Fear of Travel – Don’t Let It Stop You From Seeing the World

by Dave on May 24, 2011 · 20 comments

A few of my fellow bloggers have recently written about overcoming one’s fear of travel, so I thought it an apropos time to share my experiences through 34 years, and 34 countries.

Let’s go back in time to the very beginning…

Waiting to get a bed at Bob's Youth Hostel in Amsterdam

Waiting to get a bed at Bob's Youth Hostel in Amsterdam.

1998 – Backpacking in Europe

It wasn’t even my idea at the time. Three of my best friends and college roommates were going to spend two months in Europe after graduation. I started to feel like the odd man out, and decided I wanted to go too.

Fear of Travel #1 – Telling My Parents

The biggest fear with this trip was breaking the news to my parents that their newly minted college graduate of a son was about to run around Europe with his friends instead of look for a job.

I knew this was an age old tradition, and hoped my Mom would appreciate where I was coming from as she’d traveled a fair bit in her 20′s as well.  I broke the news to them, and while I can’t recall the details, it all worked out fine.

Within a few month of returning home, I started working at a company I’d continue to be with for the next 3 1/2 years.

Fear of Travel #2 – Traveling Solo

While I was having the time of my life visiting the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, and sipping red wine in Venice, my friends were talking of home within the first 7 days.  I could hardly believe it. Two of them missed their girlfriends, and one was worried about money.

Neither was an issue for me, so I resolved to continue traveling as planned for the full 7 weeks.  Until then we’d been together almost 24/7, but it was clear we had different priorities.  I would suggest the Medici Palace in Florence, and my friends preferred to read in the hostel.

Our time together gave me a chance to learn the backpacking ropes, and when it came time to say goodbye, I remained in Florence as everyone else started to make their way back to Paris for flights home. Standing in the hostel dorm room, I was alone for only a few minutes before I remember striking up a conversation with another traveler about punk music. And then before I knew it, I was out to dinner with a huge group of backpackers from the hostel.

And ever since then, I’ve known traveling solo doesn’t have to mean you do everything by yourself (actually, it’s quite the opposite).

Great Pyramids in Giza

In 2008, I finally made it to Egypt, 7 years after I initially planned to go.

2001 – Egypt and the 9/11 Attacks

I’d been working hard, but not earning a lot at that first job. Travel took a back seat to buying a shiny new Volkswagen Jetta. Before I knew it, I was in my mid 20′s without another international trip (beyond a snowboarding vacation in British Colombia).  Through the internet, I booked a cheap package trip to Egypt for early October 2011.

Fear of Travel #3 – Terrorism and Civil Unrest

Then the 9/11 attacks happened. I had to decide if I should continue on my trip to the Middle East, or cancel. I knew at the time to cancel out of fear alone would be silly. I knew it.  But with daily images on the news of the Twin Towers burning, and my parents advising against it, I cancelled anyways.

The decision was aided by the fact that Delta cancelled their service to Cairo, at least for a short time, and therefore I got a full refund on the airfare. I lost a few hundred dollars after cancelling the tour. Trip cancellation coverage, such as you get with Good2Go might’ve prevented that too.

What bothered me for years to follow was the knowledge that I let my fears govern my behavior. It’s a slippery slope once you start allowing that to happen, and I’ve tried hard not to let it happen since.

Hotel room on Phuket

The small but comfortable hotel room where I spent 10 days in bed.

2007 – Around the World Trip

In my mid twenties I decided to make up for lost time with an epic, 12+ month trip around the world.

Fear of Travel #4 – I’ll Run Out of Money Before My Trip is Over

I spent 5 1/2 years paying off credit card debts and saving enough money to the point where I felt I could last 12 months or more, without having to work overseas.

Ultimately, there’s no way around the fear that you’ll run out of money too soon. You have to set a savings goal based on your best estimations and online research, and then go when you reach it. Otherwise, it’s too easy to keep saving, and never actually do the difficult things required to take off on a long term trip (tell your family, quit your job, sell/store your stuff).

As it turned out, I had enough money to travel for 15 months through 21 countries. I didn’t get to go everywhere I wanted, but show me a traveler who ever does.

Fear of Travel #5 – Rare Tropical Diseases & Falling Ill on the Road

I’m a recovering hypochondriac. I use to (and still sometimes do) blow symptoms out of proportion, and as a result, get myself worked up over nothing.

