It was our first trip together on a plane and my girlfriend's first voyage to Sin City. We had just disembarked at the Las Vegas airport and could already hear the slot machines dinging in the distance, when my girlfriend turned to me out of nowhere and said, "I didn't tell you this earlier, but this is the first time I've been on a plane in 20 years." I was floored. She had a fear of flying, she explained, and didn't want to tell me because she knew how much I traveled and thought it might be a deal-breaker. So, she sucked it up, pulled off the perfect acting job and a miracle occurred: She overcame her fear.
Since then, she's been all over the world and done all kinds of "scary" things. Pretending not to be afraid turns out to be the biggest cure for travel phobias. The first time I jumped out of a plane, I made jokes and acted like I wasn't really concerned about becoming splattered on someone's driveway. Come to think of it, it only worked until the point where I actually had to jump; then I had to be pushed.
Okay, so maybe that's bad example. But let's think about what scares you about traveling to another country.
Our biggest fears are usually ones where we imagine the worst scenario possible. The good news is this: Statistics are in your favor. Its highly unlikely that the most terrifying thing possible will ever happen. So quit being afraid. Here's a list of the four most common travel fears and why they really shouldn't be a deterrent to your dreams of exploring the globe:
Fear of Flying
Snakes on a Plane might be one of the dumbest movies ever made, but everyone has heard of it because it took two of the most common phobias—aerophobia and ophidiophobia—and put them together (with a little claustrophobia thrown in for good luck). Flying is still safer than road travel and gives you far more options when it comes to destinations; you can't drive to Europe or Asia or Africa or Australia, after all. I know you've probably heard that flying is safer than driving, but it's true. You're safer in the air than on the ground. It just seems scarier because you don't do it every day and someone else has the steering wheel. Most aerophobes I know haven't flown in so long, they've created an irrational fear. The best cure? Going somewhere on a plane. Like, perhaps, Las Vegas.
Not Speaking the Language
Not being able to order a hamburger or tell the porter where to drop your luggage might fuel your nightmares, but you're luckier than you think. English is the most popular foreign language in almost every country in the world. When all else fails, there's always that one guy who's happy to show off his international abilities in front of the local onlookers and get you back on the right track. A few years ago, through a series of long taxi rides, I ended up lost in some strange city in China with no clue of where I was or how to explain where I was going (tip: get someone to write the address of the place you're staying in Chinese if you're ever there). After five frustrated taxi drivers and quickly darkening skies , I just started asking people on the street if they spoke English. It only took a moment to find the one guy that could fix everything, including organizing a ride back to the town we were staying. If you can't find an English -speaking ally, you can always fall back on a skill you learned as a child: charades. Better yet, buy a translation app for your phone.
It's Not Safe
Much of the world is actually safer than America. I feel much more comfortable leaving my wallet on a table in the Middle East than I do in the States. I walk around dark streets in Europe and feel more secure than I would in a New York subway. There are more people running around with handguns in the U.S. than any other country (300 million, more or less) and that doesn't seem just a little scary? How do you feel about taking a trip to New Orleans or Baltimore? They're considered to be two of the most dangerous cities in the world, along with St. Louis and Detroit. Paris, London, Rome and every other major city in Europe aren't even on the list.
I Can't Afford to Travel
Many travelers' fears are tied to unknown variables like travel costs, which is why all-inclusive resorts are so popular. But it's important to realize that no matter where you go, there are different levels of restaurants, accommodation, and transportation, and it's usually not that difficult to find something that fits your travel budget. Vacations don't have to be five-star events. You might find a jungle hut on a beach in Thailand for $5 a night. You could choose to cook your own food. You can opt for local transport. Many countries in the world, in fact, have much lower costs than what you'd pay to travel domestically. If you're from America, you're doing better financially than most of the population on the planet, after all, and what may seem like very little money to you could feed a family in that country for a week. If you do a little research, you might find that you can afford it.
The four most common travel fears really aren't that scary when you put them in perspective. There's really not very much to be afraid of at all. Unless, of course, there are snakes involved. And that's a whole different story...