THE BLOG
12/01/2011 03:20 pm ET | Updated Jan 31, 2012

Overcoming Your Travel Fears

Fear. It's what keeps us from living our lives and achieving our dreams. And it's the most common reason why people don't travel.

Whenever I talk to people about long-term travel, they tell me they wish they could do what I do. Then they come up with common excuses as to why they can't:

  • They fear not being able to afford the trip.
  • 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.

With all that fear, it's much easier to stay at home in our comfort zone than go travel the world. So most people simply stay at home, held back by their own fears, wishing they could travel but never doing so.

One of the most common emails I get asks whether or not someone should travel the world. Do they quit their job and go for it? Will everything be okay 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."

Dropping everything to travel takes a lot of courage. While many people claim "real world responsibilities" are the reason for not traveling, I think fear of the unknown is really what holds people back. It's easier to live the life that is familiar and stick to our routines than to venture out into the unknown. There's a reason why people always go with the devil they know. But, looking at them logically, the common fears people have about travel have no substance:

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 had a reason to be afraid. You don't.

You made it this far.
If you already have one foot out the door, why turn back now? What will you regret more 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 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 it. I'm just as good as everyone else. Don't doubt yourself. You get by in your life just fine now. The same will be true when you travel. Trust yourself.

Responsibilities are a false crutch.
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 cancelled 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.

You will find a job.
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 resume 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.

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 from 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.

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 okay to go home. There's no shame in cutting your trip short. Maybe traveling isn't for you, but you never would have known if you didn't try. There's no such thing as failure in the world of travel. Getting up and going is more than most people do, and if it isn't for you, at least you tried it. 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 scared. You can travel. You are capable. It's not as hard as you think.

Don't let fear win.