On Fear and Travel

“Why would you want to go so far?”

“What if something happens to you while you’re there?”

“Aren’t you afraid?”

Whenever I talk to people about where I am traveling next or where I dream of going, questions like these often pop up. Whether I’m going to school across an ocean or backpacking around Europe, it makes no difference. It does depend on the destination to some degree (people were more often concerned when I mentioned Eastern European or African countries rather than the UK, for example), but every single time I have left on a trip, at least one person has asked me if I really felt safe going to a new place.

These questions are asked by my friends and family members and random people, all of them with genuine concern. I appreciate having people who care about by well-being, but I find these concerns slightly misplaced. Yes, travel can be intimidating at times, but just because a place is different doesn’t automatically make it any more or less dangerous than somewhere else.

I, like many people, was caught off guard last week when I woke up to news of an attack in Manhattan. As I later found out, eight people were killed, and a dozen more were injured. And this was all a block or two away from the store I was working in this past year. We hear about violence like this all too often, but I still had the knee-jerk reaction of “How could that have happened?” because it was my old neighborhood.

Despite this initial reflex, I also felt a sense of disconnect. I tried to match the images from the news to the streets I know, but it felt like a parallel universe. I know that this happened, but it doesn’t feel real. It’s not surprising. I wasn’t there. If you can’t see something with your own eyes, it is often hard to comprehend, especially if you’ve never experienced anything like it before.

Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, NYC

Now that I have checked in with my New York friends and have had a chance to process things, I keep finding my mind drifting to those questions. I heard them a few short weeks ago before I left for Ireland. My mind begins to play with the “what ifs”. What if I hadn’t left? Could I have been in my store that day? Could I have been walking there?

These questions obviously have no answer and are not helpful in any way. I know it is illogical to think these thoughts, but I guess it’s part of human nature. Scary things like this tend to make your imagination run amok with hypotheticals. And it is pretty selfish to be thinking about myself in these “what if” situations. There were real consequences that day. People will be living with the ramifications of the events on Halloween for the rest of their lives.

The world can be a scary place. So what do we do?

Bad things can happen everywhere. That sounds a bit pessimistic, but I find it weirdly liberating. I can’t control what other people choose to do. In the end we can only live our lives and try to be good people. But letting this fear of hypotheticals control how we live our lives is not a solution.

Over the last few years I’ve decided to try to change how I let fear run my life. I missed out on a lot of things as a kid because of fear – everything from quitting flute lessons and soccer because I was afraid of not being good enough to skipping sleepovers with my friends because I was afraid of getting homesick. I set up this blog but didn’t post anything for weeks because I was afraid of people judging me. I refused to try new things for fear of looking like a fool, but I no longer want to let fear keep me from seeing how far I can go. We shouldn’t squander the opportunities we have because we are afraid.

Bad things can happen in the world whether we are at home or halfway around the globe, but we should continue doing the things that bring us joy. I will travel as long and as often as I can because it makes me happy. It is so important to experience new places and meet new people and expand our ideas of what the world looks like. If anything, traveling has shown me that there are so many genuinely good people out there. Whether it is the lady that helped me and my sister in a German train station when we couldn’t find our platform or the woman who returned the €10 note that fell out of my pocket the other day, there are a lot of kind people in the world.

Whatever it is that brings you happiness, keep on doing it no matter what. Time and time again New Yorkers have shown they won’t let something like this stop them from persevering. And I would hate to disappoint them.

St. Brigid’s Well, Ireland

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