So You Want to Travel Forever: Conquer Your Fears

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

This series is for those who are thinking of going away for a while, if not forever. It covers not just the financial and physical aspect of travel. More importantly, it deals with the the human side of it all.

So far, these are the topics we've covered on the series:

Live on Less
Go Light
Be Adaptable
Create Your Freedom

At this point, you've read enough articles online and finally convinced yourself to make that big escape. But the morning after making that decision, a dark monster starts showing its ugly head. This creature is Fear. And he may even show up with his buddies: Doubt, Insecurity and Hesitation.

If you don’t address your fears early on, there's a big possibility that you will feel trapped and powerless. The worse thing that could happen is to be paralyzed by your fears that you abandon your initial decision to escape.

When I first planned my big trip across Asia, I found myself overwhelmed with a lot of fears. I constantly asked myself questions like: “What if I run out of money?”, “What if I get harassed?”, “What if I end up in jail?”, “What if I get sick while in a foreign country?”.

These fears were very real. They could happen to me or to anyone while traveling.

The first step in conquering these fears is to acknowledge that they exist. List down all your fears. Ask yourself this question: “If I quit my job to travel, what’s the worst thing that could happen to me?”. List down as many as you can. Here are the most common ones:

Cheap seats in Bohol?

Fear of Traveling Solo

The first time I traveled solo was to the island of Koh Samui in Thailand. Was I scared? Not at first. But after a few hours on the bus, just right before boarding the ferry, all passengers were asked to disembark for no apparent reason. Then we were ushered into a dark room to be questioned. Couples or families were questioned together. Since I was traveling alone, I found myself in a room with around 5 men. I tried to keep my composure but the experience was pretty unnerving. They asked me where I was headed and if I already had a place to stay in Koh Samui. I remembered a couple I had chatted with briefly on the bus, a Filipina and her French boyfriend. I told the guys that I planned to stay with them and mentioned the hotel where they were staying. After that, they didn't bother me and just told me to get back on the bus.

I had saved myself from a potentially dangerous situation by staying calm and thinking quickly. It also helped that I was friendly to the right people. If you plan to travel by yourself, it's best to leave a detailed itinerary with family and friends along with a copy of your passport. Try to bring a cellphone with international roaming or just check in with loved ones on a regular basis through email, skype or facebook. Be friendly to others but don't let on that you are traveling solo. If people ask, tell them you are meeting a boyfriend or family member and they know that you are on your way.

Kuta beach sunset; Lombok, Indonesia

Fear of Going Broke

This probably tops everyone's list. Who wouldn't be afraid of running out of money especially in a foreign country? While traveling to Myanmar, the land of no ATM's, back in 2011, this happened to me. I only had about 250 USD when I arrived and I was planning to stay for 30 days. It was simply not possible to stretch that travel budget for that long! Thankfully, an Indonesian whom we traveled with, came to my rescue and agreed to loan me some money until I could leave the country and  get access to cash.

To start with, it's best to avoid this type of situation. You can do that by saving more than enough money prior to your trip. You may also want to keep your money in several places so you can access them easily while on the road. I usually keep 1/3 of my travel fund in crisp US dollars cash and hide them inside ziplock bags in several places in my luggage and wallet, ready to be converted in the local currency. Another 1/3 is kept in the bank with an ATM that has either Cirrus, Mastercard or Visa logos for international withdrawals. The rest I keep in my Paypal account or in traveler's checks. It's best to bring a credit card or 2 when possible.

But in case you find yourself broke on the road, try to ask for help from fellow travelers. Some of them may be sympathetic after being in the same situation previously. Or try to explain your situation at a guesthouse so they can spare you a night's stay and a meal while you try to reach some friends or family members to ask for help. Some restaurants or hostels may also give you accommodations or meals in exchange for working at their establishment.


Fear of Getting Robbed

I've been lucky enough never to get robbed while traveling. But a friend, Noel of Wander 2 Nowhere, had an unfortunate experience. Here's his account and some advice:

"I used to tell people that I had been very lucky in my many years of travel, because I had never been robbed. There were many occasions but I was able to diffuse them. But that was before I moved to Colombia.

I lived in Medellin, once named the most dangerous city in the world, for over a year. Instead of staying in gated apartments where expats and the rich live, I chose to rent a room in a family house near the center of the city. One morning, I left the house at 6:15 AM to go to work. As I walked down the street, a few meters from my door, I saw 2 guys walking towards me. As they got closer, one guy pulled out a sharp object and aimed it at my left chest. I saw menace in their glazed eyes so I handed over my phone and about 20 USD worth of money. Upon getting their reward, they walked away quickly. I was left standing there with people walking past me and traffic going by. I was stunned. The whole incident took less than a minute. 

