Are you afraid to travel? Ever wonder how you can move past your fear of travel just by paying more attention to what you see on TV or read in the news?
“Common wisdom” and every news outlet out there probably says you have reason to fear while you’re traveling.
They’ll cite crime “statistics.” Political distress. Muggings. The media will make the world sound like a scary place to be, indeed.
Making the word sound like a scary place is reason #1 why people turn to making up excuses to hide their fear of traveling.
We’ve heard it all before:
I don’t speak the language.
I don’t have the funds.
I just don’t have the time.
But underneath the surface, sometimes people are just plain scared.
What if I told you the world is safer than you think? Rather, travel isn’t as frightening as some people believe?
And that you can move past the fear of traveling faster than you think?
Let’s face it: stories that are sensationalized get more views.
I mean, it’s not your fault those stories are scary. It’s not anyone’s fault that we live in a world where the circulation of ideas — good and bad, true and false — has become easier than ever.
The media has its own agendas while delivering the news. Do you remember learning about current events in grade school? My fourth-grade teacher once asked us to find a news story and see how different newspapers wrote about it.
What did we find, unsurprisingly?
The newspapers altered the story based on how conservative the news outlet was.
Each one omitted facts or told them in a way that vibed with the audience’s political beliefs.
The media makes more money when more eyes fall on their stories, all political biases aside. Click-bait stories are…well, clickable. Headlines need to grab attention. Stories need to be spun.
But not everything you see or hear is representative of the reality.
I’ve Been Scared to Travel, Too
I remember when I took my first solo trip a few years ago. I was traveling to Thailand and got seated next to a feisty guy who went on a rant urging immigrants to go back to their countries.
I had this mild fear that the guy was going to strike up a conversation with me. Or pick on someone for looking at him the wrong way. Or ask the diverse group of Emirates stewardesses where they were from.
And looking out the window, I was afraid the plane wouldn’t even take off. I had never been on a plane this big. It was an Airbus A380. They. Are. Huge.
I wasn’t kidding.
The small fears continued to multiply.
I worried whether I’d be able to find somewhere to exchange my cash at my destination airport. Whether the cabin crew would forget to give me the vegetarian meal I requested. Whether I was going to get uncomfortable. Whether I would develop a life-threatening clot in my legs that would travel to my lungs after sitting for so long.
But if you’ve ever been afraid to go somewhere, to travel anywhere, I think you can relate to how your mind gets carried away when it’s scared.
Too often, we have “idea overload” of what *could* happen abroad without reasoning most of those events have a slim chance of happening at all.
Yet here I am now, traveling internationally every few months. Exploring the world like it’s my business. Being a shameless tourist in city centers, and a wannabe-native in the areas left unexplored by my tourist brethren. And I’m not just talking 2-day weekend trips (while those are awesome, too).
Six-week, 8-week, 4-month trips.
I was scared once upon a time.
(Hint: most experienced travelers were.)
You have to know that you really aren’t the only one.
But thankfully, I learned a few things along the way. Real facts and “uncommon” knowledge I hope can help you, too.
I even figured out a way to conquer your fears in small, effective steps in this post.
Now here’s the deal: it’s possible for you to go abroad and travel without being afraid. At the very least, being less afraid. All while knowing exactly how to take care of yourself. Let’s get right to it.
You Aren’t Alone — Fear of Travel is a Thing
Did you know that the fear of travel is called hodophobia?
That article cites a spectrum of symptoms like headaches, sweaty palms, and shortness of breath. Where you fall on the spectrum depends on how severe your fear of travel is.
The more severe your fear — any fear — and the less you’re able to cope with it, the worse your symptoms will be.
Most people I encounter have mild fear and anxiety related to travel. They’re usually afraid of one or more things not going “right.”
Your plane not arriving on time. Delays. Lost luggage. The hotel staff giving you problems because they don’t have your booking confirmation. Getting lost in general. Not understanding the language if you’re going to a country that rarely speaks yours. Traveling alone. Getting mugged.
Even the thought of waiting in line at the airport may be enough to stop someone from traveling.
The list of unhappy possibilities we imagine for ourselves seems endless.
Safety is also a concern when people are considering travel, too. They may be afraid to travel because they think travel is dangerous. I talk about how this isn’t true, and that safety is also a state of mind in this post.
And it doesn’t end with the negative things we tell ourselves. Then we Google all these imaginary scenarios to see how likely they are to happen. And instead of alleviating our fears, we catch ourselves in deeper panic.
Google, in fact, does help, but you have to search for the right thing. Good research and the experiences of people whom we trust can always get us back on track.
I listed a few things I found related to tourism and travel. You might be surprised by these facts.
People Travel — Lots
Contrary to how the news makes out certain areas to be, tourism remains to be a growing, thriving industry.
Check out this quote from an infographic by the World Travel & Tourism Council:
“This is the sixth year in a row that travel and tourism has outpaced the global economy, showing the sector’s resilience, and the eagerness of people to continue to travel and discover new places, despite economic and political challenges across the world.” (Source)
Here’s a screenshot from a part of the infographic below:
If you look at the map, you’ll see regional growth was present everywhere, even in areas some people consider unsafe for travel.
