He has extensive travel experience, and his book How to travel the world on $50 a day has just been published today. If you are in any of these cities, join him for his book tour and signing and say hi from me!
In today's post, he writes about something that is common to both travel and language learning: fear. Hopefully his words of encouragement remind you that you aren't alone, and there are ways of getting over that fear! Over to you Matt..
We all have fears. I am petrified of heights, which is ironic since I fly around the world constantly for my job. But I hate flying. If we experience turbulence, I always think we’re going down. My feet desire to be firmly planted on the ground; I don’t bungee jump or canyon swing, and my fear of heights is so bad that I won’t go near edges on observation towers for fear of falling off. And if you’re with me, and get near the edge, I’ll probably freak out a bit. Crazy, huh?
Nope, I don’t like heights — but I don’t let that phobia keep me down because if I did, I wouldn’t be able to travel. I deal with it in a constant state of panic because if I want to climb Everest or see Taipei 101, I have to learn to live with that fear. Even when my plane drops 20,000 feet and the oxygen masks fall down I keep a level head.
However, there’s another type of fear I want to talk about – one that goes beyond mere phobia. This is an even worse fear – it is the self-limiting fear that holds us back from trying new things and taking new opportunities. It is the one makes us say to ourselves “I’m not sure I can or have the skills to do this” so I won’t.
I see this fear in a lot of people. Every day I get emails from those who want to travel but are unsure they have the ability to do so. They feel they lack the social skills to meet people or are adept enough to navigate unfamiliar cities on their own.
This self-limiting belief can manifest itself in many ways – whether it’s the idea you can’t travel or that you don’t have the ability to learn a language like Benny. But my own experience has shown me that anybody can do whatever he or she wants if they just take a leap of faith.
However, it’s easier to say “just do it” than to work up the courage to actually do it.
I know. I used to feel the same way. I used to worry that I didn’t have the skills to travel, that I was too shy and introverted to make friends on the road or that I was too unskilled and directionally challenged to find my way around cities where people spoke languages I didn’t know.
But it turns out I could — and I’m here to give you some advice for getting over the self-limiting fears that hold us back from taking a leap into the unknown:
Know you are not alone
To know there were thousands of other first-time travelers just like me comforted greatly when I first started. It was comforting to know that you can have a support group of like-minded people who are going through exactly what you are and that you can lean on them for support when you doubt yourself. You’re all in this boat together, each just as clueless as the other!
On that same vein, another thing that was also helpful was knowing others started as green as me and came out just fine. They made it and I could too. I wasn’t the first person on the trail and if others, especially those younger than I (you see a lot of 18 year old backpackers), could do this, then I could too — or at least try.
It’s also good to remember that Benny only spoke English until he was 21 and failed at Spanish the first time. Knowing that so many people start from zero can help put things in perspective.
Failure is an option
Too many people are afraid of failure but I think it is better to try and fail than never know. We always worry about what people think if we don’t succeed but frankly, who cares? We do these things to make ourselves happy — not others. At least you tried, and after all, it’s not like the fate of the world rests in our hands. Maybe you’ll find out traveling, gardening, or languages aren’t your thing, but you’ll never know if you don’t try. I’ve met travelers who turned around and went home because they missed their family or significant others. And that’s ok, there’s nothing wrong with that. You’ll learn a lot about yourself and your abilities just by trying something new.
I never considered myself good at languages. I practiced and practiced but I hardly ever got it right. But while my German never came out right, that never stopped me from trying to learn Swedish.
I once tried baking. That didn’t work so well either. But what’s always been worse than my failures is those moments when I never even bothered to try. Think about your own life. What do you regret more – the fact you failed or never tried? Forget about failure and just do it.
As Thomas Edison said “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”
Whether it is a language or just trying to overcome your fear of talking to strangers, there are many options for you to practice a skill. In travel, a lot of people believe they won’t have the skills to meet people or are nervous about conversing in a language with fluent speakers while they make mistakes. To get over these fears and calm your nerves, I recommend two options:
- Meetup.com – Meetup.com is a wonderful website for meeting people with similar interests. There are a wide variety of groups where you can meet people with the same interests as you on any topic you could ever think about. Attending these events before you go overseas can make you feel comfortable practicing a language or getting to know new people.
- Couchsurfing – While often considered a place to get free accommodation, you will also find meet-ups and local group events. Everyone here is super friendly and hosts always tend to bring their guests along too. I find this website a wonderful way to meet people from all over the world who share my passion for travel, expand my circle of friends, and just get comfortable opening up to strangers.
Take baby steps
I didn’t need any push to go travel the world. I just went — and it worked out fine for me — but not everyone can do that. Some people need to test the waters first. It’s okay to take baby steps and try things out. Two ways to help ease into and build the confidence you need to take on larger tasks are:
- Set goals
Set small goals and create small victories for yourself, whether it’s preparing for a 3 minute conversation in a language or being able to go away for a week by yourself. By creating these small victories, you can earn the confidence to try bigger and better things.
- Work with a friend
Practice with friends. They won’t care if you can’t do x, y, or z because they are your friends. By working with people you know and trust it creates a safe zone where it’s okay for you to make mistakes. It may sound cheesy, but think of all the times you’ve had friends help you. It makes things easier, right?
Don't let fear control you
We all have doubt in our minds that we can’t do something. I’ve tried many times to get rid of my fear of heights but there’s nothing that seems to banish it — but I don’t let it control me. I recently took a small Cessna plane in Africa and though I was terrified most of the time, I would take trip again. The reward of admiring the view from that tiny aircraft was much greater than the perceived risk of getting into that plane.
We can’t let fear control us, and by taking the steps we need and following some helpful advice, we can build up the confidence we need to accomplish any task – whether that is traveling the world, learning a new language, or becoming a top chef. I truly believe that if you just put your mind to it, you can do anything.
Matthew Kepnes runs the award winning budget travel site, Nomadic Matt. He got the travel bug after a trip to Costa Rica in 2004, he decided to quit his job, finish his MBA and travel the world. His original trip was supposed to last a year. Over six years later, he is still out exploring and roaming the world. He's scuba dived in Fiji, played professional poker in Amsterdam, taught English in Thailand, got lost in a jungle in Central America and broke down in the middle of Australia's outback.
Matt's advice has been featured in The New York Times, CNN, The Guardian UK, Lifehacker, Budget Travel, BBC, and Yahoo! Finance. His new 272 page, 60,000+ word book, How to Travel the World on $50 a Day, is now available to help you travel cheaper, better, and longer. It contains tons of tips and tricks to cut your trip expenses in half whether you are going away for two weeks or two months.
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.