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How to Be Courageous Without Being Fearless

When I decided to go camping alone in Utah one summer, my family and friends thought I was crazy. They were convinced it was too risky. Someone could attack me on the side of the road. There might be a serial killer lurking in my campsite. I could break a leg while hiking and no one would ever know.

Although I was not afraid of being attacked (I’ve traveled enough to know that people on the road are the kindest and most generous in the world), I wasn’t without fear.

In fact, I was afraid of getting a flat tire and being stranded in 110 degree weather (because shamefully, I still don’t know how to change a tire). I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to drive so many hours without getting anxious. I was afraid of feeling lonely or bored. More than anything, I was afraid that going alone meant I had no one to go with, that it confirmed I was friendless and unlovable. It was a fear I’d been confronting since my divorce.

In spite of these concerns, I summoned the courage to plan my trip and go. Why? Because I couldn’t let my fears be stronger than me and I needed to prove to myself that I was enough.

To this day, that Utah trip was one of the best adventures of my life. I did not get bored or lonely; in fact, I had a blast and realized I didn't need anyone else to entertain me. There were no roadside disasters, though I did take a rental car, just in case. The podcasts and music I brought with me kept my mind occupied for hours on the road. Even driving and hiking in silence delivered a special kind of magic. I noticed things that I otherwise would have overlooked.

Months later, I had a similar experience on a trip to Morocco. I wanted to travel during the holiday break and was looking for a place that wasn’t too cold or expensive, and Morocco fit the bill. Plus, I’d been dreaming of wandering through ancient medinas and colorful souks since my study abroad in Paris.

The thing is, I was afraid to travel to an Islamic country alone as a woman. I was repeatedly harassed and insulted on a previous trip to Egypt that left me feeling powerless and angry, and I really didn’t want to relive that experience. But everything I read suggested that Morocco was an easy country to travel, even for women, and that it was more tolerant than other muslim countries.

Leading up to my trip, I was unabashedly excited. As soon as I arrived in Casablanca, however, I was sure I’d made a huge mistake. My hotel was dark and dingy, the neighborhood looked dodgy, and every cafe I passed was full of men. It seemed there were no women out after 5 pm. After a short walk around the block, I went back to my hotel room and cried.

What was I thinking? How conceited of me to think this would be easy! What did I expect, coming here alone?

I logged onto my computer and started looking frantically for day tours. Unless I wanted to stay locked in my room for the next few days until my Intrepid tour started, I needed to find a way to explore the city. The only options I found were either too expensive or no longer available.

I started on a downward spiral of negative thoughts, when I snapped myself out of it. I looked in the mirror and said out loud, “You are a fucking badass, so stop whining and feeling sorry for yourself. You came all this way because you love to travel. You’re spending Christmas in Morocco and that’s fucking amazing. You knew this might be challenging. So what if you’re afraid? Are you going to let that stop you?”

I decided that no, I would not give up.

This time with my limited French, I asked the receptionist to point me in the direction of cafes where there might be other women. Doubtfully, I walked in the direction she suggested and within a few blocks came to a wide, pedestrian promenade lined with cafes, just as she had assured me. I went into the first establishment with other women, and enjoyed my first Moroccan meal in blissful gratitude.

With my new found confidence, I spent the next two days touring Casablanca on my own. The taxi drivers were helpful and patient with my abysmal French, people were curious but kind, and I’d almost regretted purchasing a group tour for the larger part of my trip. Luckily, I made sure to set aside another few days alone in Marrakech before heading back home.

The point I’m trying to make is, if you want to trek the Himalayas or go backpacking in Europe but you’re afraid, that’s perfectly OKAY. You don’t need to be fearless to be courageous! Fear is an obstacle like any other; with enough self-awareness and planning, it can be overcome. Don't allow it to hold you back from the life you want. Don’t allow it keep you small. You are SO much stronger than you think.

2018 is a new year. Let’s be bold. Let’s be courageous. Are you with me?