Pre-Travel Anxieties

If you’re not the slightest bit anxious before going off on a backpacking trip, you’re probably doing it wrong. Granted, if the ONLY thing you feel before a trip is anxiety, you’re probably doing it wrong as well. I am so, so excited to get out there, to minimize my possessions until only the essentials are in one pack on my back. I sit, swiveling, in my teacher’s chair at work and daydream about rickety bus rides over swinging green mountain curves. I shower in my apartment’s full-size bathtub (I love my bathroom here, it’s such a rarity in Korea) and dance at the expectation of squeaking around in cheap rubber shower sandals in hostel bathrooms, avoiding the mysterious rust-red stains on the walls.

But, of course, I worry. There are the usuals: Does my packing list really contain everything–and only the things–that I will need? Will my money last? Will I be able to make friends with fellow travelers on the road? Will I be robbed, mugged, or otherwise violated as a solo (female) traveler? What if high season in SE Asia is too crowded and I don’t enjoy myself as much as I’d like? Am I going to contract any number of scary-sounding diseases, or, perhaps more inevitably, fall prey to a bout of food poisoning or traveler’s diarrhea?

I consider these fairly normal worries, ones that are probably healthy for me to consider while preparing for my travels. There are a few, however, that I don’t have simple answers to, because they are more personal:

Chinatown, Singapore, May 2013.
Chinatown, Singapore, May 2013.


Particularly career-wise. News articles, books, and blogs constantly declare contradicting advice: Employers now value travel experience as a sign of a competent character. No, you fool millennial, you are being selfish and twenty years later when you are slinging burgers for your former high school classmates you will look back on your poor decision at this point in time as the moment you chose to drop out of the furious rat race that is life and mainstream “success.” (Although a recent, disparaging article about this topic would have blamed an even earlier decision of mine–my decision to attend a liberal arts college–as my act of squandering my “millennial opportunity” in favor of the outdated choices of my parents’ generation.)

When it comes to self-promotion, I’m a D student. I hate networking and self-aggrandizement, however necessary it may be in today’s world. When my funds run low and I need to think about having an income again, what value can I make of my time spent traveling? How will potential employers perceive these life decisions of mine?

I’m scared that I’m making the wrong choice and wasting my time.

Somewhere around Lake Taupo, New Zealand, Feb. 2013.
Somewhere around Lake Taupo, New Zealand, Feb. 2013.


Since I decided that after leaving Korea I am going to go backpacking, I have felt my mind and my energies, my dreams and my focus, unfurl back into life. I step with a bounce; I can get out of bed before noon. I ride the bus to work and my mind is dreaming on a Laotian mountainside; I’ve become the crazy, lone grinner in the river of faces riveted to their smartphones.

Once I’m actually out there, though, on the road, facing all the logistics and realities of travel, will I still be happy? See, I think there’s a difference between “vacationing” and “traveling.” On a vacation, you’ve planned things out beforehand: round-trip ticket secured, accommodation booked, activities researched. Travelingon the other hand, involves lots of physical movement to get yourself from place to place. It’s making things up on the go, searching out bus or train timetables the day before you leave, arriving at your destination and trudging around the area looking for somewhere decent to sleep. In short, traveling takes work. It’s difficult, it’s stressful, it’s exhausting.

When this becomes what I do for months on end, will I have it in me to say that it is worth it? Or is my idea of travel as happiness merely a flight of my imagination?

Overlooking Seoul from Mt. Gwanaksan, Nov. 2013.
Overlooking Seoul from Mt. Gwanaksan, Nov. 2013.


God, this is hard to explain. I’m working up the courage/words to do so, and I will, soon, in another post. But my year in South Korea was not intended. I had far different plans, round-the-world style. And I had barely been on the road a month before I found myself weighing the pros vs. cons of purchasing an earlier, albeit more expensive, flight back home, or sticking it out another week for $200 saved. My inability to carry out my intentions of long-term travel, though I had the means and opportunity to do so, really hit me hard, and a large part of me is afraid that it could happen again. What if travel is not right for me? What if I’m not right for this dream lifestyle? (Please don’t let that be true.) I shoulder my failures with the persistence of Sisyphus, and worry all the time that one failure is characteristic of my entire being.

Well, I know that was a deep post! However, I wanted to get it out. I think people often romanticize backpacking/traveling to the point where they forget that real people are behind those pretty Instagram shots of deep golden beach tans and beers with your new European best friends. I am certainly guilty of this. Social media obfuscates real people and turns them into perfectly filtered objects of envy. I hope to write about subjects such as pre-travel anxiety, self-doubt, and insecurity at the foot of such traveling marvels to remind myself–and maybe others?–to keep it all in perspective, even while either experiencing or envying this seemingly idyllic lifestyle.

Next time, I’ll write about something cute. Like ducks. Or Korean people.

P.S. I’d like to change my blog name. 40 litres just doesn’t apply anymore. Suggestions are welcome.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Fu-Yuan Ciricola says:

    Dear Stephanie,
    Greetings from Michigan. Hope this message finds you well for your upcoming adventure. Uncle Vince is always appreciative whenever you comment or click “like” on his Facebook posts.
    While I am getting myself ready for Boston Monday for 5 weeks then heading to 11 days Western Mediterranean Cruise, I can understand your anxiety on a different level. My bucket list is primarily a list of US National Parks; however these trips are more or less a combination of your definition of “vacation” and “traveling” . We enjoy trudging around at a slow pace, chatting with interesting people, hiking, searching the natural phenomena along the trail….
    This is my first post on a blog. Thanks to Uncle Vince. Both of us enjoy reading your blog.

    Have a safe and exciting adventure.

    Auntie Fu-Yuan

    1. Steph Su says:

      Dear Aunt Fu-Yuan, it’s lovely to hear from you and Uncle Vince. I always enjoy his posts on Facebook about your travels to US National Parks. It looks like you’ve been to so many!

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