Much of the news media focuses on the worst possible things that happen everywhere. I know this well as there are people outside of the USA that are afraid of America because of all the mass shootings. In America we have similar fears about places like Mexico, Colombia, or even anywhere in Africa. Because of the media, I am also guilty of having some of these fears. And the only way to conquer fear is by doing what scares you.
As a kid, I had many fears of travel. My fears were driven by many violent movies that I watched as a kid. When I was finally able to drive, one of my first road trips was to Southern California. I knew that I should stay away from Compton and Watts (thanks, Eazy-E), but guess what? My car broke down on the freeway near Watts. I was able to pull off the freeway, but I was almost sure I would be shot or beaten. Nothing happened. I was able to get to my uncle’s house, get a tow truck, and everything was fine. My life isn’t what happens in a rap song, or the movie Boyz in the Hood.
Photo by Adam Moss Creative Commons
First International Trips
Fast forward 20 years, and I took my first international trip to Japan. Hardly anyone spoke any English, but despite how scary that was, I had one of the most amazing trips of my life. The people were very friendly and forgiving when I had baka gaijin (stupid foreigner) moments. Food was easy when most of the restaurants had either an English menu or a vending machine-like ordering system with pictures. (Insert travel bug here) Now I can’t stop thinking about traveling more.
Then I went to the next scary place in 2017: Costa Rica. The language barrier wasn’t as bad, but all the buildings were well-fenced, windows were barred, and it looked pretty shady overall. However, the trip was amazing. I stayed at a bed and breakfast near the San Jose airport on my first and last nights of the trip. I met some other travelers there, and the hospitality was incredible. I even walked around a bit at night without any trouble. Driving was manageable and even our hotel at the coast was pleasant. There was nothing to worry about after all.
Similar to the first time you step in the ocean or climb up to the peak of a mountain and look down, you overcome your fear the more you do it. And I’ve found the same is true with travel. You tend to fear what you don’t know or don’t understand.
I’m still facing that today, though to a lesser extent as I work on booking flights to Cape Town, South Africa. I have coworkers who lived there giving me all the horror stories, but then I contacted some locals on Couchsurfing and they completely changed my mind. I’ve included the first response to my inquiry on Couchsurfing below in case you are curious about it. I received about a dozen other responses from locals too.
Hi, I’m thinking about going to Cape Town for a few days to a week and then renting a car to go to Namibia. I have a friend who gave me some horror stories about people being ripped out of cars, raped, sliced with a machete, robbed, etc.. What is it really like there? I’m a photographer and don’t want to get robbed or worry about my wife getting raped.
Also, South Africa in general. I heard that it is like the wild west in the countryside and people will block the roads and mug you. Is this true?
I really want to believe I can visit without any hassle using normal precautions. I don’t always believe these things and want to get some local opinions. People say my town is dangerous too and I usually laugh.
Thanks for your help.
Want to streamline your trip planning?
Good day Aaron.
Cape Town is my home town – and I could not be more grateful for living in the beautiful city, rich in culture, diversity and exceptional scenes of wonder, it is magical here. Crime in South African, especially petty crime is however an issue, so tourists need to just be wary of keeping their belongings on them and safe. Watch some videos on YouTube of how to suspect scams and avoid crime in order stay safe while travelling; but, I don’t even think that is so necessary if you can reasonably look after your things.
I am a 20 year old woman (so rather young and an easy target) and nothing even remotely serious has ever happened to me. I have walked the streets in Cape town and JHB (such as Long street), the city center, driven through more poverty-ridden towns where crime rates are higher and I use uber alone frequently etc. Essentially it is about being streetwise – and I shall be as such anywhere I go across the globe. In fact in some areas, like the city or long street, government workers actually come up to you and give you flyers as well as personally explain that you should rather put your phone in your bag or zip your rucksack properly etc. if they see need be.
