Everything Just Feels a Little Scary


It is 7:00 am and all I want to do is sleep.

Less than 48 hours have passed since I left Armenia, hopping into a marshrutka to Tbilisi on just four hours of sleep after a crazy last night out in Yerevan.  I am physically and mentally exhausted and I have been fighting back tears since I arrived at the Tbilisi airport to fly first to Istanbul and then to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan – my first stop in Central Asia.

After two flight delays, I arrive in Dushanbe at 4:45 a.m. a tired, sweaty, emotional mess. Two hours later, I have finally made it through immigration and am relieved to find that my backpack managed to join me in Tajikistan. I exit the airport and find a taxi to take me to my hotel.

And as the receptionist unapologetically tells me in Russian that they do not have my reservation – that there is no free room for me, I finally lose it.

All of the emotions that have been simmering for the last few weeks finally bubble to the surface –the stress, the disappointment, the sadness, the fear, the anxiety.

It all hits me at once and the tears start to flow uncontrollably.

The last three months have been the best of my career break trip. I have caught up with old friends and forged new relationships.  I had more fun in the weeks I spent in Armenia, Italy and Turkey than the rest of my trip combined. I found a comfort zone in Georgia and Armenia that made it hard to leave.

But I am physically exhausted from a hectic (but great) last week in Yerevan, sightseeing during the day, going out nearly every night and getting very little sleep.

And I am mentally exhausted from the stress of getting my visas, the disappointment of something not working out the way I hoped and the sadness of saying goodbye to people who have become good friends.

And I am terrified of what comes next.

It probably sounds silly considering I have been on the road now, mostly on my own, for nearly ten months. I have survived miserable homestays, freezing temperatures, horrendously long ferry rides and Turkish scam artists. I have crossed over a dozen land borders without incident, even making it into Azerbaijan, where many people said I would hit big problems.

Yet the ‘Stans – Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan – just seem more difficult.

I am afraid I won’t know what the heck I am doing when I try to teach English in Tajikistan, that I won’t be able to handle living in mountain villages for a month and that I will be horribly, horribly lonely.

I am afraid I will turn into a lobster from the sun beating down mercilessly on this fair-haired, light-skinned girl with Scandinavian roots.

I am afraid it will be so hot I won’t even feel like seeing or doing anything. There is a reason I spent most of my trip in cold-weather countries during the winter – I like the cold. I originally planned to hit Central Asia in April, May and June – before the heat would be unbearable. My timing now of June, July and August is far from ideal.

I am afraid I will have difficulties with transportation and border crossings. I picture border checkpoints in the ‘Stans being much less organized and much more chaotic than anywhere else I have been to date.

I am afraid I won’t be able to find internet access to stay in touch with friends and family, to keep up with my blog and to keep up with my work obligations.

I am afraid I will have trouble finding ATM machines that accept my cards and that I will quickly exhaust by backup stash of US dollars.

I am afraid I will attract much more attention as a female traveling solo than I have anywhere else. While I enjoyed Turkey, I absolutely hated the stares I got everywhere I went. I am afraid Central Asia will be even worse

I remind myself that so far nothing on my career break trip has turned out to be as bad as I feared, but I am still afraid.

Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Arriving in Tajikistan also represents the beginning of the end. 

When I leave Kyrgyzstan in mid-September, I will be on my way home for the first time in nearly 13 months. And that is scary too. While I have said before I am ready to know when I am going home – and I have a fairly good idea now of when that will be – it also terrifies me.

I am scared that I won’t be able to find a job before my savings runs out.

I am scared that I won’t fit in with my friends any more – that I won’t be able to relate to anyone and vice versa.

I am scared that I will have a hard time adjusting to being home and that I will be miserable.

I am scared that I will go insane living with my parents again for the first time since I was 18.

I am scared that the memories of everything I experienced, the lessons I learned and the friends that I made on the road will fade too fast and that I will be left wondering whether it was all worth it.

And so when the hotel finally finds a room for me – possibly the worst hotel room I have ever stayed in – I fall onto the tiny twin bed and just keep crying until I finally manage to fall asleep.

And I wake up five hours later, feeling ever slightly so better.

But still scared.


32 thoughts on “Everything Just Feels a Little Scary”

  1. Hang in there Katie. There are parts of travel that are undoubtedly difficult, and it can hit us like a cannonball sometimes. You have a lot of people cheering you on, and a lot of people who can’t wait to see what you make of the ‘Stans – good, bad, ugly, or bizarre.

    Stay safe, keep your head up, and don’t be afraid to vent when you need to.

  2. This is Ali subbing in for Katie. She is in Tajikistan right now with extremely limited internet access, but she wanted to thank you all for your comments! She will respond to you as soon as she has better internet. Thanks for your patience!

  3. Hi Katie,

    Big hugs to you from the US! Everything will be OK and good for you for acknowledging your fears and really feeling them – this is how they will go away.


  4. Hi Katie! I’ve been there, too. I often feel scared during the times I travel alone, especially to the more “exotic” countries. But the awesome thing was that whenever I get through a scary bit alone, I feel incredibly strong and brave and more self-confident than I’ve EVER felt in my life previously. You can do it. You’ll be happier than you can even imagine at the moment. Don’t let the creepy stares from guys get you down for a minute. You’re a superwoman! A superstar! You own the world!

