How to Have an Adventure When You're Afraid of Everything

As I type this, I am camping in a desert 25 miles from civilization, having recently returned from five weeks of traveling by train in Italy and Eastern Europe. In the past three years, I’ve traveled solo in places like France, the Czech Republic, and Peru. “Weren’t you afraid?” people often ask me when they hear about my trips. And here’s the thing—yes, I was.

What if I told you that before leaving on my recent trip to Europe, I was so nervous I developed chronic nausea in the days leading up to my flight? What if I told you that on my first night in Paris I was so scared to eat dinner alone in a restaurant I bought food from a grocery store and ate it in my bedroom? Would you still think I’m brave?

People often mistake courage for fearlessness. I’ll bet you every person you look up to for doing something brave experienced at least some fear when they did it. After all, where’s the bravery in doing something completely unchallenging and mundane to you?

I’m no Indiana Jones, but I’ve managed to incorporate adventures into my life that have sparked personal growth, even in the face of fear. Here’s what has worked for me.

Accept fear as a normal part of the process.

Being unafraid is not a prerequisite to having an adventure; in fact, fear is a requirement. Behavioral scientist Jon Levy, author of The 2 AM Principle: Discover the Science of Adventure, has developed three criteria for having an adventure—and one of them involves fear.

Levy posits it isn’t an adventure if there isn’t some perceived risk involved. As he said in an interview on The Art of Charm podcast:

“If we’re going to go down the path of living a life that’s out of the ordinary, that’s actually noteworthy, then we’re going to be putting ourselves in situations that aren’t necessarily the most comfortable all of the time. Because that’s the issue. We need to be willing to grow. We need to be willing to be uncomfortable.”

So don’t beat yourself up for experiencing a natural emotion that serves to protect you. If there weren’t a little bit of fear involved, there would be no opportunity for growth.

Know your limits, then push them (prudently).

Going off the previous point, it’s crucial to know what your limits are, so you can push them. But be prudent. While it’s true you need to step outside of your comfort zone, you don’t want to leap so far outside of it that the experience ends up being traumatizing!

For example, when I started planning an Eastern Europe rail trip in 2015, I was so stressed out about it that I dreaded the prospect of the trip. Finally, I stopped and asked myself, “If merely planning the trip is making me miserable, why the heck am I even doing it?” I realized I wanted to have an adventure, but I wasn’t ready for one of this magnitude just yet.

Adventure does not mean needlessly putting yourself in uncomfortable or perilous situations. There should be a good reason behind the endeavor, an opportunity to better yourself. Don’t feel so pressured to go on a great adventure that you only end up feeling stressed. Know what your limits are, and then go for something that is challenging, but healthy.

Surround yourself with inspiring people to support your adventure.

If you’re going to step outside of your comfort zone, you don’t have to go it alone. Make sure to find someone who can have your back if you start to feel overwhelmed on your adventure.

For example, if you’re moving to a new town to pursue a dream career path, look up organizations ahead of time that can provide you with a support network when you arrive. If you’re going on a trip abroad to learn more about different cultures, find a travel partner with a similar sense of adventure or find some other means of support in your destination. One thing I like to do on solo international trips is find a local host for my first few days to help me get settled in. This ensures I have a native there to welcome me when I arrive and show me around the city so I acclimate better.

Consider the alternatives.

This is my favorite exercise when I’m afraid to do something: Imagine yourself doing the thing you’re afraid of. Then, imagine yourself not doing it, going about your life just as you had before. How is your life different in each scenario? How do you feel about not taking that risk?

If it’s important enough to you, you’ll realize that the alternative just won’t do. This often gives me the push I need to finally go for it.

Forget the big leap—take baby steps instead.

An adventure doesn’t have to be grandiose and dangerous. You don’t have to go hang gliding over the mountains to experience a thrill. It all depends on your limits and what you’re ready to do.

Start small. Maybe you take a different path to work today. Or perhaps you approach a stranger and strike up a conversation. Maybe you sign up for a foreign language class. As you take these baby steps, you’ll find they bring you closer to your big goal.

When I went on a trip to South America in 2014, my mom accompanied me. We traveled around for three weeks, and then she returned home while I continued my travels alone. I wasn’t ready to take that first step completely on my own, but afterward, I was able to take bigger bounds.

Just a month after landing in Peru with my mom, I found myself packed into a tiny shared van with complete strangers, winding through mountain roads in the Peruvian countryside. I ended up getting out in the small town of Ollantaytambo, wandering from hostel to hostel, and practicing my beginner Spanish until I secured a place to sleep for the night. Had you told me two months earlier that I’d be doing that, I’d have said it was impossible!

As you healthily push your limits, you’ll find that you push the fear farther and farther away. Soon enough, you’ll be doing things you never thought possible.

You have it in you to be brave, even when you feel afraid. So take a deep breath, then take that first step to getting outside of your comfort zone. Adventures await you!