Travel with Fear… but Only a Little

Why do I want to talk about traveling with fear? Because for many people traveling is a daunting prospect and many travelers are simply put off by aspects of traveling. I’m here to say that they have a right to travel with fear but only a little. Fear has some purpose and shouldn’t be discounted but like most things, what we fear while traveling is completely wrong. In this post I want to look at why travel is mostly safe, the benefits and cons of traveling with fear and how we can learn to embrace fear.

Show me the stats

Most travelers have some irrational fear of travel and that usually stems from fear of flying. Flying actually is the safest part of anybodies journey with a fatality rate of 1 out of 3.4 million fliers. Even better is if you fly the top airlines rated it’s much lower at 1 out of 10 million fliers. Even better than that is if you only fly in the United States the rate of accident is 1 out of 45 million. In other words, flying has become so reliable that a traveler could fly every day for an average of 123,000 years before being in a fatal crash.

It’s actually the things that travelers don’t think about that put us most at risk. It isn’t airplane accidents or more sensational crimes like terrorism and kidnapping. For the everyday tourist and traveler the things to fear more are everyday things like car accidents, infections, and drowning. In fact we put ourselves in more risk just by doing things like getting into a car, skiing or swimming than we would ever do by stepping on a plane.

Travel with Fear... but Only a Little - Airplane landing in dangerous Tegucigalpa

The reality

The reality is that people are irrational and generally have their fears based in the wrong place. But a bigger question arises, “Is there actually that much to ever fear?” I just told you how safe flying is but what about the more common ways that you could get into trouble while traveling?

There is no doubt that today we live in the best age to travel. Travel today is efficient, fast and generally safer than it has ever been. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any risks. Because a lot of the statistics depend on where you’re traveling to. Traveling to London, UK is not the same as traveling to Somalia. So the first step to care about fearing anything on your trip is to look up where you’re planning to go.

And because we have internet we can research and keep up to date on where it’s generally safe to travel and where it’s generally not safe. First place to start, if you’re American or anybody that wants to know the general world alerts, is the US website for Travel Warnings and Alerts. They keep everybody up to date on the concerns for chances of kidnapping, outbreak of war, serious diseases that are spreading, etc, and should be considered anytime you travel.

I also extensively research on websites like Reddit, Lonely Planet and WikiTravel for basic information. Will I need to get vaccination shots? How safe are the roads? Is the water safe to drink? Where should I travel to and where should I not travel to? What is the culture like and will I be respected? These are questions that everybody should be asking anytime they travel to places that are a concern.

Travel with Fear... but Only a Little - Airstrike in Beirut Lebanon

And for the most part, these warnings will only effect a small portion of the country. It may still be possible to travel to different sections totally unharmed. My suggestion is that you always get vaccinations if you’re entering places that are known to have serious diseases or where hospitals are few and far between. Also don’t bother going into war-torn countries or where outbreak of war is imminent.

Even still this is not the average traveler. Like I said earlier, travelers should be worried about themselves as they are probably their own greatest threat. Tourists die from strange events all the time like drowning, fall off something, and more likely car accidents. If you take a lot more caution, with even these few things, you should be perfectly okay traveling and have about as much of a chance dying on the road than in your home city.

And on top of that, some countries and maps that have dangerous countries listed are actually not dangerous. Like here and here. Some of it is purely political, which all travelers should be warned about, and a lot of it is just hype. For instances, Americans traveling to Iran generally don’t have problems. Even North Korea is possible if you get a guided tour but there are times when Americans and other foreigners have been detained.

Benefits of fear

When I talk about the fear of traveling, are there any benefits to having fear? All through the travel blog world you will find articles written that say while you travel you must let go of your fear. I do believe this sentiment but I think it’s okay and natural to have some fear. This helps you make better decisions and understand the world a little better. It makes you not so naive.

That’s why I advocate people to become educated about the rest of the world and the problems associated with it. As a gay male, I understand that my sexuality is a big deal in many countries across the world but it varies in great degree. On paper Russia wouldn’t be a country I should enter right now but in reality, it could be perfectly fine. As long as I don’t start a movement or kiss a guy in public I should be okay.

