Why Most Travel Fears Are Ridiculous

Last week I had a conversation about travel with someone who had never left the country before. I asked her if she ever thought about traveling abroad and she said she would love to except there was a big problem holding her back. Her big problem was that she wasn’t a good swimmer.

I’m sure you’re wondering what she meant by that. I was too. So after a little more prodding I found out that she was referring to the Italian luxury cruise liner that sank a few months ago. She was afraid of taking a cruise and ending up in a similar situation where she would be in danger because of her inability to swim.

Traveling Fears

Obviously the chances of being involved in a cruise liner crash like the recent Italian one is astronomically low. I admit that her fear is rather extreme since almost no one would say that they can’t travel for such an outrageous reason. However, I’m using this story to illustrate just how irrational many fears about travel really are.

Before I go further, I want to clarify that some ostensibly ridiculous fears are actually very real. Many phobias such as Halitophobia (fear of bad breath) and Heliophobia (fear of sunlight) can seem strange to outsiders, but to the people experiencing them they can be a serious problem. These fears are very real and are often caused by traumatic experiences.

In contrast, many fears about traveling are based upon media exposure and come from a complete lack of understanding about danger. To illustrate this further, I’m going to go over some of the more common fears.

Crime

One of the biggest fears about traveling is crime. And I admit that crime is a concern for me while traveling. It certainly can happen so you have to keep yourself safe. But some people take this fear way too far.

A few years ago I told people that I was planning a trip to Nicaragua. I was completely surprised by the number of objections I received about traveling there because of the crime rate.

Like a good traveler, I researched the country and discovered that Nicaragua is actually one of the safest countries in Central America. I went there despite the resistance and felt completely safe the entire time. People were judging the country’s crime rate on what they thought was true instead of what it actually was.

Most countries are not as dangerous as they appear. In the entire world I would consider maybe only 3-4 of them as places too dangerous to travel. The rest of the world is safe as long as you use common sense and don’t take any unnecessary chances.

Terrorism

I’ve heard some people cite terrorism as a big concern when they decide where and when to travel. However, I think it depends on the events going on in the world and the country in question. The less prominent terrorism is in the news, the less likely you’ll hear it being used as a reason not to travel.

Terrorism shouldn’t be a reason not to travel somewhere. The chances of being involved in an airborne terrorist attack are one in 10,408,947. You’re twenty times more likely to be hit by lightning.

Disease

It’s always a good thing to check out the diseases you might face while traveling. You don’t want to catch malaria, dysentery or typhoid while enjoying your travels. However, you can preempt a lot of these diseases by getting immunization shots. If you keep clean and avoid dirty water, you’ll immensely decrease your likelihood of catching anything.

Dangerous Animals

Believe it or not, but I’ve heard many people cite dangerous animals as a reason not to travel somewhere. Many people were concerned about my trip to Guatemala because of a number of dangerous snakes. A friend of mine had people expressing concern about traveling through Africa because of various dangerous animals there such as snakes, spiders and crocodiles.

It’s always good to familiarize yourself with dangerous animals local to the country you’re seeing. However, the chances of being injured or killed by a dangerous animal are extremely low. In fact, many of these animals can only be seen if you purposely seek them out.

What Is There To Be Afraid Of?

In all these cases, a little common sense can go a long way. Before you travel, familiarize yourself with what type of crime happens there, avoid any dangerous-looking animals, be aware of your surroundings and don’t take any unnecessary chances. Using common sense and a little bit of preparation can make other travel fears such as the fear of getting lost or losing your money a little less likely too.

So what should you actually be afraid of while traveling? Traffic. The number one killer of Americans traveling abroad is traffic accidents. Most of these occur in low to middle income countries where automobiles are relatively new.

Even then there are many common sense things you can do to keep yourself safe. Always wear your seat belt and avoid drinking and driving. Familiarize yourself with the country’s traffic rules. Be very careful while crossing intersections since many drivers ignore traffic signals.

I find it funny that no one has ever expressed traffic as their fear for traveling. Above everything else, this should be your biggest safety concern while abroad. You should always be aware of the other things listed here, but they aren’t as likely to hurt you as a traffic accident is.

If there is one thing you should take away from all this it is that common sense should be your guide. If you have enough of it to keep you safe at home, you have enough of it to keep you safe while traveling. You shouldn’t let anything get between you and traveling the world. Not even irrational fears.
photo credit: mrhayata

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Comments

  1. Steven Fekete says:

    Starting in July my soon-to-be wife and I will be leaving for a 3 to 5 month backpacking honeymoon through Europe. This is, obviously, a very involved trip and neither of us has traveled this extensively before. The trip will consist of us carrying all of our belongings with us in backpacks and staying in Hostels or camping. It has been interesting to see the fear-mongering that has begun in the people around us. People taking advantage of backpackers, people cutting open backpacks and stealing your stuff while your walking down the street, mugging backpackers. It, for the most part, hasn’t really caused much fear in us. It will be interesting, however, to be over there and see what life really is like.

