What If They Don't Like Me?

What If They Don’t Like Me?

When I was getting ready for my first solo overseas trip, I acted fearless. Friends and family were worried I wasn’t taking my trip seriously, that I wasn’t planning enough, and that I was underprepared. I wasn’t taking precautions to prevent getting robbed, or getting lost, or running out of money. In truth, I kind of liked the idea of getting caught up in a difficult situation and working my way out of it. But it wasn’t that I was fearless – in fact, I was very afraid – but my fears are different.

My fears aren’t things that I can neatly map out and rationalise away. And for that reason, they are not so easily solved. The main worry, the one that almost made me cancel my trip half a dozen times, exists all in my head. I am worried about meeting new people, and, more specifically, I’m worried that these new people won’t like me.

I’m a social person. I can chat and banter, and I love the deep connections that can be made. The problem is I get stuck on the idea that I’m bad at it. Making conversation with strangers and people I don’t know very well is a battle between wanting to speak my mind and worrying what they’ll think of me. Small talk is easy enough, but anything deeper than that leads to a mental wall and an abrupt end to the conversation. At home this is easy to avoid – you can just stick with your friends and avoid everyone else at all costs. Often, there’s very rarely the need to venture too far out of your comfort zone. This is not an option while travelling. Unless you are willing to be alone for the entire duration of a solo trip, then making connections is vital, and, for me, the fear of not making those connections was terrifying.

I know that I’m not the only one who thinks like this. I’ve talked to other friends with travel plans who worry about the same thing, and I’ve seen how easy it is for people to get caught up in their groups of friends and never approach new people. Being in another country is intimidating: all the comforts of home are gone and it’s easy to feel like the people around you are just better. They seem more confident, more capable, and you sometimes worry that you aren’t worth their time. Why would they talk to you when they could talk to someone better?

This is the core of the social fear that almost stopped me from travelling. It’s not a rational feeling, but that doesn’t make it any easier to ignore. It’s easy to justify to yourself that it doesn’t matter what these people think – you are only going to know them for a few days at most and then will move on and probably never see them again. You can try to convince yourself that this time will be different, that this time you will just be yourself and not try to hide your weird quirks and lame puns and the fact that your laugh sounds like a dying dog. But rational thoughts don’t work on irrational anxiety –  it’s like trying to fight a fire by talking to it.

Thoughts like this were spinning around my head as I stepped into a hostel for my first night overseas. I was exhausted, smelled like aeroplane food and feet, and I was sweating more than I ever thought possible. I was sure all this would mean no one would want to talk to me, so I was prepared for a busy evening of resting in my bunk alone and hiding away from my social fears. I was wrong though. Despite all my insecurities, I ended up, almost accidentally, being drawn into conversation with the travellers I shared a room with. It wasn’t perfect, not like that scene in the movie when the geek gets invited to the party, but it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d built it up in my head. When I found myself laughing and joking over cocktails with people who had been complete strangers only a few hours before, I realised that my fears were actually something I could overcome.

Travelling helps to throw you into all of the uncomfortable and scary situations that are so easily avoided at home. You can’t get over a social anxiety just by thinking about it. At the end of the day you just have to get out there and do it.

Cover by Brooke Cagle