When I regained my composure I realized I was shaking in fear. I walked to the police station and reported it. But the nonchalant attitude of the policemen made me angry. I spent the rest of the day playing the incident over and over in my head, thinking how I should have handled the situation better, how I should have put up a fight. It affected me quite a bit. I started going out less at night and became more attentive to my surroundings. I became more suspicious of people I passed by in the streets. 

Two months after the incident, I was walking down the main street at 7 PM. It was rush hour with people returning home from work. At a section where the shops were already closed and there was no light, a guy came up to me and asked me in a very friendly tone for a cigarette. When he saw that there was no other people around, he took out a knife and asked me to hand over my phone. Very calmly, I did as instructed. When he got my phone and started to get away, I didn't know what came over me, but I started chasing after him, screaming at the top of my lungs. He ran into rush hour traffic and I followed him. Cars were coming at us but I wasn't afraid, I had my eyes set on him. When he realized he wasn't going to lose me, he threw my phone at me, luckily it didn't break when it landed on the asphalt. By the time I picked my phone and looked up, the guy was lost in the crowd. Many friends said I was foolish to chase after the robber. 

But many patted me on the back and said "you're a Colombian now".

There's no sure way to avoid getting robbed when traveling. But there are measures you can take to minimize the chances of it happening, and the loss you suffer. Be aware of your surroundings and use common sense. Avoid going through back alleys and walking alone at night. Try to look like you know where you're going, even if you're lost. Don't carry too much cash- only the amount of money you need for the day. Make friends with locals, they know the places you should avoid, and in their midst you are unlikely to be a target. When you're paying for a purchase, don't take out a wad of cash. Lastly be positive. Positive energy invites positive experiences. Should you get robbed, so be it, write it off as another travel experience."


Fear of Being Locked Up Abroad

I've also been lucky enough to never have any bad experience with the police or authority figures. But another friend, Stephen of Bohemian Traveler, shares his story:

"Occasionally travelers are detained. If you play by the rules, you shouldn't get into trouble and have nothing to fear. But there are those of us who like to, shall we say, stretch the rules a little bit. I’m not talking about drugs or anything like that. If you’re into smuggling illegal stuff, that’s just stupid, and you’ll get little sympathy from me or most other people.

But when it comes to bending the laws and testing the limits of immigration, that is something even some smart travelers risk. I had overstayed my tourist visa in the European Union. I made it as far as Spain and decided that my lifestyle there was just too good to leave. According to the laws, I could only stay in the Schengen Zone for three months of a six month period. I had remained in Spain for almost a year before returning home for a holiday. 

Upon my return to Madrid, the immigration officer noticed the extended length of time I spent in his country and I was detained. Normally, officers in Spain aren’t diligent with checking dates, and many of my friends had slipped in and out several times without being noticed. But I wasn't as lucky.

After being detained for three days, I was forced to buy a one-way ticket home, or face Spanish jail time! 

I chose the trip home— I don’t love Spain that much! Here's some advice if you’re thinking of overstaying a visa: Know that every country has a different tolerance and consequences for lawbreakers. Do your research and understand your risks." 

Surf trip on the Bali Coastal Road

Fear of Getting Sick or Injured

I don't know if I have an iron gut or simply have a fantastic immune system but I have not really been sick while abroad. I do purchase travel insurance with some health coverage if a trip extends longer than 3 weeks and I highly recommend you do the same.

Here's Aleah of Solitary Wanderer's account of when she got sick and how you can avoid it:

I was nearing the end of my 70-day backpacking trip in Europe, and was just chilling out in a friend's home in Belgium. I had over a week left, so I was planning to go see the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and the tulips in Holland. Suddenly, bam! the next day I felt feverish, then I had the colds, cough, and voice loss. 

I had no choice but to stay and postpone my France and the Netherlands trips. Getting sick while traveling really sucks, to say the least. I had been very healthy prior to this; I weathered (pun intended) the temperature change very well when I arrived in Belgium (-15 deg Celsius) last February from sunny and humid Philippines (32 deg C). I stayed in numerous couches, traveled by plane, bus, boats, and trains. If you think about it, I have probably been exposed to a number of germs that could have brought me down. But it didn't. At least not until towards the end. 

If you are backpacking for longer than a month, make sure to stay healthy. Here are a few things you can do to avoid getting sick while traveling: Take Vitamin C regularly. Drink a lot of water. Bring tissue, wet wipes, or hand sanitizers. Load up on seafood, vegetables, and fruits. Sleep at least 6 hours a day. Bring a first-aid kit. Bring insect repellant and sunscreen. Get a medical or travel insurance before you go."

