There many varied reasons why people can’t/don’t travel. I think many of them are variations on the same theme – fear.
People are scared. Scared of the unknown, scared of failing, scared of looking foolish, scared of deep water, scared of snakes, scared of heights, scared of being robbed, scared of not knowing anybody, scared of not knowing the language. Scared of getting out of their comfort zone.
Fear generates lots of excuses and people are really good at finding ways to chicken out.
Admit that it is fear holding you back.
So many people don’t even realise that they are being boxed in by their fears. The fear is so ever-present in their mind, so reinforced by people around them that share the same fears, that many people never question their perceptions and simply accept them to be true.
It is so easy to pass fear off as something else. Responsibility, being normal, whatever.
We don’t like to admit that we are afraid. I certainly don’t. When I had my first skiing lesson, I was nervous about going down one of the slopes and was hesitating. An instructor came over to me.
“Are you nervous of going down the slope?” he asked me kindly
“No” – automatic response
It might not be flattering to realise or admit, but many of our actions are driven at least in part by fear.
Identify what you are afraid of.
Many times when I hear something and feel scared or nervous, I feel a shiver of fear in my chest and usually I’m not immediately aware of what exactly it is I’m afraid of.
It is almost impossible to beat something that is nameless, faceless and intangible.
If it is some unknown enigma, some unidentified object – then it is much more likely for the fear to control you, rather than you control it. And really, do you want some nameless faceless fear to control your life?
So sit down and reflect, talk to a sensible person you trust, read inspirational material, make lists, write out a journal, express your thoughts in an artistic medium; whatever you need to think it through, to process it.
Identify it, name it, quantify it. Beat it.
Now that you know what it is you are afraid of. Research it.
Google it. Yahoo it. Go to the Library. Ask people who have actually been there and can give you a real first hand account. Before asking them, do make sure that they are also known not to be drama queens, doomsday preachers or perpetual whinges. Some people never seem to have a good opinion of anything.
As you research, try to keep in mind biases and that the media will often sensationalise things in order to sell. One time the bias stuck out to me was when the Twin Towers were destroyed. Everyone was reassured that New York was safe and that they could travel there. It wouldn’t happen again. When Bali was bombed – it was reported as dangerous and people were told to stay away. Why was one place different from the other?
Ask yourself is this a logical fear? Does it speak of good life preservation tendencies? Or is it simply scary because it is new? Because it is not ordinary for people in your little corner of the globe?
When I was about nine, I did a project on Japan. I was amazed that they ate grasshoppers there. It seemed like such a coolly weird thing. They actually eat insects? Looking back, I’m quite amused. Vast parts of the world eat many different types of insects. In fact there are probably more people who eat insects than there are those who don’t. In my little corner of the world however, it was/is never done.
Most fears are somewhat based in logic, or at least look like they could be logical; enough that if they aren’t properly examined then you could pass them off as actual solid reasons.
If you really look at them, many tend to be flimsy and not well thought out.
Scared of snakes? Well on the surface this is logical. They bite, many are poisonous and they are often small enough to crop up in unexpected places. But is it really a good reason for not travelling?
Quite apart from the fact that places like Ireland, New Zealand and many Pacific Islands don’t have snakes at all – how many people are killed each year by snake bites? And how many each year are killed in car crashes?
If you won’t travel because of the danger snakes pose, by that same logic you must never walk down a street in any city or town and never drive a car or be a passenger in one.
Might get murdered/ robbed/ raped? Check out the statistics in your home city and other cities in your home country and compare them to other places.
Statistical studies have shown that the chances of being raped by someone you don’t know verses someone you do are negligible.
So look at your fears research them and consider whether or now they truly make sense outside of your head.
Do they hold up with logical reasoning and information? Are they firmly grounded in reality?
Or have you just assumed something? Have you heard something second or third hand and accepted it as true?
Have you heard one or two horrible stories (hello biased media) and not taken into account how many good stories there are that simply won’t sell newspapers or make cool shocking gossipy stories?
Deal with your fear.
Ha ha, easier said than done.
I think that fears tend to fall into three main areas.
Category 1: Excuses
This category is mostly made up of fear generated excuses. Millions of little reasons to chicken out; to duck your head and let life/existence and routine get in the way. Like dangerous animals (I mentioned snakes above), or ‘I don’t speak the language.’
There are many strategies to help deal with these small difficulties. They are not at all reasons to not travel.
Start finding ways to manage these, and get around them. They are either genuine obstacles to work around, or pure excuses made of straw and should be puffed away and thrown out with the garbage.
Have children? Ok – valid obstacle, it will take more work, but it should not stop you.
Feel that it is not safe to travel alone? – two words: Bull sh*t.
Category 2: Deep Personal Specific Fears
You might have a deep morbid fear of something. These I think are especially difficult to overcome. I’ve been lucky enough not to have one, but lots of people I know do.
