Travel is a big deal. There’s absolutely no shame in admitting it. Flying across the globe to a completely new and foreign environment- an environment with foreign laws, norms, cultures and foods- can be a daunting and intimidating thought. I’m 100% with you on that. The problem I have with nervous travelers isn’t so much that they’re afraid to travel. It’s that they often mask the fear with excuses and justifications as to why they can’t travel, rather than why they they’re afraid to.
In this post, I’m going to bust some of those myths that keep people stuck in uncertainty — the myths that can keep us from booking the ticket. What I’d like by the end of this article is to simply show you that the most common justifications for not traveling are often unfounded or blown out of proportion.
1. “I don’t have the money.”
I address this point more fully in my Budgeting page, but as it is the biggest and most pervasive myth surrounding travel, I feel it bears repeating. Travel can be affordable to any young professional, as long as you’re willing to compromise on the quality of your accommodation and transport. As I’ve said before, backpacking is scrappy and no-frills work. If you’re willing to think out your expenses, there are literally dozens of ways to cut costs on a trip that can at first glance seem impossibly expensive.
2. “I can’t take time off work.”
Of all the travel myths, this one has the strongest leg to stand on. Taking vacation time, especially in the US, is generally frowned upon or even forbidden in large chunks. However, there are strategic ways to maximize your days off even if you can’t take months off at a time. Try to plan your vacation days around holidays or long weekends to make them organically longer without ruffling too many feathers. Or conversely, try to take a chunk of time off during a time when the office is fully staffed, so that work doesn’t suffer from your extended absence. And hey, no one’s saying you have to take a six month sabbatical. My friends and I have done trips as short as one week and have had incredible experiences. If you work to customize your trips around your allotted vacation times, you can easily break through this particular obstacle.
3. “I don’t know the language.”
Once you go on your first trip, you see instantly how flimsy this myth is. We’re so fortunate to live in a remarkable time when international travel isn’t just available, it’s expected. Hostels, bus stations, tour companies and cab drivers in all parts of the world have adapted in recent years to accommodate English speakers who haven’t yet learned the local language. Will there be instances where you’ll run into awkward silences with people who don’t know English? Absolutely. But of course you will when you’re in a foreign country! And over time, you’ll pick up enough of the language to get by even without an English guide. I did my two months in South America solo and without a word of pre-learned Spanish. When you’re so deeply immersed in a country that only speaks another language, it’s practically impossible not to pick up on the basics. Simply put, if you can read this sentence, you’re linguistically qualified to travel in 2019.
4. “No one can go with me.”
I struggled with this excuse for a long time before my first solo trip. There were rare moments in my early twenties when I had the time off, I had the money, and I’d even planned some of the trip, but was afraid to go by myself. I address this in depth in my Going Solo page, but the long and short of it is this: when you travel like a backpacker, you never have to spend time alone if you don’t want to. Hostels and tours are designed to foster socialization. If you want to sit and chat with others, you can. And if you don’t, that’s your prerogative. I personally find that solo traveling can be much more rewarding and freeing than traveling with a set group, as you can accomplish exactly what you set out to do rather than checking and compromising with your companions. Going it alone, in this context at least, genuinely doesn’t have to have a negative or lonely connotation.
5. “It’s dangerous over there.”
This is, without fail, the first reaction I get from my mom every time I pick a country to visit.
“Vietnam! They must hate us over there!”
“Colombia! Have you seen Narcos?”
“Guatemala! There’s so much crime there!”
I’ve started to notice something while traveling to particularly seedy-sounding countries: people often confuse poverty and danger. Many countries that I’ve visited are considered third world by our western standards because of their poverty rate. And many people who hear that assume that these countries are dangerous and corrupt as a result. In my experience, this has been very far from the truth. The Vietnamese were incredibly welcoming and Colombian drug lords didn’t kidnap and sell me for ransom. Stereotypes and rumors are founded on patterns, but those patterns don’t define the state of a country across time. Everywhere can be dangerous. Be street smart and you won’t have any trouble.
6. “Traveling is undeniably very dangerous for a woman.”
Obviously this is a particularly difficult rumor for me to dispel. We’ve all heard horror stories of female travelers ending up in grim situations, and my gender obviously disqualifies my personal account of traveling as evidence. However, I’ve met and traveled with dozens of solo female travelers, and across the board, they ran into very few, if any more obstacles than I have. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely stricter rules to adhere to as a female traveler. Some countries, for example, prefer females to dress modestly, and will frown on tourists who don’t. Overall, it seems to me that female travelers need to be a bit more cautious and alert than their male counterparts, but thankfully, none of the girls I met had any major trouble on their trips.
If you do, however, want to hear from actual female travelers rather than me, check out my “Female Solo Travel” post, where I interviewed 9 of my female travel friends to get their opinions of traveling solo.
At the end of the day, all of these reasons boil down to one thing: fear. Fear of not knowing how to communicate with locals; fear of being stuck in a country that doesn’t understand you; fear of not having your usual tools to deal with situations that may arise. But that anxiety is what makes us travel in the first place. Those foreign, strange and slightly scary differences between countries is what drives us to visit them. Travel is, by its very definition, stepping outside your comfort zone. Embrace it, and I guarantee you won’t regret it.