A New Year’s Resolution: Get Over Your Irrational Fears

By Jennifer Miller   |   January 5th, 2015   |   Comments ()

Anyone who tells you that he has no fears is either lying or very foolish. Fears are ubiquitous, and some of us just learn to live in harmony with them a little better than others.

At this very moment I’m in a bus headed for Honduras, the most dangerous country in the Western Hemisphere. In the bus with me are my most precious possessions: my husband, my children, and my parents. The last time we were in Honduras, we had one of our most frightening travel moments. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice to say that our children were instructed to hide behind a shipping container and keep their heads down.

Tony

Nonetheless, we are returning, and the bus is a rollicking full of laughter and fun as my four teenagers, joined by their cousin and Hannah’s newly arrived boyfriend, continue their multi-continent party with the wild abandon of youth.

Are we afraid of a repeat performance?

Mindful, yes. Afraid, no. The statistics are overwhelmingly in our favor, even in the most dangerous country on this side of the planet.

Ready to get over your fears?
Ready to get over your fears?

We meet an enormous number of people who express envy at our lifestyle, the adventures we’ve had, and the education we’ve provided our children. We also meet more than a few folks who swear they could never do it, for a laundry list of reasons, some of which are 100% valid, but most of which are rooted in fear of one sort or another.

There are two sorts of fears: the rational, and the irrational.

Rational fears those that are are the easiest to deal with because they represent the things that are somewhat likely to happen. They can almost always be minimized through careful planning or increased education in some capacity. They are the fears that are sometimes worth changing plans over, and the fears we can combat through action and overcome, in one way or another.

We also meet more than a few folks who swear they could never do it, for a laundry list of reasons, some of which are 100% valid, but most of which are rooted in fear of one sort or another.

Irrational fears are another beast altogether. These are the specters that wake us in the dead of night in a cold sweat and grip us by the guts in a way that’s hard to articulate and equally hard to shake. It’s these irrational fears that hold too many people back, paralyzed because they can’t get past the “what if.”

Of the many I’ve heard articulated, there are five that seem common to most of us.

Travel is dangerous

I suppose it’s the barrage of overblown, overwrought, relentlessly repeated news stories that plants this seed of fear in our hearts. One plane, of the thousands flying, goes down, and we are all white knuckling it upon take off for months. One traveler, of the millions moving about the planet on any given day, goes missing, and the terrible news is piped into the homes of the friends and family of every single traveler, and worry takes root.

The reality, of course, is that life is dangerous, not travel in and of itself.

The reality, of course, is that life is dangerous, not travel in and of itself. Living each day involves risk, and tragedy occurs without regard to international borders or cultural differences.

I sent a 14 year old into Guatemala City last week, a nine hour round trip, to retrieve his grandparents from the airport; on his own, with less concern than I had sending the same child to a shopping mall in New Hampshire last winter. Why? Because this is his world, he knows how to travel safely, he speaks the language, he “gets” the third world thing. The mall? Now that’s a worry; that’s out of his element, having been raised in the world instead of a neighborhood.

Travel is not inordinately dangerous, my friends. Taking unnecessary risks is.

Travel is not inordinately dangerous, my friends. Taking unnecessary risks is. Behaving irresponsibly is. Engaging in nefarious activities is, regardless of the continent you’re on. Even in so called “dangerous” places, statistically speaking, like Honduras, Guatemala City, Chicago, Los Angeles, or Washington DC, virtually everyone is safe, especially those of us doing our best to participate in a productive manner.

If you’re kept up at night by concern for the danger of travel, do yourself a favor and arm yourself with statistics. The numbers are comforting, and instead of counting sheep, you can count success stories.

I’ll run out of money

Concern for your travel budget is not irrational. In fact, it’s very sane. However, letting those financial variables become so overwhelming that they paralyze you, is irrational. I am a big proponent of applying the 7 Ps to financial life: we have four teenagers, one in university, another starting this fall, retirement looming, elder care in our future, and a myriad of other realities that I’m in no way minimizing.

Pay your own way. Save your money. Earn your journey. Recreate your careers.

Plan, financially; please. There may be those for whom the “quit your job and travel” tossed glibly about seems reasonable, but there are also dozens of young people who end up back on their parents’ couches post adventure, or relying on the kindness of friends when they come home broke. That’s not that cool, and it’s almost always avoidable.

Pay your own way. Save your money. Earn your journey. Recreate your careers, like we did, if you have to in order to keep going. Work your ass off. Your “job” may not go with you, but your entire skill set does, so does your creativity, your determination, and your motivation. Put those to good use, and it’s very unlikely that you’ll truly run out of money or options. We have hundreds of fantastically successful and passion driven traveling friends who are examples of the many ways to make it happen.

If you’re terrified about the money, combat that fear with a liberal and consistent application of the 7 P’s and WORK.

**Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance

Planning is too complicated

Honduras 2
“How do you do it?” is, perhaps, the most common question we’re asked. Sometimes they mean the funding of a 7 year long adventure across many continents with a family of six, but most of the time, they’re referring to the logistics.

I freely admit that my life is a logistical nightmare a significant portion of the time. Booking flights, finding ground transportation, accommodation, and the daily needs of six people on a long-term tour isn’t easy. Coordinating the divergent schedules of my oldest three teens, who often are off in their own directions with the overall travel schedule of the family, finding the time for the three of us with real jobs to work, and the three boys’ educational plans, add in the occasional need to proctor university exams, and of course, the usual travel drama surrounding visas, language acquisition, adventure travel, packing logistics, and well, you get the picture.

