Last Updated: 6/2/23 | June 2nd, 2023
Fear. It keeps us from living our lives and achieving our dreams.
It’s one of the most common reasons why people don’t travel.
Whenever I talk to people about long-term travel, so many tell me they wish they could do what I do. They tell me all their travel dreams and grand plans then when asked why they don’t pursue them, they come up with a plethora of fears:
They fear they have too many responsibilities at home.
They fear they won’t be able to make friends on the road.
They fear not having the ability to handle it.
They fear something will happen to them.
With all that fear, it’s much easier to stay at home in our comfort zones than to break out and travel.
It’s a big thing to step out your door, away from your safety net, and into the unknown.
The devil you know is always better than the devil you don’t.
Yes, travel is a privilege and there are real money issues that keep people at home.
But one of the most common emails I get is from people asking about “the mental issues” of travel. The mindset stuff.
Do they quit their job and go for it?
Are they in the right stage of life?
Will everything be OK if they leave?
Will they get a job when they return?
These emails are peppered with nervous excitement over travel’s endless possibilities, but there is also always one underlying tone to the emails:
“Matt, I want to go, but I’m also afraid and I’m not sure what to do.”
I think fear of the unknown is really what holds people back the majority of people back. When you get rid of your fears and decide “Yes, I’m going to do this!”, you begin to find ways to scrape, save, find work, and do whatever it is that gets you on the road.
You become a person on a mission. You become driven. Nothing will get in your way.
But first, you need to get over any fear you might have. I was on a podcast recently discussing this subject and so it has come to the forefront of my mind again. Here is my advice on dealing with fear:
1. You aren’t the first person to travel abroad.
One of the things that comforted me when I began traveling was knowing that lots of other people traveled the world before me and ended up just fine. If some 18-year-old from England on a gap year came home in one piece, there was no reason I wouldn’t too. You aren’t the first person to leave home and explore the jungles of Asia. Columbus and Magellan had a reason to be afraid. You don’t.
There is a well-worn tourist trail out there. There are people to help you. There are people to travel with. You aren’t going to be alone.
And you aren’t venturing into the true unknown.
2. You made it this far.
If you already have one foot out the door, why turn back now? What will you regret later in life: that you let your fears keep you home, or that you went traveling? Sometimes you just have to go for it. Everything works out in the end. Don’t turn back halfway. You can do this!
3. You are just as capable as everyone else.
I’m smart, I’m capable, and I have common sense. If other people can travel the world, why can’t I? What makes me think I lack the skills? I realized that there was no reason I couldn’t do what these other people did. I was just as good as everyone else.
Don’t doubt yourself. You got by in your life just fine now. The same will be true when you travel.
Moreover, now has never been an easier time to travel thanks to all the resources available online and all the sharing economy websites that help connect you with other travelers.
4. Responsibilities can vanish in a flash.
Everyone uses “responsibility” as the main reason to avoid travel. But that is just your fear telling you that you have things at home that can’t be let go of. However, those responsibilities are simply chains that hold you down.
When I quit my job, I didn’t have to work anymore.
When I canceled my bills, they disappeared.
When I sold my car, the payments were gone.
When I sold my stuff, I didn’t have any.
We think this is all very complicated, but with a few phone calls, everything that held me back was gone, taken care of. Suddenly, my responsibilities disappeared. Vaporized. It is easier to cut the cord than you think.
5. You will find a job when you get home.
Another reason people get held back is the belief that when they go overseas, they will become unemployable. They worry that employers will see a gap in their résumé and not want to hire them.
But in this globalized world, having experience with foreign cultures and people is a real asset. So is showing that you are independent, courageous, and capable.
After all, no one makes it around the world without learning these skills. Employers realize this and now look at travel as a positive thing that teaches intangible personal skills no business school ever could (especially if you work or volunteer overseas too).
6. You will make friends.
People always ask me how I make friends on the road. They tell me that they’re not very social and that it’s hard for them to meet strangers. The truth is that when you travel, you are never alone. There are many solo travelers out there in the same boat as you. You’ll find people who will come up and talk to you, even if you are too scared to go up to them.
I used to be nervous talking to strangers, but the fear subsides as you eventually realize that everyone wants to make new friends. And one of those friends is you.
Here are some articles on making friends and socializing to help you feel more comfortable before you head out:
- Finding Life-Long Friendships
- How to Overcome Being Alone
- How to Use Your Social Network to Travel
- Meeting People on the Road
7. You can always come back.
If you make it three months into your trip and decide that long-term travel isn’t for you, it’s perfectly OK to go home. There’s no shame in cutting your trip short. Maybe traveling isn’t for you, but you would never have known if you didn’t try.
Travel teaches us many things including, that sometimes, we don’t like to travel. Getting up and going is more than most people do, and if it isn’t for you, at least you tried. That in itself is a major accomplishment.
Fear is an element that affects everything we do. Yes, fear is a healthy biological response designed to make sure we don’t do foolish things. But, in many ways, fear is the reason why we never succeed. It’s scary leaving everything you know and heading off into the unknown.
However, once you look at why you are afraid of doing it, you’ll realize there’s no reason to be. You can travel. You are capable. It’s not as hard as you think.
Don’t let fear win.
Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner. It’s my favorite search engine because it searches websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- SafetyWing (best for everyone)
- Insure My Trip (for those 70 and over)
- Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)
Want to Travel for Free?
Travel credit cards allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for free flights and accommodation — all without any extra spending. Check out my guide to picking the right card and my current favorites to get started and see the latest best deals.
Ready to Book Your Trip?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use when I travel. They are the best in class and you can’t go wrong using them on your trip.
Note: This article was originally published in 2011 but redone and updated with new tips and links in 2020.