"Trust yourself to react appropriately when catastrophe happens. Failure of nerve is really failure to trust yourself."
I didnt go abroad for the first time until I was 27. Id often thought about it, but never did it. Finally, I met a guy whod traveled to India. He filled me with tales of crowded markets, wandering sadhus, spices, chaos, colors. India seemed to me the mirror image of America... a place full of energy and color.
Somewhat hesitantly, I decided Id go to India. I had no money. Id never traveled. I knew nothing about India other than his stories. No matter.
When I got my student loan check, I promptly bought a ticket to Bombay. I lived off ramen noodles for the rest of the semester but I was thrilled. Next I bought a guidebook. I spent my impoverished days reading through it.. growing more excited each day.
But there were fears too. I had all the first-time-abroad worries. I worried about getting sick. I worried about not bringing something I would need.
More than that, I worried I wasnt up to the task. Would I be overwhelmed? Could I manage everything by myself? What if something bad happened and I was all alone.
Turned out that one of these fears did materialize. Two weeks after arrival in India, I became deathly sick. I eventually collapsed outside a fort in Jodhpur.... dehydrated and exhausted. A kind fellow-traveler got me into a rickshaw and told the driver to take me to the nearest hospital.
He took me to a hospital that had never had a foreign patient. My first challenge was to negotiate with the attendant. Though I could barely sit upright, he insisted that the doctor was not available and would not be for a long time. Panicked.. trying to stay conscious, I begged him. He said, "You must pay extra". In other words, I had to bribe him to call the doctor.
I was diagnosed with dysentery and stayed in the hospital for four days. The doctor spoke English and was very good..
It wasnt a pleasant experience. It wasnt "comfortable".
But everything worked out fine, as these things usually do. More to the point, I learned that I could indeed handle such a situation. I learned that my fears were mostly phantoms.
Nowadays, I dont usually bother with a guidebook... and I dont worry too much about "what might happen". In fact, the unexpected is the very best part of travel... why try to eliminate it.
The point is this- bad things might indeed happen should you take a big (or small) risk.
The thing is, you will handle it.
Alan Watts is right, failure of nerve is really failure to trust yourself.