Fear of Travel

Answering My Most Oft Asked Question: “Aren’t You Afraid?”

Once a year, during the Christmas holidays, I return to the United States to spend a month with my family. It’s a time when I struggle to answer difficult questions such as: Where do you live? Although my legal residency is in Florida, I no longer own a traditional “brick and mortar” home. When I explain that I am a travel writer and photographer who travels the world perpetually, some people want to know how to do what I do. Most, however, have a different reaction: “Aren’t you afraid?”

Strangely, the only place I ever hear about fear of travel is in the U.S. Granted, many of the places I travel are developing countries, where the local populace is not affluent enough to travel outside their own country, but even in Europe, Australia, or New Zealand, this question never arises. U.S. citizens seem to be the only ones who believe that travel is dangerous. I actually feel safer overseas than I do in many U.S. cities. My answer is always, “There is nothing to fear.

John and LaVonne Kunkel on the Ruth Glacier in Alaska

John and LaVonne Kunkel on the Ruth Glacier in Alaska

Recently I received an email from LaVonne and John Kunkel, friends from the days when I was a real estate broker on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Though I never particularly enjoyed selling real estate, I was blessed to work with some wonderful clients who, like John and Vonnie, became treasured friends. I was unaware that Vonnie had been following my blog until she wrote in response to my story about receiving an uncommon and unexpected welcome in the town of Alausi, Ecuador:

“I agree completely! We have encountered the same everywhere we travel. Just last week,  we were waiting for a bus in Puerto Rico.There was no one else in sight until a limping, ragged looking man approached the very-obviously-American touristos and asked, “Old Town?” When we nodded affirmatively, he pointed across the road at another bus stop and motioned for us to follow him. We thanked him and stopped at the other bus stop. He walked on further and turned again to motion frantically for us to follow, which we did. When we came to a third stop, he waved and walked on. The correct bus came soon after.

Late that evening on our return we got on one bus, but the driver later had us transfer to another bus going in the direction from which we had just come! It was filled with locals on their way home from a long day of hard work. When we got on, I turned and asked, “Does anyone speak English?” and I told them the address of our hotel. Everyone smiled. Periodically, I would turn and ask, “Now?” Several would shake their heads. There was a raggedy man sitting directly across from us laden with silver chains: from wrist to elbow on each arm and strung around his neck. During our 20 minute-or-so trip, he played continuously with them: I was fascinated with his intent. Suddenly, he reached toward me, pointed and mumbled, indicating that we should get off next. What a surprise that this man, who had not appeared to even be aware of us, was the one who helped us. As we departed, I turned and thanked everyone; they laughed joyously. While the experience falls short of the magnitude of yours, we felt like “guests of honor”; it was a great!

Of course, you know that I believe we generate the aura of our own faith, sharing it with those around us, and are rewarded in kind. We have witnessed it, and you have proven it as you travel the world with faith as your only companion. We admire your courage and tenacity. We are so proud of you and so blessed to have you in our lives.”

I wrote back, asking if I could share their story. Vonnie replied that they would be delighted and attached the above photo of John and her on Ruth Glacier in Alaska. In addition to their recent Puerto Rico trip they are planning a future trip to Ireland, where they will stay in castles and roam the countryside on their own, as well as another to England and Scotland. Independent travel allows us to immerse in cultures different from our own and in the process we inevitably realize that people around the world are more similar than they are different. I’m a firm believer that the better we get to know each another, the less likely we will want to kill one another. Travel may well be our best path to the elimination of fear and subsequent world peace. Thank you John and Vonnie, for sharing your inspirational story.

5 Comments on “Answering My Most Oft Asked Question: “Aren’t You Afraid?”

  1. Love that you shared this.  The fear that we are ‘sold’ in America is infuriating.  If you believe everything you see on tv then you’ll never go anywhere.  I agree with you Barbara – I feel safer outside of the US and more taken care of normally!

  2. Great story!  It really speaks to basic human nature – we are basically good and kind, and happy to help our fellow person! It is amazing how hard it can be to let go of our self protectiveness and allow others to help, yet when we do – we are rewarded by the kindness of strangers.  I believe most who are helped by strangers are also more likely to help another – and that is one of the things I love in travel to new places.  When I first went ATW – I had the misfortune of being mugged and subsequently, hit by a bus.  I did not want anyone to help me – I was too afraid.  Had the circumstance been reversed – I know that I would have jumped in to help!  Not my best travel memory.  Following my visit to hospital, the local police were kind enough to give me a ride to the hotel of my choosing.  The kindness of strangers here – I will never forget!!!  While having difficulty calling my travel insurance company – a couple who I had never met before loaned me their cell phone to call my father back at home.  They accepted no money from me, and we very kind and concerned for my wellbeing.  While it was very scary to have gone through the events of that day – the overall kindness and generosity of that couple far outweighed the negative experience!  I am so glad that I did not let fear stop me from continuing on my journey (did I mention this happened in my first week of the around the world adventure???) for I had the opportunity to meet and learn from so many amazing people from around the world!  I have great memories that will last a life time!!!  There is a quote out there about the biggest failure in life is letting fear prevent you from even trying!!  I may not have gotten the words exactly right – but I believe the sentiment behind them!  
    Anita Mac – http://www.traveldestinationbucketlist.com – “get out there, embrace life!  Live learn and share.”

    • A great story, Anita, and a great lesson. Glad to know you made it through that experience and came out the other side OK, in all possible ways. Traveling mercies to you!

  3. I think every traveler in the world has a whole host of these stories! I know we do. It’s amazing how kind and generous people are. They truly want to help and will go out of their way to do so. Why can’t more people understand that? Why are they so afraid?

    • Hi Nancy: Wish I knew the answer to that, but I’m as mystified as you. However, I continue to try to get the message out that travel is safe.

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