Fear and Loathing in Travel

Looking for Adventure in All the Wrong Places



I was asked by a journalist for my thoughts on several questions dealing with fear, how it pertains to travel, and what differences there may be between men and women travelers. She was researching an article, and I share my thoughts with her and repeat them here as a blog posting for anyone who may be interested in looking at this.

Where does the fear and loathing of traveling alone come from?

Where does the fear of traveling alone specifically as a woman come from? (i.e., are there any differences in the fears that women vs. men experience)?

Of course, fear is a very complex subject. Most generally stated, fear is a composite or net result of a multitude of factors ranging from nature to nurture, having to do with ones sense of having to make decisions about and deal or cope with unknowns.

In a word, the fear of travel is basically a fear of encountering or experiencing the unknown and not knowing how to deal with the disorder or disarray of a host of situations, which normally would never arise in ones relatively unconscious, undertakings, i.e., ‘running on automatic’ in ones daily existence.

At home, one usually moves about in a bubble or envelope comfortably and securely insulated from a host of potentially threatening factors, which are justly and suitably controlled and managed notably without having to be dealt with in a conscious manner. Surrounding our cocoons is a stable of support networks consisting of relatives, co-workers and friends that bolster our sense of safety and security.

Culture Shock

In travel ‘culture shock’ is an extreme condition in which just about everything normally taken for granted is now brought into question, i.e, dealing with just about everything. Also, our normal support networks are absent.

A person in a culture shock situation doesnt speak the language and is, therefore, relatively unable to seek out information or clarity about an increasingly more complex surrounding culture. Whats more, many of the cues are non-verbal and below the threshold of awareness or understanding. Just about everything a person experiences is in “cultural disarray and fear and anxiety abound. The fear is the perceived inability to cope with the complexities and the resulting consequences.

Those who crave or demand complete stability or organization of their environs loath travel, in which the discomfort of dealing with unknowns pervades ones sense of grasping, coping and dealing with having to make decisions about so many things. Often it is not so much the actual concrete situation that is feared, rather, it is the feeling that one has to be prepared to make decisions and choices about so many things often all at once. Thus, people feel threatened or anxious about their own “sense of self , i.e., their levels of self-esteem and self-confidence in being able to cope with making decisions, and, thus, dealing with situations effectively.

For others, a modicum of fear translates into excitement. That is, ones maximum excitement is experiencing danger just to the point where it begins to become unsafe. Adrenalin,’ danger, or adventure junkies, in the extreme, crave experiences in which they test themselves to the limits of their abilities in relatively unknown situations. The reward is the perception of having succeeded or achieved something more in the service of “being all that you can be.

Fear and excitement are two ends of a broad continuum, where most people generally find themselves falling somewhere in between. Thus one persons white water adventure is anothers white knuckle experience.

Men Versus Women in All of This

There are certain socio-cultural, physical, and psychological factors that perhaps differentiate men and women to varying extents and that have some bearing on the fear of travel. Historically in the United States and other Western countries women have been traditionally influenced to be relatively more sedentary home-bodies and, thus, relatively more dependent upon men to be taken care of so-to-speak.

Thus, women have been traditionally less encouraged to become independent and adventuresome. As crude as this may seem, it has, nevertheless, been historically a cultural ethic which has been increasingly changing in the modern Western era. I say Western, because it still is still NOT the current ethic in many, if not, most non-Western Muslim cultures. One wonders, for instance, “Where are all the women? in Islamic and north African places, where all you see are men sitting around in the cafes. The women are off the streets at home.

In America, women are no longer considered the weaker sex, and a look at typical early morning workouts in gyms certainly confirms this. Not so in many other non-Western cultures. Power is still king. Men are generally physically stronger than women. Women have and know their place. In some countries they are considered and treated as second-class citizens and chattel.

In America and the Western world the concept of womanhood is perceived very differently than in the non-Western world. Many