Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood. ~ Marie Curie
The world’s a big and crazy place, no doubt about it. And things happen from time to time that seep into your consciousness (media is, for the most part, everywhere) and if the event occurred in a place you’ll soon be traveling, the knee-jerk reaction is fear, worry and planning around that destination so you can skirt any potential financial or physical trauma. Don’t be embarassed, it’s natural reaction.
Unfortunately, this natural human tendency also keeps us from doing some of the most rewarding things in life for rather nonsensical reasons. Going out of your way to avoid a danger that comes to you slanted and sensationalized without much realistic context is, we’re sad to say, far too common among would-be-world-travelers
Fortunately, it’s possible to overcome the knee-jerk safety response if you approach it with perspective and calm.
Two Types of Fear
First we must distinguish between the two types of fear: as a favorite yoga teacher put it – the fear that keeps you alive and the fear that keeps you from living.
The first kind generally saves you from horrible things – going down shadowy alleyways alone, jumping into taxis that don’t have the word “taxi” on them anywhere, carrying that package for your new friend through the Tanzanian or Ugandan border control. This is common sense, red flag stuff – easy to learn and easy to put into practice, summed up in the immortal words of Michael Jackson: “remember my strong advice, just remember to always think twice.”
The other kind of fear is the simple fear of the unknown. This is the worst kind of fear because it’s ultimately unproductive and limits your potential for wonderful things.
Overcoming Fear of the Unknown
The first way to overcome a fear of the unknown is to put it in perspective – understand the circumstances surrounding it. Read information from several sources about an event or place with a bad reputation and decide for yourself. Remember that international news is like a kid’s game of telephone, by the time it gets to you it’s almost hilariously mangled. As much as we despise the fact, it’s inescapable. As such, there’s no sense trying to change it. What you can change is your reaction.
One way to overcome fear is to accept it, understand it, and move on. This of course is easier said than done. Fear is a normal part of the human condition, like being happy.
For the most part, the world is no more dangerous than your hometown. Just less known to you, and isn’t that why you travel in the first place? To better understand the unknown? Step outside your comfort zone. The world (beyond your perception of it) awaits you.
Who doesn’t love traveling? Exploring new areas, new cultures, and making amazing memories with friends. But what happens if all of your friends are working? Or can’t afford to go? Just because you don’t have a travel companion, doesn’t mean that should stop you from adventuring.
In the fall of 2016, I took my first solo road trip (this is not my first solo travel experience). I traveled from Calgary, AB through the States and back up again. I had no timeline, or destination in mind, I was simply following the highway winds.
More often than not, I travel alone. I work seasonally and use the shoulder season/winter season to my advantage. Most of my friends, on the other hand, work their seasonal job in the winters and can’t commit to itinerary-less trips. Because of this, the biggest question I get asked while traveling is “Wait, you are traveling alone!?” Some people just cannot wrap their head around the idea of a young female traveling by herself. They think that there is this inherent danger not present when you are travelling with people. Obviously, you still have to use your common sense, but honestly in my experience people tend to be more hospitable to solo travelers (we tend to be quieter and less messy). After they get over the initial shock, the skeptics are normally quite awe-struck and envious that you had the confidence to head out on your own.
Traveling alone also allows you to see and do whatever you want, whenever you want. Countless times while traveling with friends I’ve been reluctant to ask them to pull over so I can take a photograph or have been outvoted on a certain activity because they like to sleep in. You don’t have this issue when you are traveling alone. If I want to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and hike to the top of Yosemite Falls, well hell, I’m going to do that.
Traveling alone also does wonders for your mental health. Travel isn’t always perfect sunsets or breathtaking ridge hikes. Sometimes it’s sleeping at a truck stop, or a flat tire, or getting stuck in the snow. In situations like that, when you are alone, you are forced to be self reliant. There isn’t always cellphone service in the bush, so what are you going to do? Well you’ll have to figure it out (unless I suppose you have resolved to become part of the wood folk). You’ll be surprise what you can accomplished, when you are faced with a difficult/troubling task. And when you come out unscathed on the other side you will feel like a whole new person. You will have confidence in yourself you never thought possible.
So go out and explore the world and don’t be afraid to do it alone.