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…
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).
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.
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).
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.