I often receive emails from people who have read articles about my trips telling me how much they want to travel, but how scared they are to actually take the plunge. Many are terrified of flying, while others think they’re too old. Moreover, some people are worried they won’t be able to afford it, will become culture shocked or may jeopardize their safety. While these fears are natural, they are unnecessary and are holding you back from experiencing the world.
Do you want to book a trip, but are nervous? Use these tips to overcome your fear of traveling.
1. Realize Your Fear Is Inhibiting You From Fully Living
Think about it. If travel is something you dream about doing, but you’re not traveling because you’re scared, you aren’t living your life fully. You’re keeping yourself from being complete. There really is no reason to do this, especially since booking a trip is as simple as logging onto an airline website and choosing a flight. Of course, being a first-time traveler you’ll probably want to have everything planned out, but this isn’t a requirement. I’ve gone to many destinations with absolutely nothing booked and had a fantastic time.
The most recent example of this was when I flew to San Cristobal in the Galapagos Islands. I had no idea what I would see or where I would stay, and carried only a backpack. It soon became clear, as I stood alone near the taxi stand, I was the only traveler who had not pre-booked a cruise. One other traveler came up to me, curious about where I was going in a taxi.
“Where are you staying?” she asked.
I smiled politely. “Wherever the taxi driver takes me.”
She looked concerned, but continued her questioning. “What tours are you doing? Are you visiting any other islands? Who are you traveling with?”
“I don’t know. Probably. Just myself.”
The woman was flabbergasted. She couldn’t understand how I possibly got on an airplane by myself and arrived in the Galapagos Islands without any plans. My strategy? Using common sense and not allowing fear to get in my way.
By the way, the trip ended up being fantastic. The taxi driver helped me find a hotel with rooms for $25 a night, I made new local friends who showed me around the island and had unique experiences like swimming with sharks, hiking up volcanoes, snorkeling with sea lions and visiting the recently-deceased Lonesome George on Santa Cruz island.
2. Realize There Will Always Be Excuses
As someone who is constantly on the road, I’m always having people say things to me like, “I wish I could but I just don’t have the money” or “There’s so many projects at work I just can’t get away right now.” While their excuses are meant to evoke sympathy from me, the only thing I can really give is a shake of my head. When I was a 21 year-old-waitress, still in school and in major debt from student loans and car payments, I backpacked Europe for an entire summer. What would have been the difference? If I waited five years my debt would have only gotten larger and I might have a more serious job. If I waited 10 years I may have had a husband or children to deal with.
My point is, excuses will always be there. Who isn’t broke with a ton of work piling up? Whether you stay home or travel it’s still going to be there. Just think. In 50 years when you’re looking back on your life do you want to remember how diligently you finished projects to chip away at your bills, or that amazing summer you spent abroad learning about new cultures, having adventures and meeting fascinating people? It’s your life. Don’t make excuses not to live it fully.
3. Start Small Or Jump Right In
For your first trip, it can be helpful to choose somewhere close in proximity and culture to yourself. If you’ve never traveled domestically, why not head over to the opposite coast for a long weekend, just to test the waters. Even better, choose a different country where you’ll at least be able to communicate with locals. If you’re scared of traveling, booking a trip to China or Africa, where the cultures are very different from Western ideology, could be unsettling for a first timer.
That being said, diving right in and booking a trip somewhere exotic and remote can help you realize your full potential right away. For example, when I traveled to Ghana to do a homestay, a friend of mine who had never been out of our home state of New York came along. While the other volunteers had all backpacked and lived abroad, my friend proudly confided in the group this was her first travel experience. We spent a month living with locals and touring the country. She had a great time, even crying at the end of the trip because she didn’t want to leave. It’s no surprise that since then she’s traveled to Asia and Central America with confidence.
4. Create A Budget
One fear that holds many people back is finances. This is a very understandable fear; however, creating a budget can be the solution. You don’t have to spent $200 a night on a hotel room or $20 every meal. Wait for flight deals and book as soon as you see something affordable. The general rule of thumb is to wait about 30 days out before domestic flights and 60 for international to find the best fares. CouchSurf, do homestays or stays in hostels, guesthouses and budget hotels. Bid on rooms with Priceline and Stayful. Dine on street food and at mom and pop restaurants, or opt for an accommodation with a kitchen so you can grocery shop and cook your own meals. In terms of experiences, mix in some free walking tours — many cities around the world have them now — and do-it-yourself excursions with some guided experiences you really have your heart set on. Make sure to also check if your destination has a greeter program — Google “Greeter program in destination X” — bid on tours on Shiroube, and use Couchsurfing, CanaryHop and Vayable to find free and affordable local guides and offbeat experiences. And if you really need to maximize your budget choose destinations where your dollar goes far, like Ghana, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia or South East Asia.