  5. Hi, Katie!
    I’m a newcomer to your blog, but I’m already devouring it! The former USSR is of great interest to me and I’m thinking of Uzbekistan in October, I’m anxious for your posts on the stans! (Actually, I’m happy that there’s a lot to discover backwards…)
    Just wanted to wish you a trip as smooth as possible through Tajikistan…may you be positively surprised!
    A big hug.

    1. Thanks Emilia! I’m a bit behind in replying to comments since I lost internet access in Tajikistan. Now that I’ve been in Uzbekistan a while, I definitely highly recommend it. Posts coming in the next few weeks…

  6. I love your honesty in this post. I’m sure so many people can relate. You are very brave for pushing through those fears and you will be stronger for it in the end. 🙂

  7. Hang in there. I’m sure the lack of sleep and mental and physical exhaustion just further drive your emotions wild. I can only imagine how frustrating/difficult it is to travel through the stans so the fact that you’ve made it so far is already a big achievement! Best of luck and I look forward to more updates!

    1. Yes, the exhaustion definitely played a role! Once I caught up on sleep and got some food in me, I felt better and could think a little more clearly.

  8. Katie,

    I hope you will manage to meet the right people still. I am sure there are much to see in Kyrgistan (issyk kul lake)… I love alma-aty in Kazakshtan and i have bunch of friends in kZ.. I can suggest you to catch up with them in astana) or almaaty. (my client).. I also hope that you wont feel that depressed… Struggles make you better and stronger.. I am sure after all this you will be fullfilled)… Dont even be scared.. People will say you are blessed and “unique” in what you do.

    Please, take all my best wishes for your trip. I am moving to the states in August so when you are down in New York give me a ring)))

    1. Thanks Karina! Will be getting to Almaty end of August – will follow up with you then!

  9. Oh I have been there but I learned so much from it. It’s okay to be scared and it’s okay to be unhappy, you learn that eventually it will all pass and you will be fine. This is where travel changes you.

    I’m happy to hear you feel a bit better and be proud of yourself for doing all of this despite your fear.

    1. Thanks Ayngelina! And yep, getting through the rough moments gives me an added sense of satisfaction when I look back on everything I’ve come through on this trip. Makes the good parts that much sweeter. 🙂

  10. Kate a.k.a. Mom

    Thinking about you and hope that the last few months end up surpassing your expectations so that you can come home on a positive note! You are so amazing! Hope you feel better soon!

  11. Katie,

    Every day is a little bit scary, and you stored up a lot of little “scaries” and dumped them in one day. What I know that you will do is to pack them up in your backpack and carry on.

    I hope that you continue to write about your “scaries” in ways that will open doors for other solo travelers who have their own sets of concerns and fears which may be keeping them at home. So far, you have shown the world that “scaries” fit into backpacks along with shirts and shorts and cameras.


  12. Sending you good thoughts & hoping that you are feeling a bit better now. I’ve found & followed you through Kat Selvocki and have enjoyed watching & reading about your travel, particularly through Armenia where my brother spent a year and had so many stories. I am a relatively new traveler myself, my husband & I spent a couple weeks in Scandinavia last fall and then a couple in India in march… I wanted to go to India SO badly, but I was absolutely terrified at the same time. If it had just been me, I would have found a reason not to go – and that just would have been so sad to miss out on that experience. So much respect to you. I understand the fear even if I’m not as well-traveled, I know that I will continue to have it.

    1. Glad you found me through Kat – thanks for reading! And yeah, despite how scary stuff is, in the end, I’ll be glad I did it and I think I would regret it if I backed out because of the fear.

  13. Katie, we don’t know each other but I have been following you for some time now… Believe me you have made more friends during these past months than you can possibly imagine! You’re not alone at all and everything it’s gonna be alright after this (first!) big adventure ends. You’re a very strong person and I know you’ll be able to handle whatever happens. I’m sending you my best wishes, you can do it girl!! (and if you don’t fit with your old friends back home you’ll surely find new ones!). Keep going!

  14. I have so much respect for you, Katie! When my husband couldn’t go to Egypt two years ago on a trip we planned, payed for, and couldn’t get refunded, I was not brave enough to go solo out of fear.

    When he deployed to Afghanistan, I went through extreme loneliness living on my own in Italy. That first weekend on my own was the worst. I cried myself to sleep and wanted to do nothing but mope in bed. Then I thought, wow, it’s going to be a long six months if I sit around.

    I got up, got dressed, and just got in the car. I just kicked the fear of being lonely and scared to the curb. I got my first taste of solo travel as I made my way around off-the-beaten-path nothern Italy.

    You are so awesome traveling solo where you have and where you’re planning to go! You’re one of the bravest women I know. Hang in there! I know you’ll kick all that fear to the curb too.

  15. I hate that you’re hitting a scary part of your trip! It’s perfectly normal & like you said, things usually turn out to be less scary than you had imagined. I really hope you’re doing ok with the family & that they can find food for you to eat. I hope you get Internet too for your own sanity. I also want to know you’re doing ok 🙂 HUGS!!

  16. Don’t be scared! You’ve come so far and done so much. Everything is going to work out.

    I hope Tajikistan starts treating you better. I absolutely loved my time there and I want everyone to have a great time there, too.

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