International Travel: Facing the Fear

When Mike and I were engaged, I told him I wanted an exotic adventure to look forward to for our fifth wedding anniversary. I’d traveled quite a bit, but it was all what I considered to be “domestic” travel — lots of trips around the United States, Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean. Yes, there were other countries involved, but it’s all so easy for Americans to access. At the time, it didn’t even require a passport.

The most exotic place I could imagine was Morocco. Kasbahs and camels. It was Africa, for heaven’s sake!

He happily promised to take me there, and we spent the next half decade saving our money and dreaming of the desert.

If you haven’t noticed yet, Mr. Michael Ballard doesn’t do travel halfway. He is a meticulous trip planner, and he always finds interesting things you’ve never heard of to add to the adventure.

During his research, he discovered it was far less expensive for us to fly into Madrid and then take the Eurail through Spain to the Strait of Gibraltar, where we would cross to Morocco by ferry. Our adventure expanded to three countries, and I was terrified.

As much as I was looking forward to the trip, it was my first time overseas. Mike was a seasoned traveler who’d lived in Saudi Arabia as a child, and he did his best to calm my fears, but I was still worried. Would I remember enough Spanish to get us around Spain? Would he remember enough French and Arabic for Morocco? What would happen if we were separated or if one of us got sick? I thought of every possible “what if” scenario, and as the trip got closer, I was in a panic.

I almost didn’t go.

But I packed my bag. I went to the airport. I got on the plane. It landed in Spain. And I had the most wonderful adventure I’d ever had in my life. 

In the first 48 hours in Madrid, we walked all over the city, toured museums with world-famous works of art, saw beautiful gardens, drank whisky and wine, and ate loads of tapas. People were friendly. We didn’t get lost. My Spanish was just fine. More importantly, we were just fine.

And Morocco was still yet to come.


Downtown Madrid’s Palacio de Comunicaciones lit up for the holidays


Michael viewing Michael. Loved the temporary exhibit of natural history that accompanied some of the key pieces at the Museo del Prado. (A guard yelled at me for taking this photo, which I now know that you are not supposed to do. Noted, sir.)


Vertical garden on the side of Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, Spain


This tapas bar in Madrid served its whisky with a side of gummy worms. Still not sure about that. Let’s also note how GIGANTIC the pour was.


I still dream about these puffed potatoes from Madrid. They were crispy and salty on the outside like a chip, but pillowy and soft on the inside. If you know how to make them, you’ll be my new best friend.