The joy of stressful traveling seems like a vacation motto for masochists; it’s not. Some degree of stress while traveling will make the experience more memorable, and you will be a better person for welcoming any minor unpleasantness. The following anecdotes were uncomfortable at the time but were some of my best travel experiences.
Honduras: Debate club
I once participated in a debate club in Honduras. My heart raced as I scrambled to come up with a reasonable argument for why graffiti on public buildings was a good thing. I know I wasn’t any good because I had no debate experience. I argued that it made the buildings more beautiful. The optics weren’t great. However, the experience was exhilarating because it was a challenge, and added more of the unknown into an experience already full of it. It was also one of only a handful of memories I still have from my time in the country. What I experienced was called “eustress,” and it’s known as the “good” stress and, unlike “distress,” is related to positive results. It also helps us focus. Look for eustress when you travel.
Cambodia: Six-year-Old’s Birthday Party
Attending a child’s party was one of the best things about going to Cambodia. However, the day leading up to it was filled with dread. I didn’t know the kid. I barely knew the father and I had no idea where I was going. I hoped that the father would forget that “I” (my friend acting on my behalf) had accepted the birthday invitation. What could have been an awkward or nerve-wracking occasion turned out to be a great party for adults. I’m forever glad my apprehension was proven incorrect. It’s a great feeling being wrong sometimes.
New Zealand: Hitchhiking
Natural anxiety comes from asking a stranger for a ride. When you’re young, your parents tell you not to accept rides from strangers. They definitely don’t encourage soliciting rides. But when it’s not as socially taboo, it can be a great time. In New Zealand, I hitchhiked all over the country. One time, I even accepted a ride and helped the driver with her job in exchange for dinner and a place to stay. True to her word, after we were done, we went back to her brother’s place and had a great time. Leaving your comfort zone like this is also good for your brain.
Thailand: The Cave
One of the scariest things I did in Thailand was a cave tour in a small rowboat. This was stressful traveling at its highest level of stress. The cave was so narrow at points that we got stuck, and the “captain” had to push us off the walls. At times, the stalactites hung so low they brushed my nose, even though I was lying down. Truly, it was a claustrophobic’s nightmare. I had no doubt that there was a good chance I wouldn’t get out of the cave. And then we did. It was maybe the longest 15 minutes of my life, but it was also incredibly exciting.
Mild stress can be good stress. And the joy of stressful traveling should be everyone’s goal. Taking calculated risks can restore our faith in humanity and lead to indelible memories. And, after all, research has shown that happiness is more closely related to experiences, not things.