Around the time that sharp sticks were still a new invention, fear had a very real and useful purpose, it stopped you from dying. Some things in life we should be scared of: Sabertooth Tigers, Honey Badgers, zombies, insane murderous cannibal hillbillies, I could go on! The point here is that there is a very good evolutionary reason behind why we feel fear. Unfortunately for us, biologically we’ve evolved so slowly that we’re now scared of lots of really silly things too. For example.. flying.. hate it. Every time we take off I go through the 7 stages of grief and come face to face with my own mortality before I eventually accept my impending death. When we land i’m totally back to normal until the next flight where the viscous cycle starts over (connection flights are a real bitch). In an effort to fortify myself for a flight I once followed the lead of a Japanese businessman I sat next to on a flight to Tokyo and ordered 3 whiskies an hour all the way to Singapore, resulting in a 5 hour stopover with the worlds worst hangover. #Fail
Now the funny bit’s out of the way let’s get serious as these fears do affect lots of people day to day. I’ve touched on fear briefly before in a post about quitting my job to travel and most travellers experience some level of fear during or before any long term travel, it’s normal to be apprehensive about the unknown. Irrational fears assault us everyday; apparently more people are scared of public speaking than they are of dying… So ironically, as Jerry Seinfeld pointed out, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy!
Over the last year I have picked the brains of several travellers about the more common fears they experience before or during long term travel. Below are the 3 most common travel fears we all go through each time we kick off a journey.
The fear of leaving things behind
When you travel you leave your whole life behind. Job’s, friends, family, pets, partners, your home, literally everything in your life. What we find is that we ultimately leave behind our comfort zones and feeligns of familiarity. We’re creatures of habit and when we travel our routines get more confused than a cow on astroturf. Leaving these things behind can be hard and there’s often an associated feeling of fear that comes with imagining what will happen to everything we leave behind when we’re gone.
On the flipside always remember that life will go on just fine without you, the earth got on just fine before we were born and will continue to be fine long after we’ll die, things will take care of themselves at home while you’re away and keeping in touch with family and friends has never been easier, not to mention that fact that you’ll make lots of new friends as you go, if you’re open to new things the road can be surprisingly social. The point of travel is to explore new things and have new experiences. In doing so we have to get out of our comfort zones, it’s inevitable and literally the point of exploring in the first place so embrace it and you might even start to enjoy the chaos of a broken routine.
Loss of security
The second most common travel fear is the loss of security we experience when we leave our homes for the road. There are two types of security that we sometimes feel we lose: physical security and financial security. I’ve touched on this before but safety abroad is generally not something travellers need worry about any more than when they’re at home. It is natural to feel more exposed as we travel as we are away from the mental safety nets of familiarity we cast around our homes and our routines but simple common sense should be enough to keep you safe when you travel.
The second kind of security we leave behind (not always but most people will) is financial security. Most people will pause or leave a career for long term travel, unless they are lucky enough to have skills that enable them to make a living remotely (many people do, check the resources page for some great location independent sites). Leaving the security of a steady income can be hard but travel does not have to be overly expensive, also careers can generally just be picked back up where they were left on your return. I wrote a post about cash saving tips which have helped me save serious cash pre-trip in the past, there are also lot’s of really easy ways to reduce your costs abroad which should help, here are some quick solutions for easing the financial burden while abroad:
- Work at your hostel for cheaper (or free) accommodation
- Stay with local people or Couchsurf
- Use one of the many working abroad sites like WorkAway to find viable work
- WWOOF it up!
- Rent out your house on AirBnB
- Don’t buy souvenirs and live with minimalism in mind
- Set and stick to a daily budget
Fear of the unknown
Almost all other fears we experience in life can be lumped in some part under the banner of being afraid of the unknown. You might be afraid of meeting new people, getting lost, robbed, abandoned by your travel companion, be afraid that the a destination won’t live up to your expectations even, or scared of any number of other issues about your arrival, the unknown permeates every choice we make. Not knowing the outcome of something creates the chaos of our lives that also make them interesting. Knowing the answer to every choice set before us would make for a horrible existence without wonder or hope.
The notion of the exploring the unknown is quite literally the point of travel, if you knew your destination like you do your hometown would you even bother going there? It’s the unknown that excites as well as frightens us, it’s the unknown that drives the explorer in us to try new things. These daily decisions are the driving force behind many of our actions and the reason that getting out of bed in the morning opens up new doors of possibility each day.
Luckily (or not, if that’s your thing) for us in 2012, the majority of the world has already been discovered, mapped, written about, photographed etc.. we don’t need to risk life and limb by venturing into the heart of darkness anymore. If i’m feeling apprehensive before I get to a new destination I’ll try and learn as much as I can about it before I arrive, I absorb guides, travel blogs and as much general info about a destination as I need to put any fears about the destination to rest. The other strategy to adapt to the unknown is to literally just go with the flow and embrace the chaos, learning to live with the open possibilities of not having a daily routine can be rewarding and who knows, you might even learn to enjoy it.
“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.” – Friedrich Nietzsche