    Do you have any experience with this sort of thing?

    • Hi Steven,

      Yeah, I’ve backpacked all over the world. Several years ago I took several months off to backpack through Asia. I heard a lot of people tell me about the dangers too, but for the most part it was overblown.

      Can something bad happen to you? Of course. No place is 100% safe. The fact is that you can get mugged or have something stolen here at home too, but you don’t hear people constantly warning you about those dangers.

      As far as Europe is concerned, I’ve only so far been to Ireland, but I’m actually heading to England and France next month. I’ve heard a lot of travelers talk about the hostels and camps there and it all seems pretty safe.

      Listen to your gut and use some common sense, it will be unlikely that something bad will happen to you. If something or someone seems a little shady, it’s probably best to stay away. Also frequently check the consular section of your embassy on the internet to get updates on potential travel dangers.

      You might also consider using a Pac-safe. It’s basically a chain link webbed bag that goes over your backpack that helps prevent theft. I used them on my first backpacking trip and it put my mind at ease. If that’s something you’re interested in, you can buy them online.

  2. Hey Steve,

    I’ve had a lot of conversations like this, myself. I find that people will come up with all kinds of reasons to avoid traveling, but what it usually really comes down to is that they are afraid that they won’t be able to handle it. They won’t speak the language, they don’t understand that it’s not really that hard to communicate and get the basics in foreign countries, etc. It’s a huge unknown and that scares them. The other reasons are usually just excuses.

    The wonderful thing is that if someone like that does end up traveling and manages to keep an open mind (and doesn’t ruin the whole thing with constant negative expectations), they will realize that it’s not nearly as hard as they thought it would be and THAT often gives them the confidence to tackle other fears in their lives. Suddenly, nothing seems as overwhelming. They realize that they may have blown the risks of other endeavors out of proportion, too. After all, if they can backpack through Africa, what else can they do?

    That said, you can’t push people into traveling if they’re not ready. They’ll just complain the whole time and will attract negative experiences to themselves.

    I love to travel myself. I generally feel safe, but I do take precautions. I may cover my blonde hair in some areas to avoid the hassle, may not go out at night by myself and of course, I never carry a lot of cash or my passport, etc. These are traveling basics and just plain common sense. I’ve never had a seriously bad experience. I’ve gotten ill and had to go to the emergency room in France. It was actually eye-opening in terms of health care standards. I’ve mastered the art of point and grunt communication and found that a humble demeanor and a smile will get you very far. The world is such a beautiful, diverse and amazing place. I’m grateful that I’m not too afraid to explore it. :)

    Huge hugs!
    Melody

    • Hey Melody,

      I think you’re right about the fear of the unknown. If you don’t know what is out there, all you can do is think of the potential danger. As you go out into the world and see that it isn’t as dangerous as you thought, you’ll start to change your mind. And you’re right about how travel builds confidence in other areas. I can look back on the traveling I’ve done and see how it is has built up my confidence in many areas of my life. Combine that with good experiences and you have some great reasons to travel more.

      I’ve heard about the extra difficulty of blonde women traveling through some countries. I heard one blonde girl talking about traveling through Egypt and she was stared at. Similarly a friend of mine with reddish hair got stared at in China. If you can just take it with stride, you’ll be ok.

      That’s a crazy experience you had in France. I’ve never been ill enough to have to go to the hospital. Although my wife got bit by a bug in Costa Rica and her had swelled a little. With just a bit of anti-biotics it went away.

      The world really is a beautful and fun place. I’m grateful for not being afraid to explore it either.

  3. I find that sometimes those experiences only make the trip more memorable. I have been to 45 countries now…I can’t swim, have been robbed in Spain, chased by elephants in Africa, salmonella poisoning in Peru, and sprained an ankle and passed out in Paris. I’m still smiling and travelling after all that. It always makes a fun conversational topic too.

    • You make a great point. Sometimes the things that go wrong can create some memorable experiences. It’s like when my wife and I went through the Nicaragua/Costa Rica border. It was scary, but we both look back on it fondly and laugh.

      That’s interesting that you were robbed in Spain. One of my relatives was mugged there too. Considering that he has basically been traveling non-stop for the past 20 years and they only took a few dollars, it wasn’t that bad. And now he has a great story to tell.

      • And how is that point great in anyway? You’re one step close to death at that point. Why would anyone(with a sane mind at least) would want to experience that kind of BS?

  4. This is a very interesting topic. Fear is a very limiting emotion.We always feel comfortable with that which we know and can control. And traveling especially to a different country can be nerve racking.

    Somehow, in order to name the fear of the unknown. We may give it a name. Like your friend said that she can’t travel because she can’t swim. However, when I think about it. What are people really afraid of?

    If you friend is in a cruise liner and it sank. She can’t swim so what she is really afraid is dying. Crime, terrorism, diseases and dangerous animals at their worst can lead to loss of life. The fear that comes with traveling is that people think they will lose something that they can’t get back…their life.

