Traveling with Fear: An “UnBelizeable” Shift

When I returned from the airport I felt like an alchemist who had turned vulnerability into durability. In four distinct moments, I experienced an epiphany, or received pure benefits of the intimate education that travel gives. 

Circling nurse sharks

In the first moment I was climbing a massive structure that housed royalty in Mayan civilization. My fear of heights often keeps me from enjoying adventures and spectacular views. As the space around me swayed and my legs wobbled, I fixated on how I would descend. High on the ledge overlooking the silent, massive structures that once were populated by thousands and the bumpy horizon line that is Guatemala, I grounded myself leaning on the limestone. 

This grounding , or focus on something stable, reminded me I wasn’t in any immanent danger. There was plenty of space between me and the ledge, and pressing against the ancient stone connected my body, spirit, and imagination with the Mayan time, place, and people. I was distracted enough by the sensations I felt from this portal and by the vivid visuals that brought our guide’s words to life. I felt like I found another way out, that instead of allowing my fear to take me away, it connected me deeper.

Aside from grounding, the biggest difference in this experience was congratulating myself. In the past I’ve learned to fully feel and accept feelings, but that wasn’t enough. This time I acknowledged I was feeling fear and that I was doing something cool despite it. 

Atop a Mayan structure overlooking other ruins and the Guatemalan border

The second time I felt fear was later that afternoon at the peak of cave tubing. We reached a point where we could cliff jump if we wanted to. I like cliff jumping and have done much higher points before, but this was more about the unknown. Even with headlamps, it was too dark to see the bottom. The water was beautifully clear and clean, though it was anticipating where rocks would be. The guide gave us a last chance for anyone who wanted to do it or do it again. 

I watched most of my friends jump and then suddenly found myself climbing and flying. This sense of trust came again from an inner pep talk. I had already said yes so many times to opportunities to be there, so to send me (literally) over the edge, it was enough for me to think, wow it’s great to be here and meet so many challenges.  

Floating in the cave (Mayan Underworld) with friends

Point three I was bobbing in open ocean. Despite my group nearby and a life preserver tucked across my chest, maneuvering with flippers and breathing through a tube was exhausting. There was a fleeting moment of instinct where I realized just how ill-equipped I would be surviving out there. 

Observing the elaborate underwater eco-systems had me speechless. It was like being in outer space. Part of me felt like an intruder trespassing something so pure. Like the countless moments I’ve been humbled by traveling alone, not knowing the language, or aware of the baggage I carry of my own culture into others, here I shrunk to the size of plankton. 

At one point someone behind me accidentally kicked off one of my flippers. In slow motion I turned to reach for it as it sunk well below the surface. The tips of my fingers curled around the heel, and I swore I heard a band play “dah-nah!” None one else witnessed my private moment of glory, but this feeling of triumph comes up for me again and again. 

Me testing my mermaid abilities

My final point of fear was after breakfast early in the morning on our day of departure. I was feeling ready until we started walking to the water taxi where I got “the wave.” The wave of nausea might have been fine as it is more socially acceptable to publicly vomit. What I had was the impending doom one meets prior to diarrhea. What if I shit my pants on this packed speedboat? 

This kind of fear couldn’t be padded with self-congratulatory remarks for “participating in an adventure” like the others. At that moment I needed an authoritative voice, one who acknowledged the possibility of living the most mortifying experience but said no to it. I closed my eyes sitting upright and pretended I was lucid dreaming. I exited the boat with my dignity in tact and having faced a close encounter with the worst kind of disaster that wouldn’t jeopardize safety.  

Technically, these 4 points of fear on this trip were minor discomforts with options (maybe with the exception of the last one). Most of the real challenges faced when traveling have fewer options and require endurance. There is no reward except a learning experience for next time. However, successfully applying what you learn is a big deal!

Traveling is something I’ve chosen to do directly against my anxiety time and time again. Every time I question why I keep voluntarily inserting myself in intensely uncomfortable and inconvenient situations, and every time I book another because I know I come back a better person for it. 

In these examples, changing my reactions truly changed my experiences. My intention for this trip was to go with the flow, and a noticeable shift happened. I dis-engaged with doubt when meeting new people, I let go of regret, I applied boundaries when confronted with intense energy and fragile egos, and my reaction was minimal when my flights home were delayed 4 hours and canceled until the next morning. 

Self-support is absolutely key. Whether you pick it up from traveling or learn it from other life choices and adventures, I hope you find it to be an invaluable earned gift as I do. With it, the world is a little lighter and you are a little stronger. 

How do you persist through discomfort? In Belize they say “go slow.” If you like this page, please share it!

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