Again the phone pressed to my ear rang and rang. The electronic buzzing was annoying at this point. After a long night of travel we were tired, and still I was not able to reach our contact in Jerusalem. The plan was to meet up with him, spend the night at his place, and go from there. Friends of mine had recommended him after they too had couch surfed at his place.
Frankly, he was our plan and without him we didn't have a plan. So we stood in the bus depot near a McDonalds watching people stuff their faces with deep-fried French fries and greasy burgers lathered in mayo and ketchup. We were exhausted but could do nothing but wait. Then, the situation unraveled further, as my cell phone died. Now, without a means to reach our contact we were in trouble.
If you let a kernel of doubt work itself in to your brain it will take root.
At this point doubt crept in. Travel and doubt go hand in hand, and when on the road you will never feel more unsure of yourself, other people and the world around you. This is part of traveling. From the minute I step off the plane in a foreign country I can feel my senses heighten. As I'm trying to process this new world I'm filled with this fear that things may not be as they seem. Can you trust your first instinct? Can you trust your senses? Can you trust people and the world around you? This distrust is a biological reaction to protect you from potentially dangerous situations.
Does that saber tooth tiger want to give me a hug or rip my trachea out? Is that a rock or a mammoth? Simply put, doubt keeps us alive. This spidey sense lets us know when something is different or out of our comfort zone. This is great for staying alive, but horrible for traveling as everything is out of your comfort zone.
For this reason doubt is something you learn to live with when traveling. But, at a certain point doubt reaches too high a level.
You start sweating, you get nervous, maybe a bit queasy, and you just aren't sure what to do. In this moment you could be asked to make the easiest of decisions, such as deciding between hot sauce or ketchup on your hamburger, and yet find yourself incapable of deciding. Paralyzed by self-doubt you can't make a decision to save your life, or save your hamburger.
Doubt can destroy your life if you let it, not just your travel experience. If you let a kernel of doubt work itself in to your brain it will take root. Without even realizing it you will doubt all over yourself and water that kernel with thoughts of "I can't do that," "That's not possible," I don't know what to do" and the seed will grow in to a weed. Before you know it, you will be doubting all over yourself left and right. This doubt will make you afraid to live.
Dealing with Doubt
Doubt can take many forms, from self-doubt to doubt of the situation to doubt of others. When traveling it is reasonable to expect that you will have doubts. You are going to doubt that map you looked at ten seconds ago, or if El Tapas really has the best tapas in town. You will have doubts about your flight arriving on time and someone actually being at the airport to pick you up.
But, doubt should always be with you. A healthy amount is somewhere between the hairs on your arms standing on end and the beginnings of a mild sweat.
Anything more drastic than this and you should probably focus on resolving your doubt as soon as possible. The important thing is to find a balance between confidence and doubt. Or, even though you may be unsure you must trust your life experiences, reason and deductions to make the best decision in the given situation. Here are some tips for doing that:
- When you are paralyzed by doubt, doing something is better than doing nothing.
- Take a few minutes to think or write out your options, if the situation isn't life threatening.
- Build up your reasoning skills
- Sometimes, when in doubt, retreat to a safe zone. Remember freeze tag as a child, or the lunacy of college campuses today? Yeh, revert to somewhere you feel safe or public to decrease your doubt and clear your head.
- Plan as much as possible before hand. This option only works to a certain extent, as travel is wrought with the unknown.
- Utilize Systems Travel
- Become a Travel Machine
- Control your thoughts and your doubt by strengthening your brain (try meditation)
Doubt and Confidence
The irony of it all is that doubt is the greatest builder of confidence. By enduring periods of doubt you learn to be confident. All of those doubts you had when traveling, do I turn at this block or the next one, is this hotel good or bad, can this person be trusted, what is that food, and so on, vanish when you return home.
Suddenly, in a place you know, the doubt becomes a link in your character, a badge that improves your confidence. Do you want to try this food? If I could try dried grasshopper this is nothing. Should we just figure out where we are going to stay when we get there? I backpacked through Asia for two weeks without a plan, this is nothing.
So paralyzed by doubt, and in a public bus stop in Jerusalem, I did the best thing I could at the time. I looked for the most trusting face, which happened to be a jewish man who had a long beard, was dressed in black, wore a kippa and a prayer shawl, and asked him to borrow his phone. His face took on that same paralyzed mask of doubt that mine had recently worn. After earnestly repeating my request and reason why several times, and flashing a disarming smile, I convinced him to hand over the phone and I called our contact once more.
This time, success. I finally got through to him. The crises was averted. My doubt waned back to an acceptable level, and life continued as it always does. See, I told myself, there was nothing to worry about.