I am sitting in Ubud and life is pretty perfect right now. I am staying in a beautiful little bamboo bungalow, eat the most delicious food for lunch and have the fastest wifi of the last few months (something that ranks highly on the happiness scale for a travel blogger).
I am living the dream, at least on paper. It feels quiet, almost too quiet but I know I need this time to catch my breath, catch up on work, and to look after me. I need these moments of homeliness in general but especially right now because after my time in Bali I am heading to India. I am terrified.
India has been this magical, mystical creature of a country for me since I was little. It started with romance novels set in the colonial times and the political incorrectness or ignorance of these books did nothing to deter me from falling in love with the country by proxy.
I dreamed of colored saris, spicy chai and a culture so foreign to my own that it would shake me to the core. That dream didn't change when I grew up. I had to go to India and see it with my own eyes, see if I could make my dreams come true there.
But somehow over time, I missed the right moment. I decided to go to Morocco, fell in love with the country, discovered the rest of Southeast Asia and over time India became nothing more than one of many destinations I would go one day... one day, someday... The urge, the dream subsided and the fact that India is the presumed rite of passage for many solo travelers deterred me even more. I like to do things differently.
To be very honest, I also got scared. The idea of India grew big, maybe too big. The likes of Shantaram or Slumdog Millionaire didn't help, they didn't entice me to go, they scared me. Would I get sick, in trouble or completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of this country and its over 1.3 billion people and their stories?
My trip to Kerala changed things a little bit. I experienced hospitality and warm smiles, ate delicious food and didn't get sick, and learned that when it comes to traffic India is the same as many other countries: you have to have a bit of faith and good luck and it's probably best to keep your eyes tightly shut.
But I was also acutely aware that I was on a press trip. We had an agenda, several guides and a comfy bus at our disposal. We stayed in the nicest hotels, ate the fanciest foods, and people were generally happy to see us wanting to show us the best their state had to offer. While I know that this isn't the reality for a 'regular' traveler, I didn't mind one bit. It was my way of easing into India.
But while I loved Kerala overall I also realized that it wasn't the India I was longing to see or at least it only offered a glimpse. So I decided to go again and this time see the palaces, the markets, the chaos the India of my dreams offered.
I was already in Southeast Asia and a flight would be cheap, when was the next opportunity I would get to India on a whim? I applied for my visa (many nationalities can apply and pay for their visa online these days, it is no hassle and I got my visa on both occasions within two days!) and booked a flight back to Kochi. That was the easy part. Then I had to plan the rest of my trip and I didn't even know where to start. Someone suggested to buy a Lonely Planet but honestly - have you seen their India guide? It is as big as the Yellow Pages! I wasn't sure how that was going to help nor how I was going to carry it.
I felt rushed and confused. I have to admit that I am not a very spontaneous person, I am an innate planner. Not only do I have fun planning trips, it also calms me. To just book a flight to India is a kind of spontaneity that is very unlike me and makes me very nervous. Even if I was traveling to an 'ordinary' destination. India is anything but ordinary.
And now I sit here in Bali, trying to get work done, trying to relax and look forward to my trip when in fact, I am terrified. For the first time ever, I am scared to travel and I can't shake the feeling. I even consider flying to Kochi, stay for a week and return to Bali. Here everything seems safe.
Just in time, a few days before I am due to leave I luckily found this post by Pico Iyer (in case you don't know him, he is a wonderful travel writer and I had the honor to meet him at Pure a few years back, an encounter that deeply moved me) - Writer Pico Iyer On Why There's More To Travel Than Your Instagram Feed.
"I worry, in other words, that the tasting menu will replace the true unsettledness of being lost on the streets in Calcutta or spooked by a witch doctor in Haiti."
What a beautiful word, unsettledness, and I think it is exactly what I need. All of a sudden I realized that I don't want safe, safe bores me. It doesn't make for good stories, it doesn't make for lasting memories. I realized that it is okay to be scared and that it is maybe exactly what I need to combat my current travel fatigue. That I need to take my own advice and leave my comfort zone for a bit whether that entails last minute travel arrangements or visiting a country like India on my own.
With that mind shift, I moved from being scared to being excited. I started my research by getting inspiration, I used Pinterest to find visuals for my India dreams, started to read blogs and asked questions. I found reminders why I had wanted to go in the first place and why India might be worth it being a little bit scared. I am still considering taking a tour, will stock up on Immodium & co beforehand and pay more for a 1st class ticket even if the experience might not be as authentic, but I will go. I am scared and cool travel blogger (or not!) I am not afraid to admit it. Because being scared is okay as long as you still go.
Have you ever been scared to travel to a place? Where and how did you overcome it?