The day I started enjoying my travels the most was the day I stopped worrying about my hair. You see, an old girlfriend of mine used to tell me that I was much worse than her mother and grandmother combined, referring to the amount of time it would take me to get ready every time I was about to go outside. I could shower quickly and I could throw my clothes on in a flash, but for some reason, I would always get stuck in front of the mirror, carefully manipulating every single curl on my head, making sure each of those curls was in its proper place before I would dare head out into the public world.
Ridiculous, I know. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time, or maybe I did, but I still couldn’t help myself.
The bottom line is that I truly believed that people cared, that people would stare, that people would judge, that they would point and laugh at me if one of my curls was sticking out in an imperfect position. And that led to even more problems as I would walk around wondering if I was going to trip on a rock or if I had some schmutz on my face or if I would say something so dumb that everyone within a 1 km radius would laugh uncontrollably at my stupidity.
To say I was self-conscious is an understatement. I remember my brain spending much more time wondering what everyone around me was thinking when they walked past me than focusing on what I was experiencing during my travels. I knew what was happening but, again, I couldn’t change.
Breaking News – Nobody Cares!
Shocking, I know, but it actually turns out that nobody gives a damn. Nobody cares what I look like, nobody is paying me any attention, nobody is pointing or staring or laughing, and if they are pointing or staring or laughing, who cares? I probably do have some shaving cream or pancake batter (I love my pancakes!) on my face on occasion and I most certainly walk into walls from time to time as well. But hey, everyone has stuff on their face at some point, everyone trips in the middle of the street, everyone gets lost and does something silly, everyone has those moments that provide others with an opportunity to point and stare.
And if you’re afraid to have all of that happen to you, which is, basically, to be human, it’s going to be very difficult to travel among all of those strangers out there, navigating places you are not familiar with, putting yourself in so many situations where you might feel as if you will do something wrong or look absurd.
On the other hand, if you can shrug it all off and realize that what others think about you really isn’t important and that, in the end, nobody is even observing you as much as you might think (apart from that one guy I came across in Beirut), suddenly you’ll be able to enjoy your travels on a level that you simply can’t imagine otherwise.
What If There’s No Mirror?
I remember the day clearly. I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand and I had just checked into my budget guesthouse room after an overnight bus ride. Before long I had taken a shower and put on some clean clothes and because I was hungry, I wanted to go out and get some food at the local food market. Before I could go outside though, I naturally needed to spend some time in front of the mirror.
But wait, where was the mirror? There was no mirror in the bathroom, no mirror on the back of the room door or on the wall or in the closet. No mirror anywhere at all.
And just like that, due to something so simple as a lack of a mirror, my life changed. For some reason, on this very day, without any way to check on the status of all the curls on my head, no way to make sure that my face was free of schmutz, I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “Screw it, I’m going out anyway”.
Will you believe it when I tell you that nothing terrible happened that day? Nobody came up to me and said, “Your hair is a mess, you look ridiculous, how could you possibly walk around in public looking like that?” Nobody even noticed me or seemed to pay attention to me for more than half a second and even then, only when we practically bumped into each other in the crowded streets.
After walking for about thirty minutes, I eventually sat down at a food stall and ordered some khao pad sai kai jaew, fried rice with a fried egg on top. And soon enough, as I ate that meal, I felt the sensation of having been liberated.
I just didn’t care what I looked like. I didn’t care what others thought of me. I no longer cared if people did stare and laugh or if I did make silly mistakes and look foolish. That nagging feeling that I was constantly under inspection from all those I encountered was gone and I felt superb. My confidence grew immediately, and I found myself interacting with more people, observing so much more around me and just feeling so much better overall, yes, starting that very day.
It hasn’t let up since.
Do I still stop in front of the mirror every now and then? I most certainly do. There are a few curls that can be so unruly that I just like to pop them back into place on occasion but that’s about it. I’m ready to venture outside no matter what, excited to see where my travels will take me, excited that my ex-girlfriend’s mother and grandmother are back on top of the list, taking far longer than I to get their hair ready before heading out the door.
Actually, I can only assume that last statement to be true. Maybe they’ve changed as well. I haven’t talked to that girlfriend in years.
Do you worry what others think about you or become self-conscious when you travel around? If you haven’t started traveling yet, do you think this would be a concern?
This article also appears on wanderingearl.com and is published here with the permission of the author