5 Reasons Why People Are Scared To Travel and Why They’re Total BS

by Dan Johnston

When talking travel and living abroad, whether it’s with an old friend or a complete stranger, it’s rare to find a person with no desire to explore new places and see the world. Yet, so few North Americans actually take the plunge and throw themselves into a new culture and discover the meaning of life outside their own border.

OK, there are lots of people who make the jump, but nowhere near the majority. Considering how easy it is for Americans/Canadians to get a visa, it should be surprising how many choose to stay safe (and bored) in their homeland…sometimes even just their hometown!

Why is there an entire channel dedicated to travel if most of the country is terrified of it…oh wait, that makes sense. The guys having lots of dates usually aren’t the ones with a Playboy TV subscription…

I’ve scoured the corners of Middle America and Prairie Canada and uncovered the 5 biggest fears causing grown men and women to shake in their boots and stay far, far away from any airport with “International” in its name.

If a combination of fear and laziness has kept you from applying for your passport, keep reading.  I hope I can help to ease your uneasiness.

As for the laziness, well, follow me on Facebook and I’m sure my “brag posts” and photos will eventually motivate you to make it happen.

Totally Untrue But Way Too Common Travel Fear #1:

If you don’t speak the native language you’ll end up starving, homeless and possibly covered in your own urine anywhere outside of the USA

Believe it or not, the educated guys and gals in just about every major city on earth are learning or have learnt English. Bonus: They practically salivate at any chance to practice it.  People throughout South America pay mucho dinero to have a regular hour-long conversation with a native English speaker. Finding a random one on the street who’s willing to talk is like hitting the jackpot for them. Same in Asia and Europe. I’ve heard stories of girls sleeping with guys in Taiwan just so they could practice their English.

*Warning* Results may vary. Guys, don’t book a ticket on this urban legend alone!

There have been multiple times when I speak to a native in Spanish and they only respond to me in English… by choice!  They are intrigued by other cultures and it helps your cause in meeting new people. Even if I’m in a country where I can physically pass as a native, as soon as I open my mouth and my accent is discovered, everyone around me wants to know where I’m from and what I’m doing here, etc.

I have lived in Germany for 3 months and while I recognize a lot of the words and can unconsciously understand them, I don’t speak any actual German other than yes, no, please and thank you.  I did OK with my 4 words…actually I did much better than OK.

If you’ve always dreamt of seeing the Taj Mahal in person, but just can’t pass the Hindi exam, don’t sweat it!  Worst case, you befriend an Indian family that speaks English and you’re bound to get a much better and more enthusiastic interpretation anyways.

Totally Untrue But Way Too Common Travel Fear # 2:

Everything is expensive when you are abroad

Prices for goods, accommodation, and entertainment are going to be different no matter where you go.  Different being the key word.  Let’s compare Madrid to Miami:  Entrances and drinks at popular night clubs may seem pretty steep, but excellent wine is rather cheap… and you get a free small snack with EVERY drink ordered at a bar.  Can’t beat that, right?  In Buenos Aires, the clothes and shoes are expensive and, generally speaking, of pretty bad quality.  But wine and bottles of Tequila at clubs are very cheap, and you can get a 5-star steak dinner for 20 bucks.

Let’s be honest:  if you are “vacationing”, you spend money.  People tend to throw extra money around on nice dinners, souvenirs, or that one theater show the guide book said you MUST see.  If you’re a Canadian doing those same activities in Vancouver, I promise you would spend even more money.

The trick is to live “like a local”.  Instead of staying in a hotel, find an apartment on Craigslist and rent a room (avoid AirBnB if you want to stay on budget).  Don’t take taxis if there is a bus or subway available.  Buy your exotic fruits, meats, and vegetables at the local supermarket and take that opportunity to ask the cashier where his/her favourite restaurant, bar, theatre, beach, etc. is located.  Chances are, they will lead you to decently cheap places and you will end up having a much more authentic experience.  Win-win situation, right?

