Don’t be a scaredy cat–a tip or two for solo travelers

I’m getting really fed up with people who tell me traveling by myself is dangerous.  Don’t go to Africa; you’ll catch Ebola.  Dont’ go to the Middle East; you’ll be kidnapped and beheaded.  Don’t go to Asia; it’s unstable.  Don’t go to Russia; World War III is going to start.

Let’s face it, travel can be scary.  Especially solo travel.  Not everyone loves planning [I don’t], and not everyone would be comfortable jetting off around the world alone.  To many people, what I do is overwhelming; intimidating; downright scary.  I understand this. I understand where the fear comes from, because I experience it too sometimes.  But most of the things we all fear about travel can easily be overcome — and none of them should keep us at home.  Here are some of the most common travel-related fears, along with some suggestions on how to get over them:

Fear #1:  The fear of traveling alone

Tip #1:  Solo travel isn’t for everyone. In fact, for many people, traveling alone would be their worst nightmare. When I told friends that I planned to go to South America on my own, their immediate response was, “You’re going to die.”  Well, no. No, I’m not.  Probably. I’m capable of traveling solo, and I usually don’t mind it. But I know many people would never dream of doing it, and that the lack of travel partners keeps many people firmly rooted at home.

Solution: If you can’t convince a friend/relative to travel with you, book yourself on a small group tour to the destination you want to visit. This way you’ll be able to make friends with the people in the group, and you won’t have to worry about doing any of the planning on your own.

Traveling with friends lets you have photos of yourself that aren’t selfies.

Fear #2: The fear of disaster

Tip #2:  Terrorists attack.  Planes crash.  Ships sink.  Earthquakes.  Hurricanes.  Mud Slides.  These kinds of worst-case-scenario fears, believe it or not, keep many people from traveling. They are the reason tourism suffered so much after the 9/11 attacks.

Solution: Stop worrying about things that are not likely to happen, and that you really have no control over anyway. Do you know the statistics behind terrorist attacks, plane crashes, or ships sinking? The numbers are so astronomically low that you are MUCH more likely to die in a car crash on your way to work than to fall victim to something beyond your control.  So ignore the media coverage, and take advantage of the circumstances.

Fear #3: The fear of flying

Tip #3:  I love flying.  I have piloted a plane before.  I have studied the mechanics and physics of flight.  I think it is awesome.  It seems unnatural that something this huge can soar through the air like a bird.  But it does.  It can.  It’s been happening for over 100 years.

Solution: As mentioned above, the chances of your plane crashing are statistically very slim. But knowing that doesn’t always help to alleviate fears.  So if planes terrify you, consider other transportation options — ships, buses, trains, cars, bikes, walking… there are plenty of ways to travel that will keep you on the move.

The world looks so different from above.

 Fear # 4 The fear of language barriers/culture shock

Traveling abroad to a place where you don’t speak the language and aren’t familiar with the culture can be understandably overwhelming. Most people want to hold on to at least some level of familiarity — that comfortable “bubble” of home — and worry about not being able to communicate or being crippled by culture shock.

Tip #4:   Start out simple, and travel first to countries similar to your own before branching out. Ease into the foreign cultures; sign up for day tours when you are abroad.  Meet people. [CouchSurfing is a great way to do this.  You can just meet for coffee if you don’t want to sleep on a stranger’s couch.  So is meetup if the idea of spending the night with a stranger terrifies you] Or, better yet, spend some time exploring your own country first! It’s amazing what can be done/seen in your very own backyard, especially if you live in a country as large and diverse as the U.S. or Canada or Australia.

