10 Things We Fear When Traveling, and How To Get Over Them

Last week I brought up how fear is likely the most limiting factor to many people’s travels. Let’s look at a few of the biggest things people fear about traveling and hopefully debunk them.

1) Language barrier

It is very helpful to know at least a few formalities in the local language but it definitely isn’t required. I’ve practiced several languages for months before visiting a country only to find that English takes precedent over my poor Italian, Spanish, or even Arabic. At a conference I attended earlier this year Rick Steves asked what language a Japanese climber speaks to a German he meets while climbing Mount Everest? The answer is undoubtedly English.

Not to be elitist, but other cultures learn English for many reasons–mostly to improve their chances of your business. If there is not a common language, pantomiming can go a long way and is pretty fun when reflecting on the goofy gestures you made while trying to find a bathroom in Ukraine.

2) Food

Are you a picky eater? I used to be and eating was one of the most difficult things for me while traveling. I was vegetarian for many years and there were more nights than I’d like to remember where I went without food because I couldn’t find something to eat.

Maybe you have your reasons why you eat a certain way. That’s up to you. But if you are simply a picky eater, trying new things while traveling can be quite an experience. I don’t eat much meat but I’m not a vegetarian anymore. One of the things I look forward to is eating just about anything presented with while traveling. I won’t turn much down. A chicken tagine in Morocco, beef goulash in Budapest, squid in Costa Rica. Put it in front of me and chances are I’ll give it a shot.  I’ve come a long way.

3) Money issues

One of the most popular topics on this site is that traveling is cheaper than you expect. You don’t need a $100+ hotel room every night, you don’t need to rent a car, and you don’t need to eat a fancy restaurants. You can save money in plenty of ways and still have a great trip.

4) Getting lost

It’s not a matter of if you get lost, but when. It used to freak me out but it’s actually pretty fun getting lost (as long as you don’t end up in a bad area).

Just keep a map with you and worst case scenario, hop in a taxi and let them know where you’ll want to go. Chances are you’ll find some great hidden gems like markets, restaurants, parks, and other sights. Who knows, but it’s not so bad to be lost in a strange place if you have no agenda.

5) Not having someplace to stay

You should know ahead of time if the town is going to be sold out for a festival or other event, but the chances of you not being able to find somewhere to sleep are between slim and none. The worst thing that can happen is you have to pay more than expected. That being said, I’ve never paid more than $25/night for a place to sleep out of the USA, even when the city was packed to the brim.

As a followup to this, I still talk with so many people who are scared to death of hostels.  My first one was in Montreal and while it wasn’t the best night’s rest I’ve ever had, I’ve never been in any sort of danger.  They’re completely safe, cheap, and usually pretty fun if you meet the right people.

6) Being alone

This should probably be number one on the list (if it were in any specific order). Probably 90% of the people I talk to are nervous about traveling alone, or flat out won’t do it. I was nervous about it the first time I went to Europe and chances are, I probably wouldn’t have done it had I not fell into that situation. But I did, and couldn’t be happier. I’ve always met plenty of people to share a meal, see the sights, or just hang out with at hostels. Believe it or not, most people in this world are pretty social and friendly.

Even if you don’t meet anybody, what’s so bad about being alone? Sure, be aware of your personal safety, but if that’s not an issue, some alone time never killed anybody. What better than to enjoy some quality time with your best friend, yourself?

7) Personal safety

As mentioned above, the world can be a dangerous place but the simple truth is that it’s not nearly as dangerous as most people expect. The media loves to scare the hell out of us but it is not warranted at all. In that same talk mentioned earlier, Rick Steves said that 12 million people went to Europe last year and 12 million came home from Europe. I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate because I’m sure a few dozen decided to stay and keep traveling. It’s addicting.

8) Being bored

If you really think you’re going to get bored with miles of sandy beaches and Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, endless rain forest in Costa Rica, or more museums than you can count in Paris then you better go check yourself into a mental hospital right now. You’re crazy.

9) Missing home

You’ll probably miss your family or your dog, but they’ll be there when you get back. Get over it and enjoy your trip.

10) Wanting to leave

It’s always nice to come home, but I’ve never been ready to leave when the time came. Chances are you’ll be pretty disappointed to leave but there’s always the next trip to look forward to!

15 Replies to “10 Things We Fear When Traveling, and How To Get Over Them”

  1. You’ve made a great list of some true things that hold people back. Thanks for pointing them out and how to overcome them! Let’s go see the world :)

  2. Jack,

    I intentionally left that out. This article is about things that people may fear, but shouldn’t. I wouldn’t be a good proponent of travel if I told them that they should, in fact, be scared to death of bathrooms around the world!

    I kid :)

    My first scary bathroom was in Morocco. I’m still trying to decide if I used it properly or not.

  3. The fear of flying? Nah, strapping yourself into a metal tube and literally hurling yourself across the earth! Nah, we’ve figured that one out! Of all these, I probably worry most about not having a place to stay when arriving in a new city or village. I usually just grab the first somewhat acceptable place I see, knowing that I will in all likelihood check out when I see it in the harsh light of morning. Been to a few dumps because of this concern!

  4. How funny…I have felt every one of these at one point or another. For some of these, it was because it was for the first time and everything was new, like the being alone thing (I survived a few nights in Paris alone and don’t know French – a mini-victory!). I’m an extremely picky eater so that’s one thing I still sometimes fret about, but the only other one that really worries me is getting lost (it’s happened several times to me, often not a big deal but one time it was pretty awful). I agree with Jack, though — finding good bathrooms, or finding bathrooms at all, is definitely a concern of mine! I’ve seen some scary toilets in my travels, and other times been denied bathrooms (though sometimes I pay them off by buying a water bottle or something).

  5. I’m a vegetarian and have been for 10 years but when I travel, I let myself try the cool local delicacies, even if they’re meat. Come on, if I pass up the chance to eat things like guinea pig or cow’s brains, when am I going to get another opportunity?! Certainly not at home! An occasional cheat-meal is allowed in my book if it enhances your unique experiences and cultural knowledge :)

    1. Amen Kirsten! I used to be a vegetarian but now eat poultry regularly. Rarely will I eat red meat but I’ll give just about anything a try now. I’m looking forward to guinea pig in Peru! :)

  6. What a great list! I can relate to ALL of these. I could tell a story for each one. Getting lost in Venice, ATMs wouldn’t give me money in Barcelona, feeling alone and depressed in France, getting locked out of my hotel room with no place to stay at 4 in the morning in Florence. Good memories!

    As for food, I am not a big meat eater (LOVE poultry and fish) and used to be very picky. As I have gotten older, my tastes have changed and I enjoy trying new stuff when I travel. I love all meat so that’s not an issue. But when someone serves you something as their guest and you are honored to be there, always eat it.

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