Initial flights will be expensive.  Most likely, you will have to take a hit on that.  But if you’re smart about it, that expense can be made up for by savings on alcohol, entertainment, or accommodation.  I’m quite sure you can live just about anywhere on Earth on the same budget as long as you’re willing to compromise a bit and adjust your lifestyle to suit the local prices. For example, in Germany I drank a good amount of (great) German beer, and had a lot of eggs, dairy and sandwiches at home. All these things were priced VERY cheap there. Now I am in Italy and it seems dairy and eggs are more pricey, but Olives, Tomatoes and Cheeses are a better deal. It’s time to eat Italian.

Totally Untrue But Way Too Common Travel Fear # 3:

Foreigners hate Americans

A common fear is that many foreigners hold a grudge against Americans and can even be hostile towards them.  I haven’t heard this fear verbally expressed a lot, but I think it lingers unconsciously in a lot of folks.  Before going further with this, let’s be honest for one second: Americans tend to talk loud, typically can’t dance and have a habit of getting super wasted (super quickly).

Now you either just read the last paragraph and thought, “Ugh… completely annoying!” or “Dude, sounds like a great night out to me!”  And you will find that foreigners will also form either thought A or thought B.  Sure, some of the guys in Costa Rica don’t appreciate the Canadian spending money and hitting on their women, but you’ll find jealous men (and women) anywhere on Earth, including your hometown. Many foreign cities thrive from tourist circulation and will welcome you with open arms.

Hamburg, where I was just living, was bombed into rubble during the second World War. Within the 3 months my roommate has had two people comment along the lines of “It was a lot more beautiful of a city before you bombed it”. Personally, no one had said anything to me…although I really wish they would have so I could go into a little history lesson. Having spoken to over 100 locals I have found almost everyone to be extremely friendly and do their best to speak English to me.

I will admit, when they find out I am Canadian people are even nicer, but they were still kind when they assumed I was an American. Again, you find ignorance everywhere. Just as there are hicks hating on immigrants or minorities in the US, you can meet the odd idiot anywhere who is angry at his own situation and takes it out on whoever he can. This is certainly no reason to stay home.  People in America hate on redheads all the time… does that mean gingers shouldn’t leave the house? 🙂

Totally Untrue But Way Too Common Travel Fear # 4:

If something goes wrong abroad you’ll have no insurance coverage, and even if you do, the service will be terrible

This is one of my favourite excuses not to travel, especially for Americans! Let’s break this down a few ways. First, fear of illness or injury should be a reason TO travel and to “seize the day” and have no regrets if something does happen down the road. Second, health care is quite cheap everywhere in the world… except North America.

This means emergency travel insurance is usually less than $40/month if you’re supplementing existing coverage.

That said, many health insurance plans include some form of worldwide coverage. What if you’re American and don’t have health insurance back home? Well, insurance and medical care will be cheaper in every other country that exists, so you’re better to be abroad if something does happen!

About one month ago I met an American girl at a bar.  After conversing for a little while, we got on this topic.  Apparently while visiting a friend in Buenos Aires she came down with something nasty.  The origin was thought to be from some unwashed spinach, but you never know with these things.  Point being, she eventually had to go to the doctor.  She was able to make an appointment at a private clinic, get checked out, and get all the proper health care attention she needed within one day.  And only ended up paying about 25 USD for everything!  Try accomplishing that in America.

Totally Untrue But Way Too Common Travel Fear #5:

You will be missing out on your friendships and the activities happening at home

Yes, there will be amazing parties, funny stories, weddings, birthdays and births you will miss.

Personally, I have more than enough parties and funny stories wherever I am; and weddings and babies tend to make me nauseous.  But for some people missing these events is point against travelling and/or living abroad.  On the other hand, being out of the country is a pretty legit excuse in everyone’s book for not physically being there for those moments.  So when you can book that one special 5-day return flight or set up that one skype session or send that one “sorry I couldn’t be there in person” birthday video, it goes far above and beyond.  It’s what pushes friendships to grow.

