Overcoming Fear: traveling overseas, alone and for the first time



As a Guatemalan, I still cannot figure out why since I was a teenager I always felt fascinated by India and its culture. Therefore, one of my biggest dreams was to visit. In 2012 while finalizing a project at work the travel bug hit me hard and I rejected another job offer just to go to India. I thought, if I don’t it now, I will never do it.

With the trip came some fears. Traveling overseas for the first time and on my own was an intimidating thought. What if something went wrong? Here is a story from my travels that helped me overcome these fears and turned me into the traveler I am today.

The most important travel lessons come unexpected - like learning how overcome your fears of traveling along for the first time during a long airport layover...

Look for organizations or exchange programs that have your back

I planned to go to India through the AIESEC organization at my university, on a volunteering exchange for 1 month and half. I was heading to Lucknow, the capital of one of the northern states of India, Uttar Pradesh. The exchange was a way for me to feel safer, having the AIESEC team meeting me in Lucknow and accommodating me.  

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Plan ahead, research your options

To get to Lucknow I had a layover of almost 7 hours in Delhi. I would arrive there around midnight and my domestic flight departed around 7 am the next day. Since I knew that after a near-14 hour flight  from NYC I would be exhausted, I had previously done some research on my options to have some decent sleep at the airport (maybe a hotel?). However, I was also on a budget.

I also did some research on how taxis work so I could go and come from a cheaper hotel nearby. Nevertheless, because of my arrival time and layover length, this seemed too risky and complicated for a first timer like me. I did not want to miss my connecting flight. Therefore, I decided I was going to sleep and wait at any seat/floor at the airport.

The most important travel lessons come unexpected - like learning how overcome your fears of traveling along for the first time during a long airport layover...

Take safety measures, precautions

While picking up my backpack at baggage carousel my mind was busy trying to locate a “suitable sleeping spot”. Suddenly, a young guy approached me and asked me if I had a long layover and if I was interested in sharing a taxi with him and 2 other people to a nearby affordable hotel to sleep for some hours. All of them had similar layover times. Sensing my immediate distrust and disbelief he took me introduced me to the other people who briefly told me about themselves. I recognized their faces from my previous flight and relaxed a little. The young guy was American, going to Nepal to volunteer there. There was also a Canadian lady heading to Nepal to teach English; she did it once a year with the support of the Nepali government. And there was an Indian man, a veterinarian who was traveling from Canada to another northern state to visit some relatives.

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Sometimes trust your gut and improvise

Even when objectively,  this seemed like the most unsafe, wrong and dodgy situation, it actually did not “feel” that way. Let’s call it intuition. Therefore, leaving aside all my Central American street savviness and all the “do not talk to strangers” my mom gave on the way, I agreed.

I managed to message my family to let them know where I was and where I was heading. The doctor arranged the taxi (easy for a connoisseur) and we headed to the hotel that was pretty close to the airport. The women shared a room and the men another one.  In the end we did not have much sleep, as we gathered for some late-night dinner while getting to know each other. A few hours later, we all headed back to the airport where we went our separate ways again. Since the veterinarian was the only one staying in India, before leaving, he gladly gave me his contact details in India in any case I needed some help. Up until today, I still keep in touch with him and the Canadian lady.

The most important travel lessons come unexpected - like learning how overcome your fears of traveling along for the first time during a long airport layover...

Reciprocate the good vibe

I could carry on with all the Indian experiences that I cherish in my heart such as waking up some mornings in a mosquito net, on the roof of a friend’s house, to the sounds of the morning prayers around town. Visiting Taj Mahal, the Ganges and many more.  

However, as for this story, my point is that this experience shaped the type of traveler that I am today. This experience was a big part of why, nowadays, I love and feel comfortable and confident traveling solo. Mothers worry too much about their kids traveling overseas regardless the age, especially if you go literally to the other side of the world (check the map).

However, I always comfort mine letting her know that besides the shady people you can and will find anywhere in the world, you will also find the opposite, nice people that will help you whenever you need it. You just have to tune your radar. Additionally, due to different circumstances I get to host and spend time with foreigners at home which also lets me humbly remember that you have to be that helping hand for other fellow travelers wherever you are. What goes around, comes around.

The most important travel lessons come unexpected - like learning how overcome your fears of traveling along for the first time during a long airport layover...

Sometimes I still think to myself that going with them was a bit irresponsible but at the same time I think that it was the best thing I could have done to start my adventures in India. As you fellow travelers would know, when traveling and in life sometimes you can only trust your gut, take safety measures, wish for the best and take a leap of faith.


This is a guest post by María José.

María José is a Guatemalan nature lover who enjoys traveling, as well as all the perks that come with traveling on her own.  Although she has always had the travel bug, it bit her hard after living in Australia while studying a graduate degree.  Now, based back in her home country she travels to wherever, whenever and as often as she can.

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