Planning a trip to exotic locations around the world, from the comfort of home, makes this all the more easy to do. Who hasn’t read the story of the guy who contracted weird tropical worms while living in the jungles of Borneo? Fear of illness or injury is one fear I know many others share as well.

During my trip around the world, I had the occasional cold or aches and pains from a trek, but luckily, serious health issues were not a problem. The exception was my stay on Phuket, which was meant to only last a few days, but turned into a two-week ordeal.

The short version is I had a medium strength headache and fever, and after numerous trips to pharmacies and doctors, never really knew the cause. Some kind of infection. Meanwhile I was bedridden with what I can best describe as an extreme case of lethargy. I simply had no energy. Toward the end, I started to suspect mononucleosis, and considered flying halfway around the world to be back home in the US until I felt better.

But I was stubborn. I got a second opinion from a different doctor who spoke better English. Within a few days of his treatment (which involved a shot of cortisone to my behind), I was on the move again.

It was one of the scariest moments of my trip, being alone and bedridden, wondering what was wrong with me. In the end, I’m proud I didn’t let my fear drive me to do something extreme, like booking a flight home (which is not to say that under different circumstances, that wouldn’t have been the prudent course of action, and potentially covered by one’s international travel insurance).

Overcoming the fear of travel in Medellin, Colombia

Paragliding in the mountains above Medellin, Colombia

2009 – Travel and Living in Colombia

I received more than a few cocaine and kidnapping jokes when I shared my plans to visit Colombia with friends and family. I’d wanted to go since talking to a Swiss backpacker in Costa Rica way back in 2005. He said it was safe (at least as safe as any other Latin country) and beautiful.

I wanted to go because nobody else was talking about it, let alone thinking of the country as a “must see” destination in South America.

Fear of Travel #6 – Going Off the Beaten Track

Admittedly, I was a bit apprehensive about traveling to cities I’d only heard of in the context of car bombings and Hollywood movies about narco-trafficking, but I purposefully wanted to face that fear head on.

In early 2009, I touched down in Bogota, and took a taxi from the airport to a university student’s apartment where I’d be couchsurfing my first week. Walking into her apartment, I immediately saw The Simpsons on TV, and the two girls using their laptops with Wi-Fi internet. My too-embarrassing-to-mention stereotypes of life in Colombia shattered in an instant.

And when I got to Medellin, it was all over for me. The city was one of the most beautiful I’d seen in all my travels, the climate was perfect, and the streets were full of the life. I pushed through my fear, and the fears of many others on my behalf, and found them to be paper thin.

Now in my thirties and looking back, I’ve learned pushing through one’s fear of travel is like exercising a muscle.

The more you do it, the stronger you become.

______________

This was a sponsored post, which enables me to continue bringing you entertaining travel stories and practical travel trips from around the world.

About the Author:

is the author of 1727 posts on Go Backpacking.

Dave is Editor and Founder of Go Backpacking and Medellin Living, and the Co-founder of Travel Blog Success. Follow him on Twitter @rtwdave or Google+

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20 Comments

Mia May 25, 2011 at 9:15 am

This is one of the bests posts I’ve read about traveling. Truly this is an inspirational post! The feeling that I have after reading this is that I want to stand up and start a trip – can’t wait to plan my next holiday!

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Dave May 25, 2011 at 8:59 pm

Awesome Mia, that’s the best response I could hope for!

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Jeronullet May 25, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Superb post Dave!  I am forwarding this to my younger brother in hopes that he will feel better about international travel.  Thank you so much!

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Dave May 25, 2011 at 8:56 pm

Wow, thanks! If it helps just one person feel more comfortable with the idea of traveling overseas, I’ve succeeded. :)

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Amanda Patterson May 27, 2011 at 11:54 pm

Wow, couldn’t have stumbled upon this post at a more perfect time! I just booked a trip to Ecuador. Frankly, after a few shakey experiences in Brazil four years ago, the prospect of returning to South America has scared me a little more than I should be but it felt really, really great to just “exercise my muscle” and buy the flight. Thanks for the inspiration!

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Dave May 28, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Awesome Amanda. I know what you mean about Ecuador….being in Colombia the last few years, I’ve heard a ton of stories about people getting robbed there, yet I feel it’d be a shame to skip the country altogether as a result. We just have to do our best to play it safe if we want to see new places.