The possibility of a criminal action taking place is likely anywhere! Yes, SA is a third world country with higher statistics of criminal activity, but for the average middle class citizen I cannot call it barbaric or the wild west.
Do not let fear hinder the opportunity to explore the motherland, it so beautiful and the people are lovely, but that means you have to come with that intention and be confident in your travels, as well as observe your surroundings, look after your goods and want to enjoy your time here! Namibia is incredibly picturesque, I mean in even Prince Harry and Meghan Markle had their honeymoon there. I rowed the orange river and it was one of the best places I have ever visited! I have family friends who live there, who take people on safaris introducing them to not only the country and game, but the indigenous, BEAUTIFUL cultures.
You have to come with an attitude to want experience this kind of life and truly indulge in this splendor. I hope I could help! Feel free to ask anymore questions.
In conclusion, yes be careful of petty crime, politely decline, smile and be merry – but do not think that everyone is out to get you, we’re pretty wonderful here! 🙂
It is easy to fear something, but that something might be a missed opportunity that you will cherish for the rest of your life. With some common street sense, and knowing and understanding what real threats are against you, you can plan a safe trip just about anywhere. Whether it is petty theft in Costa Rica, or the language barrier of Japan, you will have no trouble if you do your research. Don’t let fear stop you from going.
Where are you afraid to visit and why?
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25 thoughts on “How I Dispelled the Fear of Travel”
I think the biggest thing you can do is to get out and actually SEE the reality of the world rather than getting a false impression through the media and misconceptions. I would say that 99% of places are far less dangerous than many people who live sheltered lives in the west would think!!
Nic, we couldn’t agree with you more! In fact, we tend to be drawn to the places we’ve been taught to fear, simply because we want to learn what it’s *really* like. Just like the entire U.S. isn’t like the worst neighborhood in Chicago, we’re sure “scary countries” have good places, wonderful people, and amazing culture too.
Yes! We can’t let these fears stop us from seeing the world. So glad you’ve been able to overcome them. Traveling has taught me how many of my fears have been constructs. This is a great reminder of just that.
Yes, we find it relieving when we visit a place previously viewed as “scary,” and we find people just like us. I’m glad you’ve found the same to be true!
Your first paragraph set the tone of your article. Fear of travelling is something everyone must have faced in their life. Everyone has a preconceived notion about a certain place from reading and watching the news. Crime is everywhere in the world but you should not let that dictate your travel plans. Because in most of the cases reality is a lot different than what it is projected.
We couldn’t agree more! Unfortunately, bad news sells better than good, so that’s all we tend to hear. I’m sure the same is true of the U.S. for those outside the States. We’re all just humans with our own varying beautiful cultures and traditions. It’s great to get past the headlines and experience what a place is really like!
I strongly agree with this article! I always remind my husband for this no matter where you go if its your time its your time even if you are just inside your house! lol All we need to do is trust our instincts, be mindful all the time, and be wise in every decision we make specially if were outside of our comfort zone.
Absolutely! Some places are legitimately more dangerous than others. But as long as you stay aware of your surroundings and travel intelligently, you’re usually fine. Most places aren’t as scary as we build them up to be in our heads 🙂
What a wonderful post to motivate those that are sometimes reluctant to venture! I personally, am not one of those fearful travelers but i am surrounded by many. It’s almost like pulling teeth trying to convince friends to join on a trek in Colombia. Thanks for sharing your feelings, I feel like I understand that fear a bit more now.
True! Some people think we are crazy to travel the world thinking bad things will happen to us. I hope that by writing a post like this, it helps people understand where that fear comes from and how to overcome it. Absolutely people need to be careful in certain places, but it doesn’t mean don’t go at all. Thanks for your comment! Colombia is on our list for sure.
Yes, I too agree with you that sometimes our fears stop us from traveling. What we hear or read in media, makes up our mind and sometimes it is one side of a coin. If we move out of our comfort zone and try to conquer our fear, we see the beautiful world around us. Reading the USA’s violent attacks scares me a lot.
