I receive an email newsletter from Jack Cheng, an author. It comes to me once a week on Sunday evenings and I find it a nice way to turn the page towards the new week ahead. In yesterday’s note, he wrote the following regarding travel, which took me back to my days of travel. I found what he wrote hit home on many levels, too. It was the last sentence that stuck, however:
A few weeks ago I was telling A., who hasn’t traveled much, about this trip, and he said that the thought of being in a foreign country without knowing the local language gives him anxiety an order of magnitude higher than anything else. It was something about the combination of being able to navigate and get basic needs met, and also the thought of being judged for not speaking the native tongue. It’s a familiar anxiety, one that I felt and still feel at times, especially places in Asia where the signs are written in an unfamiliar alphabet. The anxiety is partly rooted in some deep perfectionism, a fear of being laughably unskilled at something. But as for the food-shelter-transport thing, over time I’ve learned that the difficulties of travel when they present themselves are rarely as devastating as I had previously imagined, and even when they are challenging they are never life-threatening. It can be immensely fun to stumble through conversation with only nouns and hand signals, or to walk into a drug store and find that they stock a different but overlapping set of items than the ones back home. The worst parts of travel (and nearly everything else) are the anxieties we have about those things before they happen. It’s as though we have little faith in our future selves.