It had been two hours since I arrived, and I was already inhaling a plate of fresh mozzarella. Regional, crimson red wine flooded my mouth and entered my heart. I sat at a cafe table overlooking the Grand Canal and took in all of the people. Venice, once the place of opulence and glory, was now gracefully aging; the visits of tourists acting as a respirator to keep the city alive. I was one of those tourists contributing to the heartbeat. I couldn’t believe I’d made it to Italy. I always said I would never travel to Europe alone. Yet, there I was with breathtaking 14th century palaces staring at me from across the canal, and I was happily alone.
Only four months earlier I received a phone call from a very important woman, Rachel of Pink Pangea. We discussed the opportunity for me to visit Venice, Italy with a group of women writers. I hastily agreed to attend the retreat with no concern toward finances, my dogs, or my unforgiving job. My responsibilities became secondary in my mind. Writing was my passion and the idea of exploring it in a new way was incredibly inspiring.
My travel fears were not the airports or packing or native tongue; rather, the fear was what I internalized… the fear of change.
Not only did I feel stagnant and stuck in my everyday life, but I’d also been in a writing rut. This phone call happened at a magical time. I didn’t come from money so until this call, international travel wasn’t in the cards for me. I’d seen many friends come and go on extravagant trips and backpacking around Europe, and finally, it was my turn. Exhilaration took precedence over the fear of traveling alone.
In true Virgo form, I began fastidious research into everything Venice. I bought a leather bound journal and theft-proof purses. I studied maps of the canals. I traveled with one carry-on as I’d read it’s better to pack for the best case scenario, not the worst. This was by far the best travel tip because Venice was not built to accommodate large luggage. I made a last minute decision to turn my phone off once I arrived so I could truly take in the city. This was also an affable ploy to force me out of my shell and to talk to locals. I prepared myself as much as humanly possible and this was mostly out of trepidation.
I flew to Amsterdam from Los Angeles, a 10-hour flight that I settled into quite nicely after two glasses of wine. I began browsing the entertainment and noticed a documentary on Peggy Guggenheim. I’m a firm believer in signs from the universe and I reveled in happiness–we were set to visit the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. Prior to this flight I had no idea who she was but I spent the next 90 minutes beguiled with every detail of her life. From her dad giving his life jacket to his mistress when the Titanic was sinking, to her torrid love affairs, to being one of the first women to feature all female artists in an exhibit, I was enchanted and entranced.
Boarding a plane in Amsterdam to Venice, I couldn’t help but notice how helpful people were. I had trouble getting my heavy carry-on into the overhead storage bin in Los Angeles, but this time, three men offered to help me, all bearing different European accents. The politeness and instant communication was a theme that remained the entire duration of my trip. Compared to the U.S., I felt that people were more open, more willing to help, and less shy with their fellow humans. The latter was one of my favorite attributes of the Europeans and a takeaway that I now try to practice in my everyday life.
Once in Venice, I got lost immediately. A wave of frustration came over me. I didn’t know any Italian. I felt defeated. I feared that I would come off as too “American.” I’m a busty girl with an arm full of tattoos and for some reason I felt grief over my appearance. I read Venice was conservative and I immediately began to worry I wasn’t dressed appropriately. I started to miss my comfort zone. Then, I saw a sign I recognized: “Gelato.”
I was here to get lost. I was here to learn. I was here to truly live.
I ordered three scoops of stracciatella. I’d made it this far, why deprive myself? I felt comfort as the delicious gelato danced on my tongue. I remembered that food and music were universal languages and that I wanted to explore on this trip. I was here to get lost. I was here to learn. I was here to truly live. I had no idea why I allowed the newness of it all to stress me. I let the Italian chocolate chips calm me and made a solemn decision to embrace the unfamiliar. My travel fears were not the airports or packing or native tongue; rather, the fear was what I internalized… the fear of change. Once you wholeheartedly look within at what your fears truly are, you can conquer them quickly.
The convergence of bravery and opportunity propelled me to get to Venice. Once there, it was the majesty and beauty of Venice, the women I met, and the nurturing of my soul that reworked my DNA and how I view fear. Undoubtedly, I learned I have a capacious space within myself to embrace different cultures and cities through travel…and I think this space lives within all of us. We just have to find it.
Travel Fears: Conquering Travel Fears, One Gelato at a Time