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Alouise May 31, 2011 at 5:15 am

“The more you do it, the stronger you become.”

Love that. It was great to read about how you were able to conquer your fears. I think often things seem scarier on the outside looking in. I had a lot of people wonder how I could have travelled to London and New York alone. But to be honest, once you get in the situation you figure things out, and it doesn’t seem so scary. When fear motivates you to go forward it can be a good thing.

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The Spain Scoop - Reg May 31, 2011 at 4:08 pm

i agree with a lot of what you’ve mentioned above. it’s amazing what we will or won’t do because of fear!

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Marquita Herald June 5, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Wow – your post made my feet itch! I spent nearly 30 years working in the travel industry, the last third of that more outside the US than in. I grew to love exploring out of the way places, and while I tried a couple of times to share the adventure with friends (and once, only once with my EX-husband) I knew I’d become a seasoned solo-traveler. Your article brought back a lot of memories, and reminded me it’s time to get outside my comfort zone once again. Thank you!

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Dave June 5, 2011 at 11:30 pm

Hi Marquita, thanks for your wonderful feedback!

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Kristin June 7, 2011 at 3:28 am

Such a great post! I love how you wove in your fears with your travel biography. Isn’t it interesting how the fears are so unfounded. I used to fear running out of money all the time until I looked back and realized a) I never ran out and b) there was always a way to earn more just at the right time. Thank you so much for sharing!

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Joya June 14, 2011 at 5:15 am

Such a good restrospective. I recently experienced the fear of traveling solo but just came back from my first solo trip and I’m glad I did it and faced a challenge.

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Dave June 15, 2011 at 2:50 am

Thanks Joya — I think if people can beyond their own fears at home and take a solo trip, they’ll quickly find there’s so much else going on logistically that there’s not a lot of time to actually worry about the things that concerned them at home. :)

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Matt June 28, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Great post!  I know that I really struggle with the whole money issue.  I’ve found myself saying “If I reach $X I’ll go.”  And then wehn I reach $X there is an excuse waiting on why I now need $Y.  While I think planning the financial aspect is necessary at some point you just have to do it and deal with any fallout on the road.

Having gotten seriously ill while traveling health issues is my #2 biggest concern, especially when it comes to my kids.  I couldn’t eat food I didn’t cook myself for the longest time.  But the truth is you can get sick anywhere at any time.  I’ll take my chances.

I forget where I heard it but someone said something along the lines of “You shoudl always do the thing that scares you the most.”  I think this post shows that doing so paid off well for you.  Cheers!

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Dave June 28, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Thanks Matt, as a bit of a hypochondriac, I use to get a lot more worried about small health issues on the road. But I’d do the same thing when I was living in Virginia too, so I’ve just learned to control my anxieties better, wherever I am.

I agree, do the things that scare you and you’ll grow as a person much faster than if you let fear control your life.

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Dave June 28, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Thanks Matt, as a bit of a hypochondriac, I use to get a lot more worried about small health issues on the road. But I’d do the same thing when I was living in Virginia too, so I’ve just learned to control my anxieties better, wherever I am.

I agree, do the things that scare you and you’ll grow as a person much faster than if you let fear control your life.

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RobertoSoto October 17, 2011 at 9:26 pm

What a wonderfull life! I am very interested in how you got this job from the first beginning coz I wish to have a work like this in the future, maybe at the age of 35 or so.

Nothing can stop our traveling if you are brave enough to see the world, an old Chinese saying says, ‘life is valuable, love is more precious but if we talk about freedom, none of the above compares with it’, I think travel is one of the ways that people searching for freedom and more experiences in life.

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Tina September 5, 2012 at 9:38 am

Love this post. Thanks for being honest. For me, I fear gettting mugged or losing my wedding rings…even in cities in America. Here is how I am standing up to my fears: I try to travel with a man (who would hopefully protect me) and I wear a ring wrapper over my rings so they won’t fall off.

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Jaryd Krause March 1, 2013 at 6:45 am

This is a really great blog Dave, I loved reading it as I felt as though you were writing my feelings down and this Is exactly what people should realize about traveling. Its to easy to stay in one place and be comfortable, but once you get out there, it gets easier and easier the more you do it, not only that but you will be so grateful you took those first steps, which leads to the most amazing experiences. I am glad you have succeeded and are living your dream.

Cheers

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Dave March 1, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Thanks Jaryd, glad you enjoyed it!

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