Once in a while during my travels, I faced situations that have never found myself in. My mind races and tries to make sense of the ordeal; tries to grasp any familiar straws that could resemble anything I could recognize. My breathing starts to accelerate and I could feel panic starting to creep it’s nasty head.
But this actually isn't completely unfamiliar, I’ve gone through this before, I’ve encountered the unknown and the uncertain and have come out the other side just fine and in one piece. Through just even the short time traveling I have placed myself in the path of uncertainty more times than I ever had during those years of living in the same town, the same apartment, doing the same routine day in and day out.
Let’s wind the clock back to the not so distant past. I was pretty darn good about hiding it for the most part, but back then the main reaction I have to encountering an unknown situation is with panic, which manifested itself outwardly to others as frustration, shutting down and being combative (my ex-girlfriends would be the ones to witness this the most first-hand while sitting on the passenger seat of my car). This could be as mundane as going to a restaurant that I’ve never been before; in a neighborhood that I’m not too familiar with. “How do I get there?! What’s parking like?! AHHHHH!!” Next thing you know an argument ensues and we both have a pretty bad dinner experience.
Looking back at it now, fear of the unknown (no matter how pedestrian it was) kept me from experiencing new things, taking chances, and severely limiting myself to well worn routines that lead to crippling stagnation. This perhaps contributed to my pessimistic outbursts and passive-aggressive resentments due to the staleness of my daily rituals. Ultimately it usually lead to the poison and end of past relationships.
When I decided to hit the road and explore the United States while experimenting with living in my van, this old, nasty and insidious trait began to slowly crumble. I said goodbye to my mom and my step-dad one last time before I embarked on my journey; with my sights set westward. As soon as I hit beyond the point of town that I was familiar with, that feeling of unease began to bubble up. But what am I to do, turn around? Fuck no. I’ve already told everybody I knew that I’m doing this. I’m gonna see this through; even when all I see past my van’s windshield is nothing but unfamiliarity. I guess you could say that pride and hubris were my initial weapons in overcoming the fear of the unknown. But whatever, who cares, they did the trick and served their purpose.
Facing two thousand miles worth of uncertainty, I had no concrete plans and little to no defined stopping points. I didn't even know where and when I was going to pull over and rest for the night. All I had was a direction that I pointed my vehicle, my house on wheels towards. What I soon realized is that once you throw yourself into the deep end and allow yourself to be pelted with new stimulus, your body adjusts if you allow it to. Once you surrender and let go of the wheel (metaphorically speaking, of course) and just let the plot play itself out, you quickly learn how to pivot, “roll with the punches”, and think readily on your feet.
It might be a survival trait that we all have within us, I don't know for sure. But new stimuli and uncertain outcomes quickly became the new norm. My brain didn't freak out like it frequently did in the past. “It’ll work out somehow” became my new mantra that I would repeat to myself every time I get hit with a new challenge, unexpected turn of events or a murky future.
Now, with all that said I don’t just dive in head first into situations with no plan of action if I could help it. What I am saying is that now, I am no longer paralyzed by the unknown that could be staring me right on my face. Instead of freaking out about what to do and wasting precious energy flailing mentally, my mind is more conditioned to formulate solutions and less hesitant to execute and put them into action. BLM land camping is full? No place to park to sleep for the night around this unfamiliar town? Let’s drive until we see the nearest truck stop and crash there. Problem solved.
One time I forgot my phone in an Uber and didn't know the door code to get in to the co-living house where I was staying and where I had left the rest of my stuff. I saw 2 guys hanging out outside of their house and politely asked if I could use their phone to get to my email and get the said code. Luckily they were kind and helped me without hesitating (And now I am a believer in what travelers call “road angels”). I got a hold of the Uber driver by FaceTiming my own phone using my MacBook and set up a place for me to pick it up. Now since I don’t have my phone, I didn't have a GPS and I am not familiar with Los Angeles area at all. So I just wrote down directions on paper and got to the pick up point the old school way. Problem solved.
I think by now you know where I’m getting at and what is the lesson I am trying to share with you: that it is ok to face the “unknown”. That facing an uncertain situation is nothing to get mentally and emotionally paralyzed over but an opportunity to explore, break through new limits of your comfort zone and maybe grow as an individual. I don’t mean to sound too “woo-woo” but I do find that somehow, someway things “just work out” in the end. If you just pause to collect yourself, use your common sense, maybe employ some problem solving if needed and learn to trust your gut instincts, you will come out of most situations just fine. Maybe you’d even walk away from the experience better than before. You don't necessarily have to embark on a lengthy journey to learn the same lesson I have either. Maybe try going to an unfamiliar part of town where you live, turn off the GPS and see where you’d end up and see if you can figure out how to get back home? It could even be just as simple as trying a cuisine that you’ve never tried before. The main goal here is to push your comfort level further little by little. To learn that coming face to face with uncertainty is not unusual, but rather should be something to seek out as a way to enrich your life.
Life on the road has forced me to break through the straight jacket I have strapped my psyche in. To be a traveler is to constantly expose yourself to new experiences, new environments and unfamiliar paths. To stay in this nomadic route, I had to learn how to be comfortable with uncertainty. What once was a worry-wort deftly afraid to go outside of the normal routine, could now readily face ever changing situations and circumstances. And yes, once in a while I still do tend to freak out a little for a few seconds, but my brain is more than capable now to snap out of panic mode and wrestle back control and composure. I’d like to think that I would no longer drown, but tread quite happily in the sea of unknown possibilities filled with wonderful potential.