't know the routes, you don't know the ticket system, you don't know the language to ask for help, it can all be a little daunting. After a while though, you learn to accept the stuff-ups, assume you'll get on a wrong bus or wrong train at some point, and just go with it. (Oh, and take a photo of the route map when you find one - that way you'll always have it with you.)
This goes along with the terrorism thing. You always kind of assume that putting yourself out there as a traveller in strange, dangerous lands will also open you up to the very high possibility of being mugged at knifepoint, whether that's in Nairobi or New York. But you know what? Don't spend so much time worrying about it. In my experience, take a few precautions and relax – it'll probably never happen.
What used to freak you out about travelling?
Follow Ben Groundwater on Twitter @bengroundwater