    Like you have clearly shown most of the traveling fears are sadly uncalled for. But with baby steps I feel that someone can be able to overcome that fear. Living in the comfort zone sometimes is not exciting.

    When we travel we breathe new life in our systems. The backpacking honeymoon Steven above is going to sounds like such an awesome idea. Traveling is fun when we let it be :)

    • You make really great points here. The biggest underlying fear is probably the loss of life. It’s this big loss that makes people reluctant to travel abroad. It’s still strange to me that the biggest killer of people traveling is traffic yet no one is scared of it. I guess many fears are really just irrational.

      It’s true that traveling to another country can be nerve racking, but it’s good to put those fears into perspective. Often they really aren’t the things you should really be scared of.

  5. I think more and more it comes down to basically if you live your life according to what you hear in the increasingly hyped media, you’re not living your life at all.

    I have a friend who lived with his parents for years and is quite reclusive because his main exposure to the outside world was what he saw on television. He would be terrified of even getting on the local bus!

    Obviously there are dangers in the world, but we need to keep things in perspective via ‘real’ social activity (rather than via the media & our own internal dialogue)…

    just my 3 pence (I was going to say 2 but then I added a little more…)

    • Hey Alan, I think some people do seem to live their life by what they see and hear in the media. While I do think the media plays an important role such as transferring information and keeping people up to date on things, they do sometimes overdramatize events. You’re right that we just need to keep things in perspective to make sure it doesn’t make us think the world is completely dangerous. Otherwise we’ll end up like your friend who is scared of even getting on the bus.

  6. Steve,
    you are so right about fears and phobias. I know someone whose son has Aspergers. He has special needs and will only eat chicken nuggets. Granted his mom gives him tofu nuggets and he thinks they are chicken nuggets but that’s not the point. Anywaays, i asked if he would like to come visit us in France and he replied No because France doesn’t have chicken nuggets. He didn’t believe me. I was floored that his fear of not finding nuggets would stop him from doing anything. Come to find out this fear of eating anything else other than nuggets is a real issue.

    That’s it!.
    Just had to share

    • Annie, that’s an unusual story. I’ve never heard of someone not willing to travel somewhere because there were no chicken nuggets. I wonder if he would have come if they brought chicken nuggets with them? I guess it shows that just about anything can be an issue for traveling.

  7. Crime and deseases are the most feared by most travellers.

    • Yeah, it’s true that crime and diseases are the big fears for travelers. They should always be something to be aware of, but in the big picture, they aren’t that scary. Traffic is still the biggest threat.

  8. A few years ago I went with my friend out to California. Her list of fears included: sharks, earthquakes, and luggage getting lost. But then again she tends to worry more in her regular life anyways, so I guess it wasn’t that much of a stretch.

    I think it’s also a fear of the unknown, I was really nervous the first time I flew on a plane by myself, but then once I knew what to expect I didn’t fear it again. It really is about taking the leap and learning that most of your fears were unfounded.

    • Hey Miranda, I think if you were to trace all of these fears down to their route core, it probably would be a fear of the unknown. Even though traffic is such a threat, people are used to it and know it so well that it isn’t an unknown. Familiarity is probably the biggest reason why no one sees it as something to be aware of.

      So the best way to stop being so fearful is to just get out there and get to know everything first hand. Maybe you could push your friend to swim in the water so she’ll know there are no shark dangers.

  9. Reading this I realized that I’ve never thought that many people’s fear of traveling is what is holding them back. I can believe it, though. I’m American and since in America most people only get 1 or 2 weeks vacation per year and it’s so expensive to leave the country since going most anywhere else in the world requires flying I’ve always counted these reasons as the chief reasons that Americans don’t travel abroad.

    Travel to Middle Eastern countries in particular is especially affected by the fear mentality, which is a shame. As I’ve said for a long time I feel and am so safe traveling through and living in the Middle East (I’m currently living in Israel and have lived in Egypt and the U.A.E.) that when I go back home I think I’m really going to be annoyed by people asking me “but isn’t it dangerous?” “weren’t you afraid?” Life in the Middle East is very peaceful, and there’s no good reason to be afraid of traveling to most countries here. I think it will be a long time, if ever, that this region is on the travel radars of most Americans, though.

    • Hey Sabina, I think if anyone proves that the world is safe for travelers it is you. You definitely picked a region of the world that most people (Americans at least) seem to think is rather dangerous.

      I can just imagine the kind of reactions you’ll get when you move back home. If I got asked about the dangers of Nicaragua, I bet you’d get asked about the dangers there. Which is a shame too since there are so many amazing places to see in the Middle East. Hopefully we can get that look on the region changed soon and people become more willing to go there.

  10. A good post. A lot of these fears are being fed by the media and others. Be it crime, terrorism, disease, to be honest they can happen anywhere. There is no doubt that you have to be somewhat cautious but nothing wrong in that.

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