sign up for news and inspiration
  • connect
"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Letter to a Reluctant Traveler

“Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.”

donegal august 2001Out for a day in Donegal with my Cavan cousins on a solo trip to Ireland, 2001.


Dear Friend,

When I was nineteen, I had the opportunity to write for a travel guide called Hanging Out in Ireland. It was going to be my job for the summer: to travel for five weeks around the southern half of the island, taking notes on every castle, restaurant, hostel and pub, then come home and write 100,000 words. I was elated, and I was terrified. My mother felt all the terror and none of the elation. She said, “Can’t you get an office job?”

If I had listened to my mother, my life would have taken an entirely different turn, so I am grateful I had the good sense not to. I breathed through the anxiety. I packed my passport and boarded the plane. I spent the first couple days bumbling around Counties Kildare and Wicklow feeling completely lost and lonely and incompetent. I remember my first night, in a hotel in Kildare town–what the hell was I even doing in Kildare town?–sleeping off my jet lag only to find myself wide awake in the middle of the night. I trembled with indignation when I overheard a night porter telling his friend that I was “some stupid feckin’ American asking questions.” I watched Angelina Jolie in a TV movie on a little television mounted to the ceiling. I’m pretty sure I cried myself to sleep.

Eventually I found my footing. I started talking to people–nice people–I began to smile again, I took copious notes, I had lots and lots of adventures. I stood on clifftops, trod reverently through the ruins of monasteries, listened to exuberant traditional music sessions in crowded pubs, walked “home” at 2AM under a dome of stars and thanked God for my existence. That summer I had my first real taste of independence (and Guinness, and banoffee pie, and sticky toffee pudding). I grew into myself.

I would love for you to have that sort of experience too, whether it’s your first sleep-away camp or a year-long round-the-world backpacking trip. Wherever you are longing to go, you owe it to yourself to go there. If it scares you, that’s how you know you HAVE to do it. Don’t settle into routines, don’t satisfy yourself with the friends you already have; spend too much time together and eventually you will find there is nothing left to say. It’s so much nicer to go away–do lots of fun things on your own, think your own thoughts–then come home again and catch up properly. You will change, but hopefully they will love you all the more for it.

Learn to enjoy moving through the world on your own. Solitude isn’t an absence, it’s a gift. You’ll get used to walking into a restaurant and asking for a table for one; after the first couple times it won’t feel so awkward. You are learning not to care what others think of you, and that they almost certainly aren’t thinking or talking about you anyhow. Resist the impulse to grab a small pizza and a bottle of orange soda and pass the dinner hour on the floor of your hostel dormitory. If someone smiles at you, or makes a funny remark in passing, don’t let it be in passing. Act on each and every hint of companionship, no matter how glancing. That girl assigned the upper bunk might be hoping to find a friend in you, too.

Live your life like it’s a Choose Your Own Adventure novel (where this analogy falls short is, you’re the reader and the writer). No one else can live this life for you, and don’t listen to anyone who thinks they know how you should live it. Trust your instincts and be willing to make a fool of yourself. You can’t grow if you never make a mistake.

So what do you mean, you don’t have a passport? GET ON IT! And wherever you go, if you think of it, send me a postcard.


2 Comments to Letter to a Reluctant Traveler

  1. crazyliberalkate's Gravatar crazyliberalkate
    December 2, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Greetings from Doha! It’s so weird to hear about how scared and lonely you were that first trip. I’m not sure you ever told me that. I must admit that I still get lonely traveling by myself. Although I do try to be fairly open to meeting people.

  2.'s Gravatar
    December 6, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    It is as though you wrote this letter directly to me…oh how I needed to read these words. The part about running at the fear by going and doing, allowing your absence to expand your friendships not end them. “You will change, but hopefully they will love you all the more for it.” Perfect! Your wisdom is priceless and I cannot wait to “catch up properly” in between the adventures of the coming year.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.