“Every day, you should do something that scares you a little and excites you a lot.”
I was ready to wander. My completed book manuscript had been sent to the printer. I packed for a solo trip that I was afraid to take.
As a happy, busy grandmother for 10 years, the fear gremlin surrounding solo travel had settled into my psyche. It started innocently enough, the fear gremlin can be quite subtle. But as the years went by, I found myself harboring more discomfort around the idea of traveling on my own again. I decided it was time I addressed this unwarranted fear in the best way I knew how.
To go out and do the thing that scared me, with as much fun and excitement as possible.
I packed the mock-up of my book in an outside zipper of my backpack and set a goal to read it live to family and friends at some yet-to-be-discovered location.
I am a show-off. Reading my book live on social media felt a little scary and very exciting. Excitement was the key to shifting my relationship with the fear gremlin. Like fun, it is a natural motivator. You get good at what you practice.
Fear is the second book in the “Meet The Gremlins” series. “Should”, was the first. These tiny, quick-read books share my methodosophy (philosophy + methodology) surrounding the gremlins of negativity that haunt us.
The goal of my trip was twofold: To practice doing everything that scared me—and to swim in every Loch, Sea Loch, Alpine pond, and the ocean whenever I encountered them. The northern waters of Scotland would be chilly, challenging, and fun for me. I was taking fun seriously—the Funology credo!
Scared: As a teenager, I had (solo) bicycled and hitchhiked in the British Isles but not driven a car on the left-hand side of the road.
Practice: 2 weeks before my trip, I set the GPS voiceover on my cell phone to a British accent and rented a manual shift car. Budget traveling, I planned to car camp.
These practices prepared me to do the things that scared me. The British accent on my GPS added pre-trip excitement.
My plane landed in the early morning hours at Heathrow Airport outside London. Weaving my way through customs, up and down elevators, past baggage carousels, and art-filled hallways, I exited the airport and breathed the outside air. I felt a buzz of excitement at just being somewhere else. I was traveling—solo.
I waited with others in the gray morning light for a shuttle bus that circled the inner ring road of the airport. Most of us got out at the same economy car rental site.
I took a number and went outside to stand and wait. I had had enough sitting and preferred to watch the airport comings and goings, than listen to others navigate their car rental. When my number was called, I filled out paperwork and waited another hour for the car to be brought to a side entrance for me. I noted any dings and dents, making sure they were circled on the car diagram I signed off on.
The rental site was yards from the on-ramp of what looked and sounded like a race track. The high-speed, multi-lane traffic circled the airport and left my palms slippery on the wheel as I craned my neck, depressed the clutch, shifted into first gear, and prepared to zoom into the nearest lane. A small opening appeared and hitting the gas pedal with enthusiasm, I let out the clutch and heard the engine roar. The car did not zoom.
Instead of engine racing, it rolled forward at horse and buggy speed directly into a blaze of cars. Terrified, I crushed the clutch pedal underfoot, shifted into second gear, and slammed the emergency brake down again and again, hoping that whatever was wrong with the car would fix itself with aggressive jamming and slamming.
It did not. Panic-sweating, I saw cars in every mirror, zip up fast behind me, flash their lights angrily, then gun around me.
On my second trip around the beltway, I took an exit just as smoke bellowed out the sides of the hood. I smelled clutch. At a stop sign, in the lead of a jam-packed center lane on a 5-lane road, the car died. Oh, the honking and “pull-over” finger-jabbing. If only I could my friend, if only I could.
I punched the 4-way hazard button and at the next red light, got out of the car, left it dead and in place, then wove my way on foot to the curb.
I felt more relaxed being out of the car and watching drivers interact with the dead car from the curb. My shoulders pumped up and down in the “I don’t know” gesture as drivers lowered their windows to tell me to move the car. I could not move a car by myself.
Finally, a kind man pulled onto a nearby side street and helped me roll the car out of the dangerous thoroughfare and onto the street behind his. I didn’t want to be where I was but it was better than where I had just been.
The rest of the day was spent waiting for the car rental company to send a tow truck and driver to return me to the airport. I argued that I had not single-handedly burned up a clutch in the 10 minutes I had driven the car. They argued otherwise.
Tired, stressed, and desperately wanting to leave the airport’s orbit, I switched to an automatic and headed north. I had given the manual shift a try when the fear gremlin told me I couldn’t. It wasn’t much but it was something.
I didn’t care where I was headed as long as it was north and away from the airport. I would plot a general course in the morning.
For now, I concentrated on embracing driving on the left-hand side of the road and navigating roundabouts. I had prepared in advance as best I could to enjoy this driving experience rather than dread it.
When I saw my first roundabout. I felt the fear gremlin rumbling but breathed deeply, relaxed my shoulders, and embraced the roundabout as if it were an exciting carnival ride.
I listened to my British voiceover gal and entered the roundabout calm, and smiling, with the knowledge that I could simply go round and round as long as I needed to. No worries.
I slid easily into the busy circle and slid out at the correct exit. I smiled, noting the unique roundabout protocol I would need for the rest of the trip. The practice I had started before ever leaving home was incredibly effective. The fear gremlin was not in the driver’s seat. I was.
At sunset, I drove the car down a long, single-track road in the English countryside and more tired than hungry, parked, peed, and brushed my teeth.
As night crept around the car, I felt the fear gremlin whisper that I was alone and vulnerable. This whisper was familiar and oddly—comforting. I knew this whisper and I could handle it.
My eyes blinked sleepily as I reflected that I had driven a manual shift vehicle on the left-hand side of the road and had navigated my first roundabout with ease.
I counted my first day of the Fear tour as a success.
I was ready to wander.
To be continued…
To learn more about Sandra visit: sandradeeowens.com