While in Poland, I met an American girl who was on a short vacation. We were both volunteering as part of a language exchange program and during the first evening, a group of us went for a casual drink. This girl nearly didn’t come because she was afraid to return to her hotel after dark. I mocked her, saying that she was afraid of her own shadow. Around ten days later, she abandoned her ‘sanity’ and started hitchhiking (as told in The Boy Who Was Afraid of the World). As ‘being brave is not an absence of fear, [but] having the courage to overcome it by deciding that something else is more important than the fear itself,’ I think that she is one of the bravest people I have ever met. Her name is Leah and she runs The Vegetarian Traveller. For the past two and a half years, we have undertaken the majority of life’s adventures together and there are still more to come. I posed a few questions to her about fear in the hope of sharing how she deals with it.
Obviously I know you more than most, but for the sake of others, please introduce yourself and share a little about yourself, before and after you decided to make ‘the jump.’
“Hi, I’m Leah, a 25-year-old from Detroit, U.S.A.. A few years ago, I wasn’t an overly happy person. I’d worked really hard to graduate university with honours and stayed at the same job in a mental health facility for three years, purely to build a professional rapport. When I finally reached my breaking point – one can only get so many knives thrown at them – I bought a ticket to Poland, hoping ten days in another country would be just the break I needed. Turns out, it was, but in a much different way than I had predicted. The ‘break’ turned into a lifestyle choice, and the next few years were filled with hitchhiking, cycling, rafting, teaching English in two countries, and searching for the best veggie-friendly food along the way. Next up, the scorching hot summer of Australia. My only plan is to go, the rest can be dealt with upon arrival. One step at a time.”
When I first met you in Poland, I immediately thought that we wouldn’t get on. You told me that I was crazy to hitchhike and sleep outside, so what was it that changed your mind?
“With regards to thinking that you were crazy for doing what you did and then abruptly changing my mind, it’s quite simple really: I realised that it wasn’t so crazy after all. Each night, I used to walk home from work in the big city with my keys laced between my fingers so that I could get a single good hit in if I was attacked. Which one is crazier? After travelling with you for a week, I realised that I wasn’t ready to push the experiences into the back of my head as mere memories. I wanted to do more and experience something new every day. The ‘old life’ would always be there if I changed my mind. It just so happens that I never did. This seemingly rushed transition did not sit well with my family, but for me, it made perfect sense. It wasn’t a gloriously drawn out process; I put in my notice to my job, withdrew the lease that I’d made with a roommate, and used half of my savings to book an impromptu flight back to Europe. Although the financial aspects of such a decision weren’t always a walk in the park, I don’t have any regrets. That’s how I aim to live my life now, without regret. I think regret must be the most terrible of feelings.”
Nowadays, is fear still a problem and how do you deal with it?
“After a few years, the things that caused me to be afraid have changed. Before, I was scared of people and what they were capable of doing to me. While people are certainly capable of committing atrocities, every person that I’ve met on this crazy ride has been nothing but wonderful. Statistically speaking, I’d say people are pretty awesome. The things that concern me now are far less dramatic and mostly focus on the financial debts I acquired while getting a degree. These fears though, always have a way to be dealt with. There is always more money to be made, but many experiences only present themselves once.”
What do you see for yourself in the future and is there any advice that you would offer to people who are scared about changing their lives?
“As for the future, I can now say that I haven’t a clue anymore. This can be scary, but mostly, I think it’s OK. It’s fairly difficult to plan for your entire life. Plans are good for organisational purposes, but not so great for one’s mental state. When a long-term, detailed plan skips a beat, people find it terrifying, as though their personal walls are tumbling down. Have an idea of what you want and plan a few steps ahead to enable yourself to make your dreams a reality. Even if it doesn’t work out the way you wanted, at least you won’t have regret dangling over your head. I think that must be the easiest and most painless way to live. If you’re afraid to make a dramatic change, there is only one method to ease your way into a happier life: say ‘Yes’ more. One question and one day at a time.”
To read more from Leah and get an insight into her fascinating life journey, visit The Vegetarian Traveller, www.thevegetariantraveller.com. You will find thoughtful articles, stories, and delicious recipes from around the world. I have been the guinea pig for most of these recipes and I know that you won’t be disappointed. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter. She has also published a brilliant little book, The Beer Can Cook Book, which everyone going on a long journey should read – no other invention for travellers is so perfect.
This interview is taken from The Avant-Garde Life [everything your parents told you not to do: disregarding society in a search for sustainable adventure]. You can download it for free by clicking here. I hope it encourages you to have your own adventure. To watch Leah in action, you should also check out Pedal, Paddle, and (finally) Separate Tracks.