Backpacking teaches you to face your fears

PHOTO: The Star/ANN

I've always wanted to travel, and I've always loved travelling. I was lucky that my parents took me and my family on road trips and vacations that allowed me to see more of the world.

When I was 18, after a trip to Egypt, I knew then and there I wanted to see more. I wanted to experience more of the world. And I knew I wanted to backpack.

I did small trips here and there, and I was addicted. It was an unsatiable feeling that could only be cured in one way - to travel more. So I took out my laptop, checked out the world maps, and made a plan. I settled what needed to be settled, paid what needed to be paid, packed my bags, said my goodbyes and took that first step forward on to the train. Since that day on March 15 last year, I've not regretted a single decision.

I've always thought, if you're in your 20's, with no wife or kids, no major resposibilities and are healthy, I don't see why you shouldn't be doing it. The biggest reason normally is fear - of the dangers that lurk in a country you know nothing about, of getting injured, robbed, kidnapped, raped, killed. All valid reasons, but all those things could easily happen to you in the comfort of your own home.

Don't think I'm not afraid; I am. Those things go through my mind contantly when I'm backapcking, but I can't let fear control my life.

"The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear," Nelson Mandela once said.

Backpacking doesn't teach you not to be afraid; it teaches you to face those fears. It teaches you that fear and doubt will always be a part of your life, but we need to be able to accept it, and move forward.

When we're in school, we learn Geography and History from books, but what better way to learn about those topics than to go out there and experience it yourself? To hear the stories we read, from someone who's actually from that place. A person who has experienced those things first-hand.

Backpacking teaches you that the world is so much bigger and more colourful than we could ever imagine. The number of people out there who are so different from us, yet so similar.

Whether it's two weeks, two months or two years doesn't matter. Travelling isn't a contest, it's not about who has gone further or seen more.

"Travel. Real, deep, honest to goodness, intentional, independent, passionate wandering, is about learning. It's about experiencing the world, stretching our boundaries and comfort zones, and recognising that there is more to life that the sum total of our own experience," said travel writer Jennifer Miller.

The most important thing is that you open your heart to the world. It can be intimidating. When you first set out, you'll meet people who have done more, gone further, and travelled longer. You'll start to be impatient, to be a part of that group. You'll start to think that what you've achieved is next to nothing. Don't let those things bother you. Travelling is a personal experience; you have to do it at your own pace, learn and experience the world and what it has to offer at your own pace. Travel is about personal discovery.

So, what did I learn?

That you just have to take things as they come. I've always believed that things, good or bad, happen for a reason. You can have the best laid out plans, but sometimes a plan goes awry, and all you have left are your guts. Most of the time, that's all you need to adapt and move forward. You might detour a little, but in the end, you'll be exactly where life takes you. All you gotta do is enjoy the ride.

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