And I Think To Myself, What a Wonderful (But Sometimes Scary) World
It’s a wondrous, gorgeous world out there just waiting to be explored. So why are so many of us afraid of it? Why do so many people choose not to travel? Why do less than 40% of Americans hold valid passports and only one in five individuals travel abroad regularly? Yes, there are the obvious obstacles of money and time; I’m certainly not naive to that. And there’s the having children situation, too. In regards to those three issues, the travel cards are surely stacked in mine and my husband’s favor. So yes, we definitely have many advantages when it comes to traveling, but here’s the thing: we also make travel a priority and choose to allocate a good majority of our time and money towards it. But I get it. Money, time and children are real valid factors and I am not dismissing any one of them. I also get that some people just don’t really care about traveling internationally. There’s plenty to see in the United States…I’ve heard this so many times and I get that, too. We are lucky to live in a country where our backyard is as diverse as it gets. I love traveling domestically and have been fortunate to have seen quite a bit of our stunning nation and there is still so much of this spectacular land that I cannot wait to dive into and experience. So I get it…there’s so much to see right here in the good ol’ U. S. of A…why go anywhere else?
But I think there’s more to it. So many of us are terrified of this world. And to an extent, we are, too. We just refuse to live our lives in fear and deny ourselves the glorious gifts that travel has afforded us. Through travel, we have experienced incredible places that we could have only dreamed of and many only read about. We have become exposed and subsequently open to other cultures and customs, and have met countless individuals who have left lasting impressions on our lives. Moreover, we have formed wonderful friendships while traveling throughout faraway places like Turkey, Egypt, and Argentina. To say that we are forever indebted to this magnificent world of ours is a serious understatement.
And yet, we continue to let fear dictate too many of our travel decisions. We let our preconceived notions, biases and misconceptions rule our destinations and itineraries. We avoid places that seem too dangerous, too foreign, too unfamiliar. We often default to those places that we deem as “safe” and “comfortable”. We have done that countless times and will most likely continue to do that when booking future trips. Those places are wonderful and provide us with a sense of ease, comfort, and relaxation. There’s nothing wrong with choosing destinations like that! Nothing at all.
Except that sometimes there might be. By only choosing those “safe” destinations, we sometimes limit our experiences and put suffocating restrictions on ourselves. Not only do we deprive ourselves of so much of this glorious world; we are ultimately letting our fears win. Now please don’t misconstrue what I’m saying. I am by no way implying that travelers should abandon all reason and sense of judgment and forgo exercising some good old-fashioned common sense. The reality is turmoil, political instability, and terrorist acts continue to plague our world and are not going away anytime soon. Some places are downright unsafe and unwise to visit, even for the most intrepid traveler. So while I’m fairly certain that we won’t be visiting North Korea or Syria anytime soon, I am very confident that we will continue to occasionally travel to places that may make some people scratch their heads and question our choices. And we’re absolutely okay with that.
When we decided to couple our summer visit to our Dominican Republic home with a trip to Colombia, we received a myriad of reactions: Colombia?!? Is it safe? Aren’t you afraid of being kidnapped? You mean, like Narcos? Isn’t that the country with all the drugs? Our friends joked that they were ready and willing to set up a GoFundMe account just in case we were kidnapped. Our other friend shared a story in which her husband’s friend had been kidnapped in Colombia years before (turns out it was Peru–which we found incredibly safe and welcoming during our trip over ten years ago). So while our friends meant no harm, and were (mostly) joking, I would be lying if I didn’t say we weren’t a bit rattled by their statements–particularly my husband. When we arrived home that night, he was convinced that we should cancel our trip and make other plans. Thankfully I reminded him that our friends, along with so many others, were solely basing their reactions on things like television shows, media and Colombia’s sordid history and its (sadly) lingering dark reputation. I assured him that Colombia today is very different than Colombia ten years ago. We had never let others’ opinions of our trips (or life choices for that matter) influence us before and we weren’t about to start now.
So here’s the thing. While we were falling in love with “turbulent” Colombia and feeling as safeguarded and free as could be, numerous horrific events were happening around the world–many in those beloved places that we often identify as “safe”. From a devastating attack in France, to horrendous train stabbings in Germany, to the atrocious mass shootings in our very own home country, we couldn’t help but want to cry at the irony. Weren’t we the ones in the country filled with drugs, kidnappings, and corruption? Weren’t we the ones practically risking our lives by traveling to crime-infested, gang-ridden Colombia? So how was it that we felt so protected, so shielded, while so many others in those “secure” countries had suddenly become innocent victims of senseless acts of terror?
When we shared our travel plans for France in 2007 and Germany in 2013, not once were we met with warnings or disapproving looks. Not once did someone question our choices and try to dissuade us from going. Nope. Not one single time. Why? Because these are the places that we’ve deemed as “safe”. These are the places that we see as “comfortable” and “similar” to the locations that many of us call home. And typically they are exactly what we perceive them to be and they are absolutely sublime. We fell in love with both France and Germany and hope to return someday to both of these magnificent countries. We are proud and feel extremely fortunate to be able to call the United States our home. This post is not about trying to convince you that these types of destinations should be avoided. Quite the contrary. This post is about trying to convince you to see the beauty and visit both kinds of destinations: the conventional, often-visited places and the out-of-your-comfort-zone, road-less-traveled places. Both kinds of places surely promise rewarding, memorable and life-changing experiences.
What if we hadn’t trusted our traveling guts and canceled our Colombian trip, just because of what others thought and our own apprehensions? Sure, life would’ve continued to go on and we would’ve chosen another lovely destination where we would’ve surely loved. But we would’ve missed out on a remarkable country, its lovely and welcoming people, and so many extraordinary experiences. We couldn’t be happier that we trusted our traveling gut and refused to let fear interfere with our dreams. To so many of us, travel is not solely a decadent luxury; it is an investment in ourselves that forever shapes our thinking and provides us with invaluable lessons.
JoAnn is a travel junkie obsessed with local food and drink and seeing every inch of this wondrous world. Her passion for adventure has taken her to over 45 countries on 5 continents and over 40 U.S. states. When home in Washington, D.C., you will find her drinking copious amounts of coffee, teaching yoga to adults and kids alike, and trying her hardest to get her third grade students to learn as much about this world and various cultures as she possibly can.
Originally from a small Pennsylvanian town, her global pursuits have taught her that it’s not about where you’re from. It’s about where you’re going and what you plan to do when you get there.