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Overcoming the “What Ifs” of Travel

by Kendall Gallegos
Overcoming the "What Ifs" of Studying Abroad - AIFS Study Abroad - Costa Rica

When we think of travel, we envision ourselves sun-kissed and serendipitous, sparkling in paradise, making friends with locals and curiously trekking through bizarre territory. Sometimes, however, there are small windows of doubt that weave through these visions and pull us down from our reverie.  It’s nothing to feel ashamed about; weighing pros and cons is a natural tendency when leaping into the unknown. Paid To Exist, a website promoting skilled entrepreneurs writes, “Somewhere between the passion, the avalanche of ideas, and the torrent of enthusiasm entered a familiar foe: the Voice of Reason.”

Along with the rest of my fellow travelers, I am feeling both joyful anticipation and a dose of apprehension. This blog is dedicated to the voice of reason, the one that grounds us in reality, the one that says, “What if it’s not exactly what you think it’s going to be?”  

1. What if I don’t pack all the things that I need?

ConcernPicture this: the predicted sunshine suddenly flickers out like a dying light bulb. The clouds cruise in and empty rain out onto your afternoon activities. Here you are in shorts and a tank top using large leaves as coverage, and guess what? YOU FORGOT TO PACK YOUR RAINCOAT. Or maybe you’re on a jungle excursion. A sloth suddenly comes into focus in the tree above you, you reach into your backpack and fish around for your camera, but then you realize: you left it on top of your dresser at home.

Solution: To prevent these unexpected moments of frustration, I remind myself to make a list and check it twice! I don’t want to be thousands of miles away wishing, Gosh if only I had just remembered to Put. It. In. My. Bag.  Realistically, nobody’s perfect and hidden inside what appears to be a crimping unexpected moment is a spark of spontaneity waiting eagerly to be explored. So I like to tell myself that when I’m bumming over a surprise attack like that, just to remember that there’s probably a really great story in the making.

2. What if something bad happens to me?

Concern: There are these scenarios we play out in our head. Here’s a common one I have: As a runner I can say with confidence that no run is the same. The distance may be unwavering, but the sights and the sounds and the environment itself is forever changing. So as I lace up my shoes and start my watch, of course I am imagining how the run will play out. What if a car doesn’t see me as I cross the street? What if I make a wrong turn in a new place and get lost? The same scenarios apply to traveling abroad. There will be new places, people and surroundings, so it’s hard not to see the possibility of something unfortunate happening to me (especially when I’ve got parents reminding me everyday).

Solution: The best advice I give myself is not to let this fear get in the way of enjoying a place. There will always be the risk of danger anywhere I go, and I have learned to be prepared. It’s important to know the emergency contacts of the destination and always roam with a buddy.

3. What if I am unable to get done all the things I want to?

Concern: After connecting with my AIFS buddies online, I realized we are all concerned with one major thing: THE OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES. We all have our sights set on going on certain adventures, but is five weeks enough time to get it all done? I have compiled a list and put money aside for certain things, but the reality is some days will be busier than others. I often forget to remember that my main reason for being out there is for school purposes and not vacation. Still the pressure remains. I mean how often does a girl from California get to visit Central America? Not enough is the answer.

Solution: Here’s the advice I tell my little traveling soul at night: There is no way to predict what you will and will not get done, but traveling to another country is an adventure all on its own.

4. What if I miss home?

Concern: Culture shock is real, people! Don’t think it can’t happen to you. It’s kind of like being the ant on the table that’s been flicked and suddenly repositioned on an unfamiliar part of the room. It’s new. It’s strange. It is alarming. We college kids know what its like to have to adapt and adjust to living without the comfort of home for long durations of time. This is a little bit similar. We are being put into a new system and way of life. The culture, the language and the places are all foreign territory. What if I can’t adjust? What if I don’t mesh well with the other students? What if the homestay doesn’t feel like home? Well these are all possibilities, and these things could very well happen, but…what if they don’t.

Solution: Maybe what I need is a change of mindset. What if Costa Rica is everything I imagined, but better? What if I make lifetime friends? What if I love the food and my Tico family? What if I learn new things about myself? And what if my life is forever changed by this trip?

‘What ifs’ could really destroy enthusiasm and potential if you focus on fear and negativity. The fear of reality not meeting my own expectations can be truly crippling, but there is a simple solution to this little push and pull between daydream and nightmare: take a chance. I’m going to wake up the morning of my trip, board the plane and find out for myself, because who knows, I might just have the time of my life.

This post was contributed by Kendall Gallegos, who will be spending her summer with AIFS in San José, Costa Rica.

Overcoming the "What Ifs" of Travel as a Student Abroad | AIFS Study Abroad | AIFS in Costa Rica

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