If you have a fear like this then consider counselling to help you deal with it. Do you really want it to control your life?
Most of these are again not logical or reasonable. Unfortunately emotion is not based on reason. Life would be so much simpler if it was.
Of course it might also be more boring. (I’m such a devil’s advocate)
My mother does not like deep water at all and has a deep fear of sharks. It is not entirely logical (most fears aren’t), but it is always there for her. However I am proud to report that she managed to deal with it enough to go swimming with the whales in Tonga and enjoy doing it.
Another great example for facing extreme personal fears is Torre De Roche. Despite a deep fear of the ocean, she sailed in a little boat across the entire Pacific Ocean. Her story is truly inspiring and she’s a brilliant writer.
Of course you can also try to travel without confronting this fear. If you are scared of flying: take a boat. If you are scared of deep water: take a plane. If you are scared of both: depending on where you live, you could only use trains and buses.
Do you really want to limit yourself that way?
Category 3: The Deeper Base Fears
Fear of the unknown
Fear of failure
Fear of looking foolish
These are the big three. These are what often generate that nameless shiver of fear, make you retreat from ideas without giving them a chance, cause you to build a nice neat bubble around yourself and stay in it while generating category 1 excuses to make you feel better about yourself. They also help fuel many fears in category 2.
They are insidious, always there, always lurking in some form or other in everybody.
Again getting counselling may help you work through it, but like with everything worth while; it’s ultimately down to you.
Don’t let your life be defined by hiding behind walls of fear. This is your life; it is precious; live to your full potential.
Fear of the unknown
I get this a lot. Despite loving new things and getting stir crazy, and after a while getting kind of depressed if I don’t travel – the unknown scares me. It excites me as well, but the anxiety is not the all happy excited type.
I tend to deal with this by doing copious amounts of research, because then it is not so unknown anymore is it?
I search forums, blogs and travel websites. I read articles, personal stories and experiences. The Rickshaw Run for example. As soon as I heard about it I wanted to do it. The idea caught my imagination and took like fire to the Australian outback. I fully plan to do it. It sounds hard, exciting challenging, tough and awesome.
But the thought of driving a Rickshaw/Tuk tuk from one end of India to the other scares me on many levels from the crazy roads, to bandits, to those truly awful rape stories that have come out of India in the last couple of years.
Again it is about putting it in perspective. Lots of people participate in the Rickshaw Run and are fine. I should not focus on the bad stories.
I could just as easily get raped at home. Many women are.
Although it will be a while until I do it with all the other plans I have, I’ve already started saving any advice I find on the internet in a word document to prepare.
It includes many things from spare cable ties to face masks for pollution to pepper spray.
Fear of Failure
Me again totally. I almost didn’t start this blog for fear of failure. I thought that blogging sounded fun I’d get to write about travel (my biggest obsession) and give everyone the knowledge and advice I had banged my head against a wall to find, all in one place. It might even one day allow help me to travel full-time if I was lucky.
So I bought a self hosted site. Installed WordPress and joined Travel Blogging Success.
For two years straight I did nothing.
Part of it can be put down to being stupid enough to try to start such a project while in my last year of university studying something like Genetics and Biochemistry.
After that? Part of it can be put down to post exam exhaustion.
After that? Part of it can be put down to adjusting to a new job that I had no experience in and a new country I’d never been to before.
After that? They are all somewhat valid reasons, but the excuses have to stop somewhere.
The above reasons are all partially true, but the circumstances are never ever going to be perfect. If you wait for the perfect time to do something, that intangible time when you know everything and it’s perfect – that time will never come.
I was scared. Scared of failure.
But if you don’t try things, if you don’t give it your best shot because you are scared to try – what type of failure is that?
Fear of looking Foolish
This is me to a slightly lesser extent than the others. I was raised by a mother with a largely ‘devil may care’ attitude and I am like her in many ways.
This fear is growing less and less for me as I move more fully out of my hyper embarrassed teenage years, and even then I mostly could not be bothered keeping up with the status quo; even if it made me an outsider.
‘Shave my legs? No I can’t be bothered’ (I still never have)
‘Drink this alcohol? I sipped it, but it tastes gross; I don’t think I’ll bother. Give me the chocolate.’
What I did do however was grow to hate answering the phone, buying things in petrol stations and asking directions. I don’t really know exactly why. I keep on trying to find some reason for this to have started, but I can’t find one. I was just scared of looking foolish, and inadvertently was a far greater fool.
So whatever you are afraid of, whatever form your fear takes – know that you are not the only person who feels this way and that if you put your mind to it; you can beat it.
That sounds kind of trite, but I honestly believe it to be true.
So many people let their fears box them in. They build barriers for themselves; have self-imposed restrictions for how they live their life and don’t leave their precious comfort zones of mediocrity and boring.
When you are old, and are looking back at your life, what do you want to see?
Don’t let your fears stop you.