Being away is a great way to filter the true friends from the I-hang-out-with-you-because-you’re-within-close-proximity friends.

In Conclusion And All That

Obviously these fears were at some point grounded in reality. Someone’s cousin was punched for being American, then the police came and didn’t speak English, and the hospital screwed up their stitches leaving them with a permanent scar….

But more than likely the cousin was a moron. I’ve been travelling for almost a year straight and haven’t had a single close call, yet alone an incident. I’ve never been to a doctor or hospital (a dentist twice), and have had no fights.

Oh yeah, and I like to drink and my friends can testify to my ability to say very offensive things very loud. Like playing Risk on a quiet train in Germany and saying something like “Ah you got greedy and fought wars on too many fronts…I will take back Europe now. Don’t feel bad, you’re not the first German to lose a war. It may be a genetic thing”.

Was I punched for that one?

Actually, I got a kiss.

– By Dan Johnston

Let’s focus on the positive side in the comments. What do you think: Why do people travel around the world? 

Comments 19

  1. Hey Dan, are these things people told you as their reasons for not traveling? To be honest, I think you forgot one (in my opinion, real reason #1).

    People in America that don’t travel, I think, secretly don’t like it. Well, I wouldn’t say they don’t like it flat out, but not as much as a new phone, a cable subscription, or a fancier car. They like to live comfortably… too comfortably, and as much as they want to say that they would “love to go to Peru someday,” when push has comes to shove, people usually throw excuses about money.

    Yes, surprise surprise, travel costs money, and airplane tickets arent cheap…but neither is a new iphone, going out every weekend and buying a lot of booze, nor your collection of new shoes which seems to grow every week. If you want to travel… you have to set some money aside for it, just like any other hobby.

    I have ran into this issue a number of times with my own friends. It doesnt matter how logical I make it sound, how economical it can be, or how amazing an adventure it will be, to them, it is simply not worth it. In my time living abroad (I’ve been in Korea for a few years), I feel like I have a sixth sense for this kind of thing.

    When someone tells me “We should go to Cambodia in the winter,” I know who is all talk and just BSing me, and who actually will go.

    In April, my friend called me and told me we should go to Peru in the summer. I knew, just by the way she said it that she was serious… 2 months later, we are gazing at Machu Picchu. It was not the most convenient time for their of us, nor the most economical, but people who have a passion for travel find solutions, not excuses.

    Maybe people like you and I try to hard dont you think? We think its insane that people are really okay without ever leaving their home state, and might even think YOURE the crazy one by throwing out words like “you should settle down,” but I’ve come to admit that they are different people. They don’t want to tippy toe around Komodo dragons, and thats okay, it keeps it cheaper for me.

    I rambled too long, you have a cool site btw

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      Author

      Thanks for your response Julio…and don’t worry, we love rambles and rants here.

      I think you’re on to something in your reply…I totally know what you’re talking about with the “BS Detection” when people talk about trips. For certain friends their word means the trip is happening, for others I’m waiting for a non-refundable plane ticket as proof.

      I try not to group “Americans” together and will often explain to Europeans that the country is as large, populous and diverse as all of Europe so should not be judged by any one person or group. I’ve noticed a similar division of travellers and non-travellers all over the world.

      I have my own psychological theories, but what do you think is the real motivator, the root cause, holding some people back and encouraging others to travel?

  2. Good Job Dan , My name is Ali Reza 24 from Iran, I’m currently studying tourism management for Masters , I’m working on my thesis , the subject is about ” Iran Phobia ” I’m considering this phenomena on our tourism , since I see many foreigners do not dare to come to Iran just because of some untrue bullshits about Iran , and the amazing thing is once they get here and spend couple of weeks , they do start complaining about their fake political western media and the propaganda about Iran which is highly highlighted ! I really enjoyed reading your article and I beg your help if you can introduce some other articles regarding the same subject or any references which I can take them into consideration for my thesis !