Some countries showed a decline in tourism rates. These were areas impacted by political distress and isolated attacks of terror. The industry as a whole has only grown despite these incidents. And the World Travel & Tourism Council expects it to continue to grow:
“Travel & Tourism forecasts over the next ten years also look extremely favourable with predicted growth rates of 3.9% annually.” (Source)
Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up thinking we’re the only ones with ambitions to travel. It’s a relief to know travel is a booming (growing!) industry. It’s confirmation that people enjoy it and want more of it, no matter what’s circulating in the media.
Tourism & Travel Keep Things Peaceful
The same organization studied the effects of tourism on an area’s level of peace.
What did they find?
A solid tourism industry actually helps contribute to peace.
The same countries that have an established tourism sector also have a better chance of enjoying peace in the future, too. The more established its tourism sector, the less violence and conflict there is and will be.
While the media and “common knowledge” continue to bombard us with images of unrest overseas, not everything in the world is chaos and unhappiness.
Though certain regions are struggling to gain a sliver of peace, other areas are made out to appear unsafe without good reason.
If there have been multiple (or more) offenses in an area, use your best judgment and avoid those areas. But chances are, wherever you want to travel has an established tourism industry — which means you’ll have a better chance at staying safe, too.
You’re Perfectly Capable, No Matter What You Think
You aren’t the first person to travel abroad, and that’s comforting to know. Matt from the popular travel blog, Nomadic Matt, says what comforted him was the knowledge that he wasn’t alone. He says, “If some 18-year-old from England on a gap year came home in one piece, there was no reason I wouldn’t, too.”
He has a point!
It’s so easy to think we’re pioneering a completely unknown field when we start traveling.
(Unless you’re visiting remote jungles, bat caves, and everything else in between. But there’s a good chance you aren’t.)
Sometimes it’s enough to be willing to push past the fear, even if you’re still afraid. And that’s ok, especially if you’re trying something out for the first time while traveling.
Take Lauren, from the travel blog, Never Ending Footsteps. She was afraid to sail through Greece even though she was on the road traveling for five years already. She writes that it’s important to challenge ourselves and step out of the comfort zone we build around us.
We’re human. We encounter roadblocks. With a little bit of courage, we get past them. If you ask me, the occasional surge of fear is refreshing. It reminds us there are still things we haven’t tried.
By the way, I didn’t have any issues exchanging cash when I landed in Thailand during my first solo trip. I was worried I’d have issues because (a) I never exchanged foreign currency myself, and (b) I was traveling alone.
Once I was there, I realized what a truly painless process it was.
Whether it’s sailing on a boat for the first time or exchanging foreign currency, there’s only one thing that can help us move past the fear: our will to do so.
How To Be A Less Afraid to Travel — Today
Now, here’s what I want you to do.
Google the “[name of your city/country] news”
First, do it for your city.
Then do it for your country.
Most of my readers are from the U.S., so I’m curious what you’ll find.
Now, imagine people who’ve never been to your area and how they would interpret that news. Do you think they would seem more inclined or interested in visiting your locale?
Look what came up when I Googled news about Tulsa:
A fire, a robbery, and a storm. Yet Tulsa has some awesome museums and cultural spots to visit (just don’t visit during stormy season 😉 ). Would you be able to gather anything interesting about Tulsa based on its news? Probably not.
Now, look what came up when I Googled San Francisco:
A near-accident at an airport. Is this to say flying into San Francisco is unsafe? Of course not! Accidents like these rarely happen. And this is exactly why you saw it in the news.
A man shot in the park? Is this to say San Francisco’s parks are unsafe? No. These things happen, but it doesn’t mean they happen often. Remember that whatever gets reported is what the news outlet deem “newsworthy.”
Finally, check out my hometown, Brooklyn, New York:
It seems pretty unsafe, doesn’t it?
Well, it isn’t. Brooklyn isn’t as crime-ridden as the media makes it out to be. Nearly 3 million people live in Brooklyn alone, not counting the millions who live in the other four boroughs of New York City. With so many people, something’s always happening, but that doesn’t mean it’s less safe. I’ve lived here nearly my entire life.
A rule of thumb: you’ll see or hear about sensationalistic stories first. Or boring pieces that don’t give a lick of an idea of what it’s like to live there.
Do you think the news fairly represents where you come from?
If not, then I think you see where I’m headed with this.
I’m not saying you should discount the news entirely. But what I am saying is not to rely on the news as your only source to see whether you should travel somewhere or not.
In most cases, relying solely on the news will convince you not to travel. That’s a bad thing. Because you might be passing up the opportunity for a potentially life-changing experience.
View the reviews for hotels or accommodation where you’ll stay. Look at the stuff you’d be doing. TripAdvisor is a great resource, and so is Lonely Planet (and a bunch of awesome travel blogs, too!). See where you’d be eating. Look at what people are saying — people who are traveling to places to experience them, not to make news stories out of them.
Paint the bigger picture so your travel fears can melt down. And know this: travel is safer than you think!