Janice Holly Booth is the author of Only Pack What You Can Carry: My Path to Inner Strength, Confidence and True Self Knowledge, a new book published by National Geographic about her deepening sense of personal understanding and appreciation of the travel experience through adventures she took by herself, for herself. She stresses that everyone should learn to overcome unhealthy fear and do things that make us feel uncomfortable, so that we can learn and grow.
In the spirit of self-discovery and adventure through travel, Intelligent Travel wants to hear how you faced your fears through solo travel and how it has changed you.
From mastering that hike, to getting on a bus to an unfamiliar city, or just wandering off to explore a new neighborhood, transformative travel doesn’t have to be expensive or take you far away from home. We invite all readers to participate by commenting: Tell us about your most transformative travel experience and how it changed you. We will choose one lucky commenter to win a copy of Janice Holly Booth’s new book!
Intelligent Travel: What is it about traveling solo that allows you to have a different experience?
Janice Holly Booth: When you are traveling alone, you get to have the experience on your own terms, and you don’t have to pull yourself out of an experience, compromise, or check in with somebody. There is a beautiful flow that goes with moving from one nuance of the experience to the next that’s really only possible if you’re not distracted by travel partners.
But in this book, going alone isn’t about being by yourself. It’s about having a tremendous amount of influence and control. In this day and age it’s nearly impossible to be truly alone, but with solo travel, you can chose whether or not to seek out other people. This should be an introspective thing.
Throughout the process of traveling and compiling these stories, what would you say has been the hardest thing to come to terms with about yourself?
There are two aspects: physical and emotional. The hardest thing to face physically was that I thought I was stronger and braver than I am. It was a hard truth to face at the time. Nobody is born brave, we become brave by challenging ourselves and finding the inner resources to rise up to the challenge. Emotionally, I had withdrawn from society and slid into the background– it was in my nature to not trust other people, and when traveling, I found myself clinging to that old behavior. So, I made a real effort to step outside of the place that was familiar, to try new things. Eventually I began to open up and I noticed it transferring over to my regular life.
Would you say that, for you, stepping outside your comfort zone is not so much about traveling to exotic locales as it is about getting away from a routine?
It doesn’t really matter where you go, as long as it’s going to put you in a place where you can think new thoughts, experience new things, get away from the familiar and have an opportunity to really think about what you want to think about. Nowadays, we don’t give ourselves enough time for introspection. Solo travel might be as simple as addressing “ever since I was little girl, I wanted to go camping.” Just about every area in the U.S. has parks where you can go camping and get a little taste of it. Camping at a nearby spot, still has all the elements that I spoke about– getting out of the place, fulfilling a desire, mustering inner resources and taking a leap of faith– but you don’t have to pay a lot of money or travel a long distance.
In your book you say that there are two kinds of fear: “The kind that keeps you from stepping of a cliff when you shouldn’t and the kind that keeps you from stepping of the edge of a cliff when you should.” Explain the difference.
Fear is primal, and it’s not rational. When you’re trying to step off a cliff, fear is saying ‘you weren’t born with wings so get away, or you’ll die.’ But, if you’re in a harness, on a rope threaded through bolts that are not going to come out of the rock, fear is going to try to talk you out of going over the cliff when you should, even though your rational mind knows that you’ll be fine. It’s important to recognize the difference, so if you happen to be afraid of heights, you get to the edge and your instincts say ‘get back, you’re in danger,’ you can recognize that you can still do this and that you can deal rationally with your fear.
What is it about fear that allows you to understand more fully who you are?
We don’t really understand what we’re capable of before we put our feet in the fire. Even if we fail, as long as we go back and try again we’re learning more about what we can and cannot do. In facing up to a challenge and winning, (or at least overcoming) we’ve learned something about ourselves we didn’t know before.
I’m really stubborn and tenacious and I’m not afraid to try again. It was really comforting for me to know that a single failure wasn’t a death sentence. It took me 14 visits to the slot canyons in Utah before I built up the courage to fulfill my dream of canyoneering. Now, I’m capable of enjoying life in a different way than I was before that fear: How would I ever have learned that if I hadn’t pushed myself?
For me, it was canyons, for others it might be something else. We should not judge or base the worth of our experiences against the accomplishments of others. The experience is yours alone.
Solo travel for me grew out of wanting to be self-sufficient and handle my own baggage, literally and metaphorically. I wanted to get away from expectations about what I should and shouldn’t do. I don’t even really think about the notion of being a woman traveling by myself– I really just think that I’m a person out there seeking new experiences.