    Thank you so so much ! 😉

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      Author

      Hey Ali,

      That sounds like a very cool thesis. Fortunately I have many friends from Iran, so I’ve heard both sides of the story. Hopefully the positive moves over the last few weeks will help going forward.

      Unfortunately I don’t really know any other articles on this. I tend to write about stuff that’s unique to me, or at least that I haven’t seen much about online before. Good luck with your search,
      Dan

    2. Ali,

      Iran was responsible for greatly diminishing my youthful interest in travel and threw my career ambitions into chaos. In HS, the only concrete career ambition I had was to work in the U.S. foreign service. I loved the idea of traveling to, and living in, foreign lands and dealing in matters, however mundane, diplomatic. Then what we call the Iran hostage crisis erupted. My eyes were opened: the sanctity of an embassy no longer meant anything, and there were people in the world who truly hated the U.S. That was the end of my foreign service ambitions, and I’ve never been overseas. 36 years later, the hostage crisis looks like “the good old days.”

  3. Dan,
    This is a great post! I am using some quotes from it in a press release page for a class project! We have a small blog called readysetroam.com and did a survey that matches up to your post basically. This is so great! We of course are citing this so that it’ll will send people over to your article.
    Thanks!

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      Author

      Hey Jenn,

      Glad to hear to came to the same conclusions! Sounds like an awesome project and I see lots of fresh content on your site. Feel free to get in touch if there’s anything I can do to help with your project.

      Cheers from Germany,
      Dan

  4. I love the idea of traveling within the USA and abroad. I have done most of my traveling when I was younger and single. America is so vast with so many places to visit that overseas traveling is not a priority. It is easier to travel domestically without requiring a passport or having to apply for a tourist visa for each country I wish to visit Plus, I can drive to my destination instead of the thought of crashing on an airplane with each passing hour on board. As an American, I work full time but only have 2 weeks of vacation time per year which does not allow me much off time to travel abroad. And unless I have a relative to host me overseas, I wonder how I will get around not speaking the language or how much it will cost to stay at a hotel and exceed my budget. People may be reluctant to spend a lot of money for a two week trip abroad and not have much left for entertainment after returning home. Another possible concern is who is going to cut my lawn, fix a broken water pipe,
    or watch my dogs if I am away for a month without having to shell out extra money
    for someone to do those things for me.
    I also do not want to travel when my kids are still in school but taking them along
    during spring or summer break would cost more money for a family trip.
    There are many reasons people like myself do not really travel and it is not because
    we do not want to ( except for fear of flying) but because it is not economical, the time
    constraint, worrying about duties in the home front, and other factors. By the way,
    I do not want to visit Iran nor other countries where there is war going on, restrictions on dress code, repression of women or high crime rate. If not for these reasons, then I would like to visit countries outside the US to learn of different cultures and see some famous landmarks just for the experience.

  5. Well I would like travel but the odds are just not in my favor right now. Three years ago I tried to go on a study abroad trip to with the community college that I was attending at the time. I had all my payments and the trip was set in stone. But the was canceled because of all the issues they have right. And I never had the opportunity to go again. And I wanted to go on other study abroad trips but I didn’t have the money. I was going try to teach abroad to China but I don’t have the money to get certified for that and my family keeps trying to scare me away from that. And I applied for flight attendant jobs to four airlines and none of them hired me. I have cousins that got the opportunity to travel outside the country but just not me and it’s not fair.

