Have you ever sat next to someone like this on the plane ride home from your vacation?:
- A 45-year old woman with a bulging disc in her spine who felt so fantastic in Auckland that she went bungy jumping… then wondered why she couldn’t walk the next morning
- A bipolar, alcoholic Swede who blew his entire food budget to take a helicopter ride over a volcano blowing near Reykjavik
- A guy arrested for slipping into St. Basil’s Cathedral for his own “private tour.” Twice.
- A 25-year-old woman from Australia who decided to learn how to drive on the right… on the Autobahn
Do these things sound crazy, stupid, reckless, and just plain thrilling? Before you answer, think about some of the things you’ve done on a trip that have made you, well, question your better judgment. I’ll even leave room for you to mentally write them out:
Are you smiling, or grimacing? Well, it probably depends on how your adventure turned out. You may want to roll your head in your hands and say, what was I thinking? Or you may want to say: Hell, yeah. What happened in _______ stays in _______. And you know: you’d never pull such a “stunt” at home.
We do different things in a new and different environment; that’s one reason travel makes us feel so good, makes us feel so alive again. We see something we like, and we do it. It‘s quite often as simple as that. The future doesn’t enter much into our minds. We haven’t had time to obsess over the consequences. And the same often holds true whether you are a natural daredevil — or a hesitant, and even anxious person.
It’s in the latter case that the effects of travel-inspired risk-taking can rear their ugly head. Many sensitive, cautious individuals have low tolerances for stress, or — to put it more eloquently — for “shit happening.” The violate their personal limits more easily; they raise the stakes on their psychological well-being. If things work out, they feel euphoric. If their risk ends up in minor (or major) disaster, they can feel terrified and regretful.
All four of my plane mates briefly described above — Terri, Edvard, Josh, and Amy — are what I’d describe as hesitant, cautious people. Maybe even worrywarts. Certainly, people who view the glass as half-full only as long as things are going “as they should.” And yet they did what they did. I could tell that each of them would spend a lot of time thinking about their thrill-seeking quests. They would probably have some psychological scars. They were amazed — and scared — over what a short memory they’d had when they decided to seize the moment. Their own tunnel vision both frightened them and inspired them. And finally, I got the sense that most of them were going to become bold wanderlusts; maybe even minor adrenaline junkies. (Amy is still fighting with her car insurance company.)
So what happens for you when you cross the line from adventurous to risk-taker? Do you feel thrilled, or just plain reckless? Many times, that extra shot of adrenaline helps you do something that you never thought you could pull off. There’s a big long definition for adrenaline, but I have a simple description: it’s that stir of now setting both your mind and body free.
Some of the happiest travelers I’ve met live like they’re not planning to come back home from their vacation. That might not be you — or it may be you to a lesser degree. Either way, we get a high off that first impulse, that first sense of possibility. It keeps us traveling; it keeps us moving forward. It keeps us thrilled.