How I Faced My Travel Fears And Explored the World

Gilad at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Gilad at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

I wanted to interview travel writer Gilad because I love that he focuses helping nervous would-be travelers realize that travel is for everyone. Gilad has hypochondriasis, OCD and moderate anxiety, but as you’ll see, it hasn’t stopped him. - Meredith

1. When did you first start working on your site? What prompted it?

I started working on Anxious & Abroad a few months ago because I wanted to fill a gap in the online travel community. Before my first trip, I did extensive, admittedly ridiculous research to find out everything I needed to know about where I was going (which happened to be Southeast Asia).  

Gilad in Dalat, Vietnam

Gilad in Dalat, Vietnam

What turned out happening was that the questions I really had about travel had more to do with my concerns and fears about it than the actual destination I was going to. I wanted to know what I needed to pack, how to effectively plan a trip, what sorts of things I would need to be prepared for, as a guy who struggles with anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I needed to hear from someone in my position that they had done it, that they shared my same concerns, and that they didn’t die in a Cambodian prison. And instead, all I was finding were these picture-perfect instagram nomads who seemed to have nothing in common with how I felt. 

 So in the end, I saw my site as an opportunity to add to both the travel and mental health communities as a way to show people that the fears they have about travel are manageable and worth pushing past. Before my first trip, I never saw myself as the type of person who backpacks. I had a mental image of what a “backpacker” looks like, and I just didn’t fit that mold. But since then, I realized that it couldn’t be more false, and I wanted to show other people that they don’t have to subscribe to this notion of the carefree nomad -- that they can (and do) fit into the travel community exactly the way they are. 

Gilad in Saba, Vietnam

Gilad in Saba, Vietnam

2. What has been the hardest thing about connecting with others on the topic of anxiety?

Honestly, my biggest obstacle has been myself -- my blind confidence that I’d be rejected for talking about it. Before talking about my anxiety, I was so concerned about being judged or looked down upon for what I considered my emotional shortcomings. But I was pleasantly surprised by how many people in my life not only welcomed the conversation, but had deeply related to it themselves. 

I think a lot more people struggle with mental health than we think. Our anxiety wants us to think that we’re the only ones in the world who deals with these things, but the reality is that everyone has something they’re going through, and we can frequently find a common ground by talking about it. We just need to be brave and share our stories.  

GIlad with travel buddies in Minca, Columbia.

GIlad with travel buddies in Minca, Columbia.

I also think that we live in a really, really remarkable time when empathy and mental health awareness are in vogue and not nearly as taboo as they used to be. 

3. What have you learned about travel? How has it changed over time?

 If I’ve learned anything about travel, it’s that it’s not nearly as scary as we think it is. I used to be convinced that if I went abroad I’d: 

  • Get lost

  • Get kidnapped

  • Get sick

  • Get into trouble

  • Get murdered

  • Get sold into sex slavery by a drug cartel and go to prison for having drugs in my butt 

 And now, after 4 years of travel to over 20 countries (some of them solo), I’ve noticed that the things we worry about are often so blown up in our heads that the reality is so much simpler. I’ve been welcomed by locals, I’ve taken buses alone, I’ve tried sketchy foods and I’ve lived to tell the tale. The only real solution to things that are blown out of proportion is using experience to put them back in proportion. I really believe that.

Don’t be afraid to travel, you guys. In all honesty (and you can take it from me, a guy who catastrophizes everything under the sun) travel does not have to be intimidating, scary, or lonely. You can do it. I did it, and you can too.  

Looking out on Peru.

Looking out on Peru.

4. What do you wish other people knew about anxiety and travel?

I don’t know if other people share this same insecurity as me, but I genuinely thought that travel wasn't for me -- that somehow, because I didn’t fit that “backpacker” image that instagram was selling me, that I couldn’t backpack. I didn’t look like them so I didn’t think I’d think like them. Shared dorms, strangers, no cell service -- it all felt so impenetrable for a Type-A person.  

But once I started traveling, that feeling so quickly dissipated. Shared dorms were nicer and cleaner than expected; hostel strangers turned out to be super friendly; no cell service turned out to be a really freeing feeling. 

I want people to know that they are the type of person who travels. There is no one type of person who can do it and one who can’t. You just have to be open enough to push yourself past your comfortable boundaries.

Rainbow Mountain (ed note: I had never heard of this place, but now want to go).

Rainbow Mountain (ed note: I had never heard of this place, but now want to go).

5. If you could take a trip with one person, living or dead, who would it be?

steve irwin travel anxiety

Ooh...this is a good question...I’d think I’d have to say Steve Irwin. I’m a big nature buff...I leave big cities as soon as I can when I travel. Steve was my hero for most of my childhood, and it would be such a treat to hike, trek and dive with that guy. I feel like he’d just randomly pick stuff up and put it in my face, like “here, check out this fatally poisonous snake!” Hell...I’d even get some matching short shorts so we could be twins.

If you have questions about travel and anxiety, ask them here! Gilad would be happy to answer and share travel tips, too.