  6. Pingback: Why people are scared to travel? | OK Design

  7. Hello,

    For me travelling was always this innate gut instinct that I could always feel deep down, and I always knew I wanted to try. Travelling in general is just a sense, a feeling, when the time comes, your heart decides, your mind is set upon doing it, and you really have to rely on your heart to do the rest; to get you there. When I was in high school I decided to become a foreign exchange student my senior year, and I was a rotary exchange student just months later in Berlin, Germany for one year. I knew that America was great, I also had a sense to reach outside the box I lived in called home. I promised myself to reach further and the distance to there was just an added bonus to this great adventure. Americans might believe the attitude of “what you see is what you get” and “why change?” is more important and more combfortable than the idea of maybe expanding your horizon a little bit. Probably too Americans have so obligations setting out on adventure abroad seems unrealistic and almost outside of their realm of comfort. I think mainly it has to do with comfort, and justifying leaving friends, roommates, pets, is too daunting for some to go through on. Like I said before travelling is like a sense you just kind of have to know, it takes a little guts, luck, good attitude. My German teacher said to me before I committed to going to Germany, “if you want it, you can make it there”, meaning anyone can it’s just one decision that makes a world of a difference. Now I’m in China teaching English, and I go to Germany every year and it is my goal to become a German teacher one day. I really appreciate the opportunities I have had as an American, the wonderful places I’ve chosen to visit, the embrace, welcome, I’ve had all around the world by being an American and we’ll just by being me. America is really admired, English is such a strength to have as a foreigner travelling abroad to other countries and you can teach it and live any where in the world teaching it and pursuing your own dreams to boot! I respect my heritage and I understand the great responsibilty, and power I have, to change the world and bring America’s reputation a little bit further in a respectful manner by sharing my language, background, culture, to open doors and hearts, that once before never grasped America and her tremendous hope to welcome everyone in a global community in which we all live and grow.

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      Author

      Evan thanks so much for sharing your story! It sounds like you’ve had quite the adventure. What are the biggest differences between living in Germany and China? I’ve spent a lot of time in Germany but not been to China yet.

  8. You didn’t say very much about fear of flying. I have been to 42 countries but my fear of flying seems to increase each year. I know it’s irrational because I’m more likely to die in a car crash, but I can’t seem to shut it off. Especially with all these reports of extreme turbulence everywhere. Do you ever find yourself fearful of the flight itself?

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      Author
  9. My fear is the fear of being wrongly accused of something and being thrown into some rat infested prison while I await “trial” and having no legal help. The Amanda Knox case is my nightmare. I do plan on visiting Norway because I have distant relatives there and I have zero fear of traveling there. Have to get 3 kids through college first.

  10. Hi Dan (and others),

    In November, 2018, I hope to be heading to Ushuaia, Argentina, on my motorcycle. I’ll be departing from Colorado, USA.

    The people I’ve shared this dream with are either very excited, or astonished that I would even WANT to travel anywhere south of the US border.

    “I have no interest in doing so”, some will say.

    “It’s too dangerous in ‘that’ part of the world”, others might say.

    Usually, when I inquire further, I’ll discover that most have NEVER ventured outside of the US borders. They have, what I would call, an “irrational fear of the unknown.”

    I’m in my 60’s, and have been fortunate to have both lived abroad and traveled extensively. I KNOW from personal experience that people, EVERYWHERE, are usually friendly, welcoming, and hospitable.

    Of course there are exceptions! But in my experience these are both few and far between, and can be found no matter where you live!

    Where abroad have I lived? Japan, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, and the Central African Republic. Travels? All continents except Antarctica.

    As you noted in your article, and as others have added to or validated, many of the reasons for not exploring the world are, simply put, invalid; based upon “irrational fears”.

    Hopefully, your article will prompt some to re-think their aversion to exploring the world?

    One can always hope!!!

  11. None of these are the reasons why I don’t like travelling.
    I hate airports, and I absolutely despise being in hotels. I find it hard to sleep in a different bed in a massive building where everything smells weird and sometimes people I don’t know come in to clean it when I’m out. And although it’s exciting to meet new people, do new things, and explore another culture, once the initial interestingness wears off or once I get a quiet moment, being away from home and everything and almost everyone I know gets me really kinda anxious. There are positives to travelling, it just makes me uncomfortable enough to not really feel worth it.

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