It is less than 10 days before I am set to depart from Canada to spend three months living and working in New Delhi, India, and suddenly, I am terrified.
As a travel nut and fearless adventurer (at least, in my own mind), I never imagined I would feel the heavy hand of fear gripping my heart as I prepare to leave my home for what should be the trip of a lifetime. In fact, my attitude was one of breezy confidence as I confirmed my internship in India two months ago, absolutely certain I was ready to travel to the other side of the earth without the security of family or friends.
But now, as the day of my upcoming trip comes closer and closer, the anxiety and terror has begun to keep me awake at night, my mind lingering on what seems to be an infinite number of dangers that will most certainly find me in Delhi.
The first chink in my confidence was the sudden outpouring of travel horror stories from family and friends who heard about my upcoming trip. Everyone seemed to know someone who has been to India and felt it is their duty to "prepare" me for the realities of the country by passing on tales of taxi scams, muggers, violent riots and deadly diseases. My father's co-worker took great pleasure in reporting to me that while on a business trip to Mumbai, he spotted a dead body lying in the street. Ignored by pedestrians and drivers, the corpse was carelessly run over by the insane traffic as cars and trucks couldn't be bothered to swerve and avoid it. Even the news anchor on CNN seemed to mock my excited anticipation by gleefully sharing the details of a Indian terrorist attack that was barely prevented in time and a horrific plane crash in Pakistan.
While my initial reaction to these stories was to pick up a few books on India and prepare myself by gathering knowledge on how to stay safe while travelling, I found myself eventually worn down by the endless barrage of "helpful" stories. I began to doubt my decision to travel to a country so far from home and so culturally different from everything I've ever known.
My experience with the travel medicine clinic was another blow to my confidence. Though the nurse was helpful and kind, she did not hesitate to inform me of all the different species of mosquitos I will encounter in India and all the dreadful diseases I could contract from their bites, including dengue fever and malaria. She prescribed me more stomach aids and diarrhoea preventatives then I have ever taken over the course of my whole life. Not only are the mosquitoes and food a potential problem, but I waited too late to visit the clinic and was unable to get my rabies vaccine. The rabies vaccine is particularly important for travelling in India due to the high number of street animals carrying the disease and many human fatalities in the area. While she gave me clear instructions on what to do if bitten or scratched by an animal, I am still terrified that I might contract rabies and meet my death in India.
So, here I am, 10 days away and scared for my life. I find myself procrastinating about packing my suitcase and, though my plane ticket was purchased months ago, I dragged my feet to secure my Indian visa. However, talking about my fears with family and friends, as well as focusing my attention on books and documentaries that explore the wonderful and fascinating side of India has helped to boost my confidence again and restored some of my former excitement for my upcoming adventure.
If you're suffering the same kind of travel anxiety that I have gone through, here are a few tips that I found helped me deal with the worst of my fears:
Don't panic when relatives and acquaintances begin to tell horror stories about other travellers they know that encountered problems in the area you are preparing to visit. While information on the mistakes of other travellers can serve as useful tips on what not to do, it is also important to remember that millions of people travel every day and the majority do not face any serious problems or threats.
Try to remember why you were excited about travelling to the area in the first place. Spend time reading about the culture and customs of the area, planning activities you hope to take part in while there and mapping out the personal, intellectual, spiritual or business goals you want to accomplish while abroad. I personally found my Lonely Planet guide a useful pick-me-up due to the beautiful photography featured throughout the book.
While the worst probably won't happen, knowing you are prepared can help you feel more confident. In my case, I have stockpiled a large collection of the medications, vitamins and treatments I may need while in India, including hand sanitizer, toilet paper and antibacterial cream. My doctors also went above and beyond to help prepare me for my trip, providing me with a puffer in case the pollution should make breathing difficult on particularity hot days and a huge information package on the different diseases, foods and areas to avoid, as well as how to treat any sort of ailment that is not severe enough to require a trip to a doctor. I have also prepared all my information, including passport photocopies and the contact information for the Canadian embassy, in case of theft or loss.
Take advantage of the different resources for travellers. As a Canadian, registering with DFAIT (the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade) allows them to contact and evacuate me in case of a terrorist attack, unsafe weather conditions or a breakout of war. My doctor also recommended that I register for Iamat, a free service (though donations are requested) that helps provide traveller information on the conditions and availability of nearby health clinics and hospitals while abroad.
Prepare for culture shock by making sure you pack anything from home that you feel will help make you feel more comfortable in your new country. In my case, I'll be bringing my childhood teddy bear and a couple of my favourite books. I also have made sure I have the contact information for all of my family and friends back home, so I'll be able to email them when I get homesick.
Now that I have made an effort to regain my confidence, my travel anxiety has faded and my former excitement and passion for travelling has been restored. I am looking forward to leaving for India next week and I can't wait for the experiences that drew me to travelling in India in the first place.