How I Conquered My Fears Through Travel

Mysterious Islands host Kellee Edwards turned fear into fuel.

By: Kellee Edwards

Oftentimes I find myself painted in a light where people think I'm fearless, but really I just want to fear less.

A lot of things scare me, but the woman I stare at in the mirror each day says, "That's the way you want to go out? Afraid?!" And I always respond, "Nope! Not today!" Keyword: Today. I take everything I do in stride and for the moment. And this, my friends, is how I get through my life of adventure. I show up and force myself to often deal with the presented opportunities at hand. Truth be told if I actually thought about all the things I've actually accomplished in life, I could easily come up with a million reasons why I should take the risk. Helen Keller said it best: "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all."

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.
Helen Keller

I choose to experience adventures through the connection of different landscapes, people and places. It's about the journey — not always the destination or the Instagram photo. That journey, for me, has been conquering fear through travel. I'm a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie. Two things I have the biggest fear of are heights and the ocean, which is a bit ironic since I'm a pilot and scuba diver. I've actually skydived out of the same type of airplane I fly in Aruba and have done a wreck dive in the Red Sea in Eilat, Israel. Yet, I decided to never let something like this stop me from continuing to explore the world. But this wasn't always the case...

Photo by: Kellee Edwards

Kellee Edwards

Fear: Heights
Solution: Become a Pilot

What if I fall? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?
Erin Hanson

I discovered my fear of heights while in Sintra, Portugal at The Pena Palace. It's a magical castle perched on the top of a hill in the Sintra Mountains surrounded by a vast forest that spans more than 200 acres. In full Queen mode, I explored the grounds as if they were my own. As I walked back to the terrace, there were beautiful archways that provided a stunning view all the way to the ocean and of the town below. It was when I walked to the edge of the archway and looked below that I felt an adverse reaction in my body. A combination of dizziness and panting had overcome me and I couldn't step back fast enough, literally. It was as if time slowed down and I was frozen. Less than a year later, however, I was a licensed pilot.

The Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal

The Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal

The Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal

Photo by: Kellee Edwards

Kellee Edwards

The Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal

When I decided to fly airplanes I wondered if I'd be able to pull it off with my fear of heights. And I'll admit, my first flight was a bit of a doozy. However, I came to the conclusion that the views and the infinite possibilities of becoming a pilot were worth being uncomfortable at times. To this day, it's one of the best decisions I've made for myself and strangely enough, I'm not afraid when I'm flying thousands of feet above the ground in an aircraft.

Photo by: Kellee Edwards

Kellee Edwards

Fear: Ocean
Solution: Become a Certified Scuba Diver

My first time jumping in the ocean was from a boat on a snorkel tour in the Cayman Islands. Prior to this, I had never really swum in the ocean before. I figured that since I've jumped into plenty of pools and can hold my breath for a long time that this should be a piece of cake. WRONG. When I finally jumped into the ocean (after 10 minutes of standing on the starboard of the boat), I lost my breath as soon as I hit the water. I felt weightless and helpless as I scrambled my way back to the top. And when I surfaced I looked around and saw this big, blue ocean that surrounded me for miles beyond what my eyes could see. It was that moment that I truly realized how engulfed I was in a place I knew so little about. I was so uncomfortable that I stuck my face back in the water to look below me to try and focus on something; what I saw actually calmed me down. (I'll come back to that later.) The tour went to a shallower area to swim. I was in awe of the sea life in the reef...until a saw a seven-foot nurse shark. I had no idea at the time that nurse sharks are normally docile creatures. In my eyes, a shark is a shark, is a shark. I was pretty much done with the ocean for the rest of the trip.

The ocean stirs the heart, inspires the imagination and brings eternal joy to the soul.
Robert Wyland

When I returned home, I was bothered by my experience, and my ego kicked in. It was then that I wondered how to get over being afraid of the ocean. I thought back to the moment that initially calmed me down. What I saw were three scuba divers moseying along with an ease and fluidity that I, too, strived to have in the ocean. A few months later, I signed up for scuba-diving classes and eventually got my PADI Open Water Certification off the coast of Los Angeles in Catalina Island. Since then I have logged dives around the world including Thailand, Greece, Israel, Dominican Republic, Antigua, Bonaire and even in the Georgia Aquarium.

Photo by: Kellee Edwards

Kellee Edwards

Becoming a diver has added another level of adventure to my travels. I explore by land, air and sea and love finding places that I can do all three. Like being a pilot, most people aren't certified scuba divers. It really ups the ante when you can go to a place and experience what amazing things are below the surface. There are entire underwater cities in Japan, Italy, Egypt, China, India and Jamaica, and the only way to explore these places is by diving. Because of some of these depths, I'd need my advanced open water certification (AOW) to get to them.

Photo by: Kellee Edwards

Kellee Edwards

Everything you want is on the other side of fear.
Jack Canfield

Fact: The deeper you go in the ocean, the darker it gets. Oh, boy. This is the part where I mention I'm not a fan of the dark, too. But underwater cities will make me zip up my wetsuit in a snap. If I was going to conquer this fear and get my advanced certification, there's no place better than in the Dutch Caribbean Island of Bonaire. Located just north of Venezuela, this island is known as one of the top places to dive in the Caribbean. To get my AOW certification, I'd have to complete five dives — two required, deep and underwater navigation adventure, and my choice of three others. I choose peak performance buoyancy, underwater naturalist and a night dive. GULP.

Harbor Village Bonaire has an amazing on-site concierge dive program provided by Great Adventures Bonaire. I was elated to see that my dive master was a woman who has logged hundreds of dives. Ann-Marie was rock solid, and when it came to teaching she made sure no seashell was left unturned. The first day we tackled the navigational dive and the night dive, which I really tried my best to put off to the last day with epic failure. In preparation for the night dive, we met at the dock and went over hand signals, flashlight usage, safety procedures and navigating in the dark. My plan was to stick to Ann-Marie like glue. That didn't exactly happen.

Photo by: Kellee Edwards

Kellee Edwards

We descended at dusk and before I knew it, it was completely dark and I was only able to see where my waterproof flashlight shined. My fear turned into a child-like excitement. The underwater world that I was used to became a completely different planet in my eyes. Night diving is equivalent to drifting in space, with bioluminescent ostracods and eyeballs of fish reflecting off your light, resembling stars in the sky. What I thought I'd never survive actually ended up being one of the best nights of my life. My subsequent dives of peak buoyancy and deep diving were challenging, yet I made it through those and reached a maximum depth of 30 meters. Underwater cities, here I come!

Photo by: Kellee Edwards

Kellee Edwards

After my fifth and final naturalist dive at Salt Pier, I was now an Advanced Open Water Diver! Once again, I found myself conquering another fear with an additional glimpse of experiencing the world in a way that few get to see. Ultimately, I left Bonaire better than I came. I encourage you to find yourself through fear, which ultimately leads to freedom. Just remember: "Wherever you go, go with all your heart."

Keep up with Kellee's adventures on her website (Kellee Set Go!), Instagram, Twitter and right here on TravelChannel.com.

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