But in other cases it gets weird. In UAE people have been arrested simply for holding hands and kissing as while as talking bad about the government online. That is a concern for me that governments could look up my name and see anything that I wrote or criticized about, so in a way I do have to be careful. And that is the case for everybody across the world. We really don’t know who is looking at what and what you say could hurt you. However this is also rare and I haven’t heard many cases of people getting locked up for things they say online, especially foreigners.

Travel with Fear... but Only a Little - Death Road in Bolivia

Also having basic fear of just ordinary things that humans should be fearing. Many tourists become too confident on their travels and get themselves into trouble. My best advice is to follow your gut. If something feels off or fishy, just bail. Get help or walk away from something that doesn’t feel right because it usually isn’t. Ask locals of the current situation because out of all people, they would know. Women have a little more to fear than men because in parts of the world women are treated less than equal, harassed or even raped.

Having basic fear helps tourists cope and understand situations that are new to them. We have our own instincts their for a reason so use them. I think people get this notion while they travel, that everything will be okay because tourist usually don’t know any associated risks with whatever they are doing. Become informed and make your own decisions.

Cons of fear

That being said there are obviously cons of fear. It can be debilitating and make tourists scared to pursue travel. This is also misguided and it’s sad that much of the population still holds beliefs that much of the world is dangerous. The reality is that much of the world is extremely safe and it’s really only a few pockets that need to be avoided.

And man can the human mind be critical and biased. It seems that when we don’t understand something, our minds go to dark places and start fearing mostly the wrong things. Fear is irrational in most cases but it’s part of the human condition. It can be changed but it takes the willing action to do so by society as whole.

Travel with Fear... but Only a Little - Bungee Jumping in Switzerland

And in terms of travel that means many tourists will never set foot to places that are truly wonderful. They will venture only to safe, designated places that they feel meet their standards. There is nothing wrong with that but as a traveler I couldn’t imagine just experiencing those touristy places that everybody goes to. It does take an adventurous traveler to go out and prove that most of the world is not dangerous.

Like I said fear does has its place with humans but humans are very bad are actually fearing what they should fear. Tourists panic over things like flying or terrorism. Yeah they may happen but the likely hood it will happen to you is very very slim. Especially if you’re making smart decisions. A good traveler and one that has traveled for a long time begins realizing that there isn’t much to fear. They becomes less fearful of the world and the people in it. Sure a freak accident could happen but travelers accept that part of travel and don’t worry too much.

Embracing fear

So be a human and travel unbiased. Let go of the ridiculous fears while still retaining some basic normal fears. Essentially travel with fear but only a little. I always tell fellow travelers that you have to adapt yourself to wherever you’re going. If a country has strict strange laws, you better be sure I’m reading up on those laws so I don’t break any of them or I just don’t travel there for the time being.

What also amazes me is how many fellow tourists get themselves into their own mess. Many accidents and mishaps happen when travelers weren’t being careful, following the law or watching their surroundings. Just look at people who have been framed in places like Thailand for drugs. Or the people who have sex on the beach or drink in public in Arab countries that forbid those. Yeah I don’t agree with the law either but it’s their country and you’re not going to win the argument.

Travel with Fear... but Only a Little - Preikestolen Norway

So embrace the fear. Life is already an inherent risk and looking at all the data it’s clear that fear of traveling to most places is truly irrational. Yes there are many notorious places that are dangerous but I’m not telling you that it’s okay to go there. It is rational to have some fears as not everywhere and everything is safe. It is up to you and through research and your own gut; it should be pretty easy to make a good, safe decision.

As someone who has traveled consistently for 20 years now, I have seen both good and bad things. Things to fear and things to not fear. As a traveler you simply learn that everything is a risk. Some things are in your control while others aren’t. It is your job to embrace that fear, throwing all the irrational fear away while keeping common sense. Travel with fear… but only a little.


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images by: robert, enrique, marcus, irene, alex

By | 2015-05-09T12:31:10+00:00 April 2nd, 2015|