5. Look At The Odds
Realistically, most of peoples’ fears are not logical. For example, the likelihood of dying in a plane crash is 1 in 1.5 million to 1 in 19.8 million depending on the airline, depending on the airline’s accident rate. Moreover, as long as you’re not traveling to a war-torn country, you’ll most likely be able to keep yourself safe. Just because you hear one story in the news about a murder doesn’t mean people are being killed on every street corner. I know this situation very well, as my father watches the news incessantly and always has an opinion about the place I am traveling to. Being from New York, I find it ironic that he’ll hear about an armed robbery in Germany and then deem the country unsafe, even though crime happens on a daily basis in our home state. Another example is when I was in Tarifa, Spain, and told him I would be taking a day trip to Morocco.
“Don’t eat the food there!” he warned. “Uncle John went and got food poisoning last summer.”
He seemed to have forgotten the times him and I both had been struck with food poisoning from restaurants 20 minutes from home. Just be realistic, and stop letting one bad story or misconception scare you away from traveling.
6. Fill Out Your Calendar
Another popular fear people have of traveling is getting away from work. You have deadlines, projects that need to get done and emails that need to get sent out. First, take a deep breath and realize the world isn’t going to stop just because you’re gone for a week. What helps me is making a list of all the things I need to get done in the upcoming weeks, and then scheduling time to do them around my travel dates. This allows me to stop worrying about not getting things done, as I’ve physically scheduled time to do them — and take my trip.
7. Get Yourself Excited
Another strategy for overcoming your fear of traveling is turning that trepidation into excitement.
Start by reading some travel blogs and living vicariously through other peoples’ adventures. While reading, start thinking about which of these experiences you would also like to have. This allows you to start getting excited about a trip while also seeing all the possibilities. Along with reading blogs, you can watch the Travel Channel, read travel magazines, take out travel memoirs from the library and peruse guidebooks on some of your dream destinations.
8. Think Of Travel As A Growing Experience
For some people, thinking about the benefits of doing something, even if it makes them nervous, can help push them in the right direction. As mentioned earlier, the best part about travel is it makes your life more enriching. Additionally, there are many other ways travel helps you grow. First of all, seeing a foreign place and culture can really open your eyes to how other people live. In spiritual Thailand, I learned a lot about Buddhism, while in Italy I adapted to the thought process of not needing to feel like I had to do something to deserve a reward, like a massage or a glass of wine. If I wanted these things, no justification was necessary.
Traveling also makes you more adaptable, a better planner, hones your negotiating skills and gives you the ability to problem solve. Additionally, you’ll become better at budgeting, while a broader view of the world will enhance your conversational skills. And the more you travel, the more you will grow.
9. Create A Serious Bucket List
Everyone has a travel bucket list whether it’s physically written out or not. Think about it. Don’t you have certain experiences you dream of having in this lifetime? Help yourself get over your fear of traveling by physically writing out some of the top experiences pertaining to travel and adventure. From there, don’t just hang the paper on your wall to stare at dreamily, but be proactive and start making some of these things happen. Start with your easiest entry to prove to yourself it’s doable, and then begin chopping away at it. Personally, I don’t think you should ever be able to finish your bucket list, because you should always be inspired to add to it.
10. Travel, And Travel Often
Once you book that first trip, you’ll begin to realize travel isn’t as scary as you originally envisioned. Furthermore, the more you travel, the more you’ll see what you’re capable of. Pretty soon, you’ll be completely fearless when it comes to packing your bags and leaving home.
11. And If Worst Comes To Worst, You Can Always Fly Home
I’ve gotten this question many times before going on extended backpacking trips.
“But, what if you hate South America? You’ll be stuck there for three months!”
The truth is, I arrived to the continent on an airplane, and I can easily leave at any time using the same method. While I would only recommend leaving your trip early if you’re truly unhappy or have an emergency at home, the option to fly back is always there. If you’re a first time traveler, give yourself a few days to adjust to your new surroundings. Don’t bail at the first feeling of discomfort; however, be comforted by the fact you always have a possible exit strategy.
You should never let fear hold you back from traveling. Once you book your first trip and get over there, you’ll realize most of your fears were nothing to worry about in the first place.
Have you done something to overcome your fear of travel? Please share in the comments below.
This article was adapted from a piece originally published on Gadling