Are you hyperventilating yet? I have a PhD in spinning plates.

If it’s the logistics that are keeping you from going, find the people who’ve done what you want to and enlist their help.

Planning a long-term journey is complicated, but it need not be overwhelming. There are tools that make it easier, like RTW30, Indie, and AirTreks for making even the most complex bookings simpler.

If it’s the logistics that are keeping you from going, find the people who’ve done what you want to and enlist their help. If you don’t know anyone, or don’t know where to start, send me an email, I’ll help you. Or get in touch with the folks here at BootsnAll. Their entire company goal is to help get folks on the road for a trip like this.

Don’t stay home just because you can’t figure out how to get out the front door.

I might get sick or die

Yes. You might. It happens. My kids have tested the healthcare in most of the countries we’ve visited. I can report that in the first and second world it tends to be very good. The third world is hit and miss. Find a good private hospital; that’s my biggest piece of advice.

At the risk of beating the same drum: people get sick and die at home, too.

It’s unpleasant to be sick away from home. I sat with my friend in an ugly hotel room for three days during an intense respiratory illness in Spain this summer. She was miserable. She wanted to go home. On the fourth day, she rallied, we moved forward, and she decided she was happy enough with the efficiency of the public hospital in Najera, and that being a little sick wasn’t enough to keep her from continuing her adventure.

At the risk of beating the same drum: people get sick and die at home, too. If you were to run the numbers, I suspect that you’d find that the vast majority of illnesses and deaths occur at home, not abroad. Allowing your healthcare fears to keep you from your travel dreams is silly.

Stack the deck in your favor by getting the proper immunizations (check out the CDC recommendations.) Follow reasonable healthcare precautions. Clean your food well. Pack a decent health kit. Get travel insurance, and make sure it includes the clause for emergency evacuation and expatriation of remains. Continue with your routine healthcare (this can be done anywhere in the world easily enough). Drink bottled water, and get out there. Yes, you’re going to get diarrhea. If you travel long enough you’ll probably get a parasite. You’re likely to need a stitch or a bone set if you walk in the world long enough (because you’re likely to need that at home eventually, too!)

It makes no sense to live your whole life without living your dream because you’re concerned about the health risk… only to get old, and lose your health at home.

Apply the 7 P’s, minimize the risks and live the life you dream of.

I don’t have time

Time has a death grip of fear on some people. They can’t imagine how they could tear themselves away from their daily grind (which they often do not enjoy) to live their dream because they simply do not have time. People who are entrenched in this reality are people that I have a very hard time communicating with on this level. They would say that their lives are too busy to live their dreams. I would say that our lives are too short not to live our dreams.

They would say that their lives are too busy to live their dreams. I would say that our lives are too short not to live our dreams.

The reality is that we all have exactly the same amount of time. 24 hours in a day. 7 days in a week. 52 weeks in a year. Around 7.5 decades. That’s it. We get 18 years with our kids, nada mas.

We can spend that time in any way that we choose, but it definitely is a choice. There’s not one right way to do life, and I support each individual’s right to craft life according to her own passions and interests. If that keeps a person in the house his grandfather built from cradle to grave, then that’s a beautiful thing. However, if your passion is to travel, and you’re not traveling because you’ve got a fear related to time, then be very aware that the clock is ticking, and every moment wasted on less than your dream is a moment you’re not getting back.

Here’s one last observation regarding fears:

I recognize that it’s easier for me, from the back of a bus bumping across the highlands of Guatemala, having traveled for my entire life in large scale ways, to dismiss some of these fears, especially the irrational ones, than it is for the person who’s sitting on the precipice trying to gather the courage to make the leap.

However, if your passion is to travel, and you’re not traveling because you’ve got a fear related to time, then be very aware that the clock is ticking, and every moment wasted on less than your dream is a moment you’re not getting back.

My whole worldview, from girlhood on up, has been built on the belief, and the personal experience, that the world is an overwhelmingly safe and beautiful place to live and adventure in. My fears are lessened by the mountain of direct evidence that I continue to amass that reinforces my faith in humanity.

From where I sit, taking three generations of my family into the most dangerous country in the Western Hemisphere seems an entirely safe and reasonable thing to do as a post Christmas party.

Why?

Because I’ve been where we’re going before. I know that, while the statistics for the entire country might be unsettling, this particular corner is relatively low key. I speak the language. I know the cultural quirks, and we’ve taken the appropriate precautions.

Having overcome one fear, you’re then empowered to tackle the next.

For someone else, on their very first adventure in this part of the world, it would feel entirely different. I get that. But here’s the other thing: the only way through fears is… well… through them.

When you swallow that big lump, prepare the best you can, and then just get out there and do it, you find that it wasn’t as scary as you thought, and in fact, it was kind of fun. Like that roller coaster ride that terrified you at the amusement park when you were a kid.

Having overcome one fear, you’re then empowered to tackle the next. One by one, you build your experience, you build your skill set, and you build confidence in your ability to roll with the punches, even when the unexpected happens, and you find yourself stashing children behind shipping containers because of incoming choppers and the threat of gunfire.

Incidentally, there was no gunfire, because, of course, the worst almost never happens, and even our most rational fears almost never come true.

Photo credits: Rawpixel, all other photos courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.



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