“Excuse me miss, you’re texting really loud. I’m trying to sleep here. Could you keep it down?!” The man next to me on the train bursts into hysterical giggles. I’m assuming he’s drunk or just terrible at flirting, as this is the tenth time he’s made the joke. I force a smile but can’t help but huff and roll my eyes, annoyed at being distracted from my work, a story on travel apps.
“Okay, let’s try this. Where are you off to?” he asks, making a more mature attempt at getting me to speak to him.
“Croatia,” I reply without looking up from my notes.
He bursts into hysterics, “Well, I think you may have gotten on the wrong train. This is New Jersey Transit!”
I roll my eyes again. “I’m going to the airport. Obviously.”
Suddenly he becomes quiet, pinching up like he has something important to ask but doesn’t know if it’s appropriate. I can feel his anxious stare so intensely I can no longer concentrate on smartphones and digital payments, and throw my cell phone in defeat.
“I give up. Yes??” I ask exasperatedly.
“I just… I’m a little concerned. Is someone meeting you at the airport? I feel like a girl shouldn’t be traveling alone in Croatia. Or anywhere, really.”
I smirk. “Luckily I’m a woman, not a girl.”
He shakes his head. “I give you credit. You’re brave.”
This is something I’ve had people tell me before, but it always makes me feel weird. Am I brave? Me, who burst into shrieks at 3am the other night when a hanging jacket transformed into a monster after watching too much American Horror Story? Who called her ex-boyfriend crying while clutching a spray bottle of Raid when a centipede was in her shower? Who slept with a nightlight on until she was 16?
I don’t consider myself brave.
Although, I guess when you eliminate situations involving large bugs and ghosts — and running out of wine (scary stuff!) — I can be what people call brave. To me, it’s not that I’m unafraid to travel solo, jump out of airplanes and talk to strangers, it’s that I don’t let fear stop me. To me, being afraid of something isn’t a reason to not do something; in fact, it’s often more of a reason to do something.
Some of my greatest trip memories grew out of doing things that excited yet scared me — like backpacking South America solo for four months. Family and friends tried to talk me out of it, and by the time they were done lecturing me on the dangers of being a solo female in Latin America, I fully believed my liver would be sold on the black market during the trip.
But I returned, liver-in-tact. More than that: I returned transformed. My confidence in myself to navigate foreign situations had grown, my view on the world was altered as I spent time with locals, my arsenal of travel tales expanding with every bus ride and border crossing.
I’ve also gotten into downright scary situations on the road that I’ve managed to get myself out of, like being chased by angry dogs while hiking and almost being robbed in Rio. Would I have loved a partner to help me out? Of course. But I didn’t have one, and so I learned to rely on myself and the skills and smarts I’ve acquired in my 28 years of life.
At this point, I’ve had numerous solo travel adventures. And while I still get some butterflies each time,
I’m confident enough in myself to never be truly afraid.
The same goes for heights. I absolutely love anything that involves dangling in mid-air or falling from the sky. That being said, just ask my friend Kait how much I cried and hyperventilated at the age of 20, doing my first bungee experience in Cairns, Australia. I was legitimately terrified. But I never let fear stop me from sky diving, bungee jumping, hot air ballooning, zip-lining and canyoning, and now this fear has turned into excitement.
While I think there are certain people more inclined to possess the quality of bravery, such as those with intense curiosities, I think it’s possible for anyone willing to face their fears, stand up to society, choose their own path, follow their journey no matter the cost and believe in their own abilities has the chance to be brave.