Throughout college I was an avid traveler, setting off during each winter and summer break to work abroad. The second I entered a plane, I felt like I was in my element. I was always ready to experience something new and unknown. Whether it was hitchhiking throughout Israel’s northern hilltops, taking a bus from Cairo to the Sinai Desert alone, and befriending the expats in Kiev’s bars, I was fearless.
As a senior, all of my post-college plans centered around being abroad. Jobs, service grants, or research fellowships -- I just wanted to go.
But then, I got sick. Suddenly, I found myself confined to a bed. I was unable to lead the active lifestyle I loved. I could not make plans. Instead, I needed to take one day at a time and focus on healing.
After multiple surgeries, I was in the process of recovering physically. But mentally, I wasn't where I wanted to be. My perfect day used to involve discovering a new place. Now, the thought of being somewhere I didn’t know just made me afraid. What if something went wrong again?
I could not imagine when I’d be able to travel internationally again. I still had sporadic bouts of pain. If that happened abroad, who would I turn to? In my past life, I would have booked a ticket without thinking. As my health improved, I wanted to travel again. But a part of me still didn’t feel ready.
I'd always dreamed of traveling to Belarus. But I knew no one there, and neither did my doctor. It seemed like the least sensible vacation destination—as an American citizen, I needed a visa to get there. But sometimes the only way to overcome your fears is to do something extreme.
I leaned in, got my visa, booked my ticket, and landed in Minsk. While walking through the city, speaking to locals, and sipping coffee at cafes, I experienced the delicious freedom that comes with travel. My health was still on the mend -- but my spirit was revived.
Rachel Sales is the co-founder and editor of Pink Pangea, the community for women travelers. She currently lives in Tel Aviv.