1 Mar,2018 By jagabond
“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” – Marcus Aurelius
My travel experience that started in 2013 was the beginning, in a sense. For the first time in my life I went off script. A responsible man would’ve taken my free time and money and invested in stocks or other business ventures. I instead invested in myself. While learning all the good and bad about ‘me’, I also satisfied a travel spark I never knew I had. As I prepare to move into the world of marriage and children, I no longer fear never beginning to live.
Travel can take away fears, but can also produce new ones. If you’re like me, travel causes you to take chances you wouldn’t normally take. Stretching your limits like this may also expose you to outcomes you aren’t mentally prepared for. That’s how a man deathly afraid of heights can find himself stuck on a snowy mountaintop.
My most terrifying travel experience
In a questionable move, my friend Adrian and I decided on a January road trip to Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo. Aside from the obvious question as to why we chose those destinations, January isn’t exactly the nicest month of weather in these parts. After concluding our visit in Macedonia, we were off to the airport in Tirana, Albania, for a flight we’d never make.
We rented a tiny Fiat not meant for anything other than flat, paved roads, and corrupted our GPS with pirated online maps. The soothing electronic voice guided us up a bumpy road that quickly turned into a rocky, mountain road. We blindly followed the deceptive voice and continued up this menacing path. We passed flower memorials every few kilometers, left for people who died driving here. Thousands of feet elevation with no guardrail is my nightmare scenario.
Sensing the danger I had a minor psychotic break and started loudly singing Beatles songs to take my mind off the situation. Judging by Adrian’s reaction as he tried to drive, my voice annoyed more than it calmed. I sang the opening verse of ‘Blackbird’ and the inevitable happened – our tire sank deep into an ice puddle. Stuck with dwindling hope, we used our only working phone to alert the rental car company, who sent a tow truck.
In a situation like this, Tom Petty’s words ring true…the waiting is the hardest part. The snow was still falling and the air was getting colder, and there was no sign of any truck. Not only that, there was literally no one or nothing around us. The word ‘barren’ came to mind. Our hours of down time had some entertaining moments.
-With the last of our laptop battery we watched the movie ‘Grandma’s Boy’. The laughter momentarily stripped us of our fear.
-My friend played a joke by going for a short walk then hiding out, waiting for me to come look for him. He didn’t reveal himself until after I did an honest Rocky impression, screaming ‘Adrian’ a few times.
-Adrian shouting ‘F—k you, Albania’ from the mountaintop, and hearing the echo a few times.
-Revealing secrets to each other in a classic ‘bro’ moment. We made a handshake pact, promising to be better people if we were to live through this. We never again spoke of what was said.
After seeing no cars on this road for hours, we finally had one pull up. Two locals from the nearby town of Burrel appeared willing to assist, though they spoke no English. I had my concerns, as they easily could’ve subdued us, tossing us from the mountain. The strangers proved me wrong. They lent their strength in pushing our car out of the ice puddle, and built a fire as the evening chill was approaching.
After many, many hours the tow truck finally arrived. The drive down the mountain was not stress free. The winding road was barely large enough for the truck towing our car, and the driver was only using one hand while angrily texting his wife with the other. He was an honest man, only charging us 150 euro for the drive not only down the mountain, but an hour further to Tirana, our final destination.
Travel is more fear-conquering than fear-producing
Negative experiences that stick with you are the exception to this rule. Tourists throughout Europe remember the day their purse or wallet was snatched at the train station. Perceived near-death predicaments, or suffering an assault or injury can sour the allure of travel for years. Overall, my mostly solo traveling adventures slayed many more fears than they produced. Travel healed the fear of going to a restaurant/movie/cafe alone, anxiety over public transport, social awkwardness in meeting new people, and simply the fear of being alone with myself.
Update: I still quiver when thinking about heights, but I finally did my first solo mountain drive last month. Has travel expunged another fear? Maybe one day I’ll do a pilgrimage back to Albania and settle this once and for all.