Anxious & Abroad: Breaking the Backpacker Stereotype

by Gilad
anxious and abroad

The world today can feel remarkably small. We live in a genuinely extraordinary time wherein technology has connected us in unimaginable ways, letting us chat and connect with people from across the globe in real-time. We can look up facts about other countries, learn about their politics, cuisines and cultures, all from the comfort of our brightly-lit laptops in our dimly-lit rooms.

But the world, in actuality, is enormous. It’s enormous because the deep-seated magic that it has to offer can’t be found on a Wikipedia page or an Instagram story. At any corner of the globe, at any moment, you can find an entirely different and constantly evolving set of rules, cuisine, languages and landscapes, the kinds of things you need to touch, taste and smell to fully experience. With so much to see, and with so much within reach these days, it’s really no wonder that so many people are drawn to the idea of travel.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Why spend your Monday sitting in a cubicle writing Excel spreadsheets when you can spend it zip-lining through the Laotian jungle? Why commute an hour to your desk job when you can commute three to the lip of a Guatemalan volcano? The fantasy of travel exists in the minds of everyone to a degree, but very few people actually take the plunge and book a flight. Why?

Why does it seem that adventure is reserved exclusively for a select group of daredevils? You know the types I’m thinking of – dreadlocked vegans covered head to shoeless toe in tattoos, recently graduated, horned-up European partiers, long-haired surfer bros with weirdly profound Instagram captions on their headshots. What do they have that we don’t have? What gives them the gall to say “screw it” and book a three month trip through Europe? Are they careless? Are they braver than we are? No, they’re not. Simply put, they make it a priority.

A little about me. I’m a 26-year-old neurotic Jew from New York. I graduated college, I have a stable and well-paying job, and I am quite possibly the most risk-averse person you know. I have extreme anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and within the last three years, I have been to 18 different countries. I’ve been scuba diving, rappelled down waterfalls, swam in claustrophobic pitch-black caves and came face to face Bengal Tigers. I’ve been on months-long group and solo trips, I’ve dropped myself into countries whose languages I spoke none of, and I’ve navigated my way around international borders. If you’re wondering how this adds up, so am I.

I never – never – (I repeat, NEVER) thought that my life would have taken this turn. I grew up in the suburbs, went to the same elementary school, middle school, high school and college as my best friends. I never even went to sleep away camp because I was scared of being away from home. Until 23, I fully existed in my comfort zone and had absolutely no intention of leaving it. But after college, maybe simply because I never left my bubble, I started wondering what existed outside of it. I did some research, called up a friend of mine, he quit his job, and we began planning our two-month backpacking trip to Southeast Asia. I’m not being hyperbolic or “Eat, Pray, Love”-y when I say that that trip was life-altering for me. Until then, I hadn’t fully grasped the range of ecological and cultural diversity in this world, and how accessible it is to people like me – Neurotic, anxious, risk-averse me.

The long and short of it is this: backpacking isn’t just for those free-spirited, carefree types. You don’t have to be an Instagram nomad-type who just decided to buy a one-way flight and “figure it out.” You can be the type to pack every medication under the sun *just* in case you’re a few hours away from the nearest hospital. You can be the type to grab your wallet a little tighter when out in city streets because one person told you he knows someone who got pickpocketed. And you definitely can be the “maybe this isn’t such a good idea” guy and still find joy- and maybe even therapy – in the challenges of backpacking. I know, because I’ve done it.

In this blog, I’ll share some of my travel stories and explain exactly why the loosely structured trip is the best way to get started for those who teeter on the fence – those who’ve thought about picking up and going somewhere but don’t know how, or are perhaps too fraught with worry about how it would all turn out. If there’s anything I can tell you it’s that regardless of your concerns, I’ve been there, I’ve thought about it, I’ve worried about it, I’ve worried about it some more, and there is a solution.

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