Fear #5: The fear of mystery foods/getting sick

Along with culture shock and language barriers, people fear strange foods and the effects those strange foods might have on their digestive tracts while traveling. It seems silly, but I’ve worried about this, too!  I have celiac disease.  If I don’t know exactly what I am eating, it will wreck havoc on my body. Nobody likes being sick, and being sick abroad is even less appealing.  I would know.  I got malaria while traveling, and I was the sickest I have ever been in my life while traveling from Ecuador to Peru.  It sucked.  I finally worked up enough strength to go do a doctor, and I was scared about that too.  But you know what, I survived.  Third world medical treatment didn’t kill me.  It saved me [even if I was a terrible patient].

Tip #5 : Don’t completely avoid foreign foods, but be aware of what you’re eating. Go where the locals go when possible, and be sure to have your Tums and Imodium on hand just in case!  I ate ceviche along the coast–not inland.  I ate alpaca in the mountains, and fresh fruit as much as possible. Also be sure to educate yourself on the region you’ll be traveling — is it safe to drink the water? Are there certain foods to avoid? [I don’t want to eat any food made with blood–maybe it’s me, but I draw the line at body fluids as ingredients].

Fear #6:  The fear of getting robbed

Getting robbed, scammed, or otherwise ripped off is a common fear among would-be travelers — and it’s often a valid concern, depending on where you’re traveling. Some parts of the world are, in fact, known for scamming tourists, or for street robberies. It’s an unfortunate reality of travel.

Tip #6: Be alert, and be informed. Are there certain common scams that target tourists where you’re going? Are there specific areas of town to avoid? Know these things before you go so you know what to keep an eye out for. Also know that most robberies are non-violent… That is you are more like do ask “where did my stuff go?”  Did as in past tense. Another obvious tip would be to leave your valuables at home — if you don’t want to lose it, don’t bring it. If you really need a fancy camera or computer when you travel, make sure you keep it in a secure spot, and never let your bag out of your sight.   Even when you sleep.

Fear #7 The fear of getting lost

For some people, getting lost in a new city is all part of the travel experience. [like me… I don’t consider I’ve been there until I have taken the wrong bus, gotten off at the wrong station, or missed the stop entirely.] But for others, it would be far less than ideal, and can sometimes dissuade people from leaving their hotel rooms or venturing far from the group.
Tip #7: If you’re the type who hyperventilates when you’re convinced you’re lost, make sure to always get a local map (that you can read) before you go out exploring, and don’t be afraid to approach locals for help. Believe it or not,  getting lost can sometimes enhance your experience.

Fear #8: The fear of getting injured abroad

Nobody wants to think about that slim chance of getting seriously injured abroad — getting in an accident, breaking a bone, or winding up in the hospital with some mysterious virus. But of course there’s always a chance of something like this happening abroad, just as there’s a chance of it happening at home. However, the fear of it happening on the road — where hospital conditions can vary and language barriers could make it difficult to communicate with doctors — is usually much stronger.

Solution: First, realize that hospitals and doctors DO exist in other parts of the world — and most of them are perfectly safe. [I have used their services in Mexico, Peru,England, and Canada  and have worked for them in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Uruguay.] But if you want to avoid using them, don’t be an idiot. Don’t take unnecessary risks, or let yourself get so drunk that you start making stupid or dangerous decisions.

Fear #9 The fear of coming home

A less-obvious fear that sometimes accompanies long-term travel is the fear of what will happen after the adventure is over. If you quit a job to travel, how will that lapse affect your prospects of finding work?

Solution: Despite the rather widespread belief in America that long-travel is largely a waste of time, only for drop-outs, or those who can’t get a job,  don’t look at it that way. Travel is one of the best educational experiences a person can have, and the skills you pick up while navigating the world can often translate back to your life at home. [I have worked in health clinics that lead to my interest in health care.  I have taught English and health abroad.] Instead of worrying about how taking time off to travel will look on your resume, consider how your experiences abroad can actually set you apart from other people who may be applying for the same job.

The bottom line is that, yes, travel can be scary for a variety of reasons. But I implore you-if you are scared about some aspect of travel to set aside your fears and JUST GO.

When you look back on your life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.

Don’t let not traveling be one of your regrets.

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