Read the full article: How to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling


Fear of Career Suicide

It's every long term traveler's greatest fear: that return flight to reality. Going back home jobless and broke and trying to figure out how you can reintegrate yourself back to the working world. Contrary to what most people think, travel does not ruin your chances of being hired again or making a living. It can actually make you more valuable to an organization- if that's where you want to go.

When I came home in 2009 from almost 2 years in the US and in Europe, I was certain I wouldn't get my old job back. How could I convince them to hire me again? But when I heard that a similar position had opened up in the same company, I came for an interview. I impressed them with my work experience abroad and the countries I was able to visit.

In the end, I became even more employable that they agreed to nearly double my last salary!

How do you make sure you don't commit career suicide to go on a long term trip? Start with an amicable exit from your previous company. Let them know you are choosing to enrich your life by long term travel. While traveling, enhance your existing skills or learn news ones that you can use to make an income later on. Blogging and travel writing are only a couple of ways I was able to fund my lifestyle after quitting my job. Volunteering or working abroad also allows you to earn an income and learn a few useful skills while immersing yourself in a different culture.

I've managed surf resorts and hostels as well as become a social media manager for several organizations which helped me keep traveling. There are also other competencies that are enhanced through travel. Nothing tests your patience and adaptability like traveling alone in a foreign country. You also learn to rely on yourself and this boosts your confidence and independence. Keeping your finances in order shows you can budget and practice self-control. And traveling with a bunch of strangers? It makes you a great team player or even a leader!

It will still be up to you to put all your skills, competencies and experiences together to create a compelling resumé. But if no one wants to hire you, don't worry. You can always employ yourself and create your freedom!

Beach sunset at the Cloud 9 surf pier in Siargao, Philippines

Fear of Failure

We all want to succeed, especially at something we all love to do like travel. So the thought of failing can easily make anyone afraid. But there's something you have to know:

There’s no such thing as failure in the world of travel! 

You can always come back. If you make it a month into your journey and realize that long-term travel isn’t for you, then it’s okay to go home. If you have made it to one year and a loved one falls ill or you miss your friends or having a regular job, there’s no shame in cutting your trip short.

Maybe you discover that you're not made for travel. But there's only one way to find out. Packing your bags, going out the door and getting yourself into that plane, bus or ferry is already more than what some people are willing or able to do. And if you've done just that- consider it a major accomplishment!

Now back to your list...

Write down every fear in your head no matter how laughable or severe it is. Everything on your list is valid. Then go through each item by yourself, although it’s more effective if you go through it with a supportive, non-judgmental friend. Put every single fear under a magnifying lens. Ask questions like “Is this really true?” or “And if this happens, so what?” This allows you to acknowledge your fears, see them for what they really are and eventually, see past them and move on to the next step.

 Ultimately, all our fears have one thing in common: The fear of the unknown. 

We like to keep our daily lives in neat little packages that we can control and predict. We want to avoid surprises, even the good ones. We're always looking over our shoulder. But if you really think about it, can you look even one minute into the future? Is anything ever really "under your control"? Why not get past the fear and simply accept and embrace the fact there is nothing we can absolutely foresee and avoid?

Palawan blue water sea kayak paddling near El Nido

Better yet, replace your fear of the unknown with an insatiable curiosity.

Another exercise that I've practiced when I’m faced with several choices is to identify my fear level for all of them. When I'm really having trouble deciding, I assign a number to all my options from 1-10: 1 being the least fearful, and 10 being the most terrifying option. Then I force myself to go with the option that scares me the most.

It's important to admit that you are afraid. But never allow yourself to be motivated by fear.

Just a few months before my Asian trip back in 2011, I was faced with one of my biggest fears- a fear that scared me even more than death. The prospect of telling my own father that I was going to quit my job at the bank in order to travel the world.

After I told him of my escape plan, he asked me: “But aren't you afraid? What if something happened to you?”

“But what if nothing happened to me? 

Nothing noteworthy or exciting or breathtaking. I'm more afraid of a life where nothing extraordinary ever happens. I am more afraid of putting my dreams on a shelf and later realizing that I am too jaded or too tired to live them."

In the end, the pain of not going far outweighed my fear of venturing into the unknown.


And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. -Anais Nin

So that’s the 6th part of the series. It goes until 10 so I’m going to feed you nibbles every few weeks.

What fears are you facing now in order to travel? Feel free to share them in the comments below. 

Next time, I’ll be sharing some tips on "Accepting the Kindness of Strangers" so watch out for that!
All photos credited to: Tommy Schultz Photography

Lois is the Editor-in-Chief of the female travel blog When she's not having adventures around the globe, she can be found surfing, surfing someone's couch or giving motivational workshops and retreats.

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1 sole trails

  1. Excellent post. I am looking forward to travel often this year and really find this post helpful. Thank you for sharing :)


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