You are absolutely right that is one side of a coin. The USA does have its problems, but it is extremely unlikely anything would happen to you as a tourist. Overall the violent crime rate has decreased significantly over the past 30 years, but you see the news stories and it sounds worse than ever. Thanks for commenting!
I have to admit, I dont listen to media or scaremonging stories and I just travel (even if its to not-so-good-places) and see it for myself. If its my time to go or get hurt, then so be it. But luckly I havent come across many ‘major’ problems and still here. Glad to see USA is calming down on the violent crime but my home country England, well…knife crime is on the ups. Outside the centre of London at night is not a safe place to be.
That is a good mentality to have Danik. England is on our list, and we will keep crime in mind, but it wont stop us from going. It is good to have street-smarts, and if it doesn’t feel right, we will just go the other way. Thanks for stopping by!
Recently I have traveled to Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Egypt. And when I announced my trip to my family and friends, they were all in fear for me because of the news media they have been listening to. But, when I actually went to the Middle East, I got convinced once again not to blindly listen to anyone, especially not the news media. Traveling the Middle East was perfectly safe and easy!
Many happy and safe travels!
Milijana, I’ll admit I’ve been fearful of those countries too. Luckily I have friends that were some of these places recently, and have been having an amazing time. Jordan is now on our list, and I’m very excited to go. – Aaron
What a great post! I think a lot of people are afraid to travel because of what they see on the news and it’s nice that you took the time to explain that things aren’t always as bad as they seem on tv. I am so glad that you had a great first travel experience!
We live part time in Panama and while our property is on the border of Coast Rica, we haven’t been yet. Thanks for letting me know you had a good experience there!
Thanks for stopping by! Fear definitely stops a lot of people from traveling, especially Americans in their isolated box. Costa Rica is a wonderful country, but it is more expensive than its neighbors. I’m sure you can do a lot of the same things in Panama as you could there. It is worth heading up the coast, especially the west side and checking out some of the parks. I really wanted to see the Sloths but we didn’t make it to Manuel Antonio. The area around Arenal Volcano was amazing.
Japan is the first country I’d ever vsited as well and despite the language barrier, it’s definitely a great place for first time travellers especially considering how safe it is. I’d recently just done a few short solo trips in SE Asia and I remember all my friends warning me about travelling alone especially as a female traveller. But I definitely agree with you that to fear something, you might actually miss out an opportunity. Sometimes you just need to push yourself out our comfort zone!
Japan still sits at the top of our list, and we can’t wait to go back. There were only a couple of mildly uncomfortable moments in Tokyo, but I’ve felt more uncomfortable in my own city. It is very safe.
Fear of travel is very similar to a fear of heights. Once you get used to being in higher places and looking over the edge, it gets easier. You will feel more alive if you get out of your comfort zone as you suggest. Thanks for commenting!
A great read. It’s so easy to let various sources influence your decision to travel somewhere but I always figure the reality is that people live in these places too – they can’t be that bad. You can get unlucky anywhere in the world, including at home. All that said, I definitely need to get out of my comfort zone a bit more on my travels. The USA and their guns are about as ‘scary’ as I’ve encountered thus far.
True, I just read an article that Nomadic Matt was stabbed in Colombia for a cell phone. He is fine, and still encourages people to go there. Obviously understanding where you are going, and what not to do is helpful in planning a trip. However, it shouldn’t stop you from going. The USA is a country of 325 million, so the likelihood of you getting shot in some rampage is very slim. You could just as easily be hit by a bus in your hometown.
I agree. I read the government travel site.. Most posts are High Alert , Do Not Go …and so on. This never stops us from travelling around the world …otherwise we couldn’t live our life as we wish,
These warnings make us want to go to the “scary” countries more, and show people that they aren’t that scary at all.
Agree. We went to Manila in Feb ….all went well.