When I went to Iceland and the Faroe Islands last year, I began the trip with some reflections on travel and fear. Today, I’m on the cusp of another multi-week international vacation. Things are a bit different this time. I’m going to Asia instead of Scandinavia. It’s going to be really hot and humid instead of really cold and windy. There probably will be a lot more bugs this time around (did you know Iceland has virtually no bugs?). And there definitely will be a lot more people this time around.
But one thing’s not different. I’m still afraid.
Once again, there are a whole host of “nuisance fears”: losing my passport, not being able to speak the language, losing one of my contacts and forgetting my backups and walking around with one eye open for the rest of the trip. You know, a whole bunch of rational fears (and some irrational ones) that can all be mitigated with some planning and care.
But these aren’t the real fears. These are just the surface-level fears that we preoccupy ourselves with so we don’t have to address what’s really scaring us.
I wrote a lot about discomfort in that post last year, but I want to go even deeper this time. I’ve found that if you just keep asking yourself “why?” even when you feel like you’ve reached the end of the explanations, you can get much deeper than you ever thought possible. Last year, I asked myself why all those “nuisance fears” bothered me so much when they could be so easily mitigated. I came to the conclusion that they were just masking discomfort, which was the “true” root of my fear of travel.
Today I’m asking “why?” again. I’m asking why traveling is uncomfortable. The obvious answer is that everything is new and unfamiliar when you travel. You’re out of your natural environment that you know so well. But again, we can ask “why?”. Why is it that being out of the environment that you know so well is uncomfortable?
I think there’s probably an evolutionary component to this. Caveman Kyle wouldn’t have liked to venture too far from his territory because he wouldn’t know all the hiding spots for predators, etc. Despite the fact that the world is now mostly safe, we haven’t quite shed our biological unease to new surroundings.
But I suspect there’s an existential component as well. We have a desire to understand our surroundings because that understanding allows us to place ourselves in our surroundings. We know where we stand. We seem to think that if we know our surroundings and we know where we stand in relation to those surroundings, we know who we are.
I’ve become acutely aware of this over the last year as I’ve moved from Chicago to Fort Collins to Omaha. I adopt personality traits of my environment when I move. This begs the question: what parts of me are me and what parts of me are reflections of my environment? Even more frightening (liberating?): is there a “me” that exists independent of my environment?
I doubt I’ll ever have answers to these questions. Somewhere in my gut I feel it’s important to continuously ask them, though. So, once again, in addition to all my clothes and photography gear, I’ll be packing up my fears and taking them with me on this adventure.