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  • Writer's pictureThalien Colenbrander

MANAGING FEAR - my two cents as a solo traveller

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

Reading a post on Facebook recently by an ex-roommate on the topic of fear made me think about my experience and insights with this very normal yet often debilitating emotion. The ex-roomie was on the 4000+km Pacific Crest Trail in the USA, all by herself. The PCT is rugged, remote, and it can be challenging and dangerous. I can’t even image embarking on such a quest, my little camper van shenanigans paling in comparison. Nevertheless, my story, as a solo traveller and wild camper, often does evoke the question “Don’t you get scared?”. So here’s my two cents on the topic.

Before I start, a disclaimer is in place. The following ideas do not apply to fight or flight situations, but to general fear-based emotions that came with often having found myself in relatively unsecure, vulnerable or challenging situations. Like the camper breaking down repetitively, being parked overnight in the middle of nowhere, driving on scary terrain, and reinventing my life on my own, thousands of kilometres away from my family and friends for many months on end.

It may look as if the situation is creating the suffering, but ultimately this is not so - your resistance is. ― Eckhart Tolle

A reliable and sobering realisation is that fear is never the problem. The problem is my resistance to feeling the fear. Resisting it because of its possible implications, like “maybe this lifestyle isn’t for me”, “will I have to quit?”, “will I make wrong estimates/crucial mistakes?”. Rather than resisting the fear, I can allow it - which is not the same as giving up. Fear itself, as any other emotion or thought, is essentially harmless. It’s how I react/respond to the fear that dictates what my experience will be. To soften the grip of fear, I sometimes practise the mindfulness acronym RAIN. Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture. In other words, acknowledge and accept that right now, fear is present. Then assess why I am feeling this fear, to cultivate understanding. I might ponder on FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real. Great for separating fact from fiction. And finally, offering myself compassion by asking: “What do I need right now?”. This approach is so much more effective and empowering than whistling in the dark.

The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition. ― Ryan Holiday ‘The Obstacle is the Way’

The obstacles we detest are our greatest teachers. Fear, when met head-on, sharpens my decision-making, enables me to own this lifestyle I tried out for size but now so deliberately choose. It strengthens my resilience and fuels my sense of purpose. I remind myself that fear sprouts from my primal brain which, with the best of intentions, is simply trying to keep me safe. It doesn’t give a monkey's tail about self-actualization or purpose. So I don’t judge when fear arises, nor do I jump to negative conclusions about my competence. Fear isn’t to be taken personally. It’s just the primal brain doing its thing. My experience is that when we set out to do stuff that stretches our horizon, we encounter all kinds of obstacles on the path. Naturally. The thing is not to view them as inconveniences, but see and welcome them as innate to the path. As the abundance mindset declares: Everything is happening for me, not to me. The obstacle is the way.

Fear is a passenger on the bus. Acknowledged, accepted. But it takes a back seat. I’m at the wheel. Period. This is a ‘simply not easy’ decision I can and must take. I remember this particular night in the early van life days when I woke up in the middle of the night to suspicious sounds outside. Ruminating over who it could be and with what agenda, I had started trembling with fear. It just took over my body, I couldn't help it. Literally shaking in my bed. I never had a physical response to (perceived) danger like that, and it startled me as much as the cause of my fear.

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. ― Bene Gesserit "Litany Against Fear"

The stark realisation hit me right there and then that this was not an option. It is not an option to be a solo traveller, solo wild camper and let fear run the show. I simply can’t afford it. In that sense, the decision was both simple and easy. Because if I didn’t make that decision, the decision would be made for me, and that would mean: fear wins and girl goes home. Of course, I’ve not been totally fear-free since that incident, nor do I want to be. Fear is a healthy reaction which calls for appropriate response. But fear never had me in its grip the same way. Factoring in the above-mentioned disclaimer, I never knew you could choose to rise above fear like that. Now I knew. It is a choice. Maybe not always a choice I am aware of or even willing to make, but a choice nevertheless.

In the months to come, I found out that my wild camp spot may also happen to be someone else’s fave place to come smoke a joint or fool around at an ungodly hour. Sometimes they’ll even leave the engine running. They come, they go, with zero interest in me 😆 Which is exactly what happened that fearful night.

How do you handle fear? Let me know in a comment below!

Love, Thalien xx

Backstory: My life on four wheels began in October 2019 when I set off in a blue and white 1993-built MB100D van, which you see in the photo below. I had this cutie named Panta Rhei till November 2020 when I decided I needed more comfort to do this vagabond thing 24/7 all year around. You know, basic amenities like a toilet, a proper bed and functioning electricity at all times and a large water tank ;-) So I parted ways with my beloved but undersized Panta and bought a 1994 Fiat Ducato, which I often call Dukhato (Dukha means suffering in Sanskit lol). Much larger and comfortable, yes, but it also breaks down - A LOT! I've kept a lively travel blog using the app Polarsteps during most of my coddiwompling, if you'd like to check it out, click here.

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