Common Traveling Fears
My husband and I have been planning an upcoming vacation, and we’ve decided to visit a mountain lake called Danau Toba on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Neither of us have ever been to Indonesia, though we have lived in Asia for a number of years. Both of us are fairly experienced travelers and pretty low-maintenance people. We have taken public buses throughout southwest China, stayed with nomads on the Tibetan plateau, and even carted along our baby as we hiked in the Sichuan mountains. But it’s funny, with all of our experience traveling to some relatively remote areas, I still find myself filled with a bit of trepidation as we consider going somewhere new. I’ve grown accustomed to being able to communicate in China, even though I have to operate in my second language. I know (to some degree) how things work, and I can (mostly) avoid being taken advantage of. But traveling somewhere new means leaving what is familiar. It’s strange how familiarity breeds a sense of safety. So, this got me thinking there are some common fears felt by most travelers:
- What if I can’t communicate?
Communication (or the lack thereof) is probably the biggest fear that arises in me when I think about traveling to a different country. How am I going to buy anything? What if there’s an emergency and I can’t tell anyone? How will I find the bathroom? All of these are things that go through my mind. I picture myself, baby in arms, wandering aimlessly through the streets, unable to ask anyone for help or directions.
Though being unable to speak the local language can be a hassle, it is not likely that it will lead to major distress or danger. Moreover, spoken language is only one form of communication. Much can be communicated through observing one’s surroundings, paying attention, and using facial expressions and hand motions. When I first moved to China, I would often use sign language to communicate. Granted, sometimes I had frustrating encounters that involved me enthusiastically waving my arms in the face of an utterly-confused stranger. But that being said, I have never been in a dangerous situation as a result of my lack of language ability. Many places that tourists frequent are set up to make the tourist experience as easy as possible. If you are visiting areas that are not frequented by tourists, local people are often friendly and very willing, if not honored, to help a foreign guest. My husband once camped by a lake in Tibet and lost his tent in the dark. He and his travel companion wandered around for hours in search of their tent but to no avail. Finally, in the wee hours of the morning, they banged on the doors of a Tibetan house. Even though my husband and his friend could not speak Tibetan, they managed to communicate that they needed help. The Tibetan family ended up taking them in for the night!
It’s surprising how welcoming local people can be to a weary traveler.
- What if I get lost?
This fear is closely related to the fear of not being able to speak the local language. I often assume that not being able to speak the language will result in getting horribly lost.
But even if I do get lost, what’s the big deal? Sometimes we make the best memories and stories through mishaps like getting lost. Obviously, we want to be smart and not wander off by ourselves (especially as women). But if you have a travel companion and are not in a time crunch, why not get a little lost?
I find that I often need to remind myself to slow down and let go of control. You will get where you need to go…eventually. Why not enjoy the moment?
- What if I get sick?
Getting sick while traveling is common and is a pretty reasonable fear to have. In this case, perhaps preparation is the best solution.
- Bring a first-aid kit
- Get the necessary immunizations for the area to which you are traveling
- Carry emergency contact numbers with you
- Have contingency plans of where to meet your travel party in case of disaster or emergency
- Don’t wander off by yourself…at the very least, tell someone where you are going
- Carry enough local currency with you to pay for a taxi back to your hotel if needed
- Get a business card from your hostel or hotel so that you could show it to a taxi driver or local and get back easily
- Don’t be stupid – if you sense danger, remove yourself from the situation
- Know where the nearest hospital is located and the fastest way to get there
- Talk to people who have traveled to the area before and get their advice on how to be well-prepared
- What if I get taken advantage of?
When you can’t speak the local language and don’t know the local customs, it’s easy to get tricked. Honestly, even in China (where I do speak the language), I think I still get slightly ripped off, simply because I am a foreigner. This is probably the case in other places, as well. To some degree, it is something travelers just have to reconcile themselves to. But I think the best way to avoid getting completely hoaxed is by traveling with others. Numbers have power, and it’s harder to get overwhelmed by a persuasive salesman or “tour guide” if you are traveling in a group. Having another opinion besides your own can oftentimes prevent one from making rash or stupid decisions. My husband often has insight into a situation that I miss, and vice-versa. Reading guide books can also be helpful, though their scope might be rather limited. Reading about something and actually experiencing it yourself are two very different things.
When it comes to facing travel fears, I think the best advice is to just relax. A place is just a place. People live and work and play in these places everyday, just like I do in the places where I live. Remembering to let go of control, take a deep breath, and just enjoy helps me to let go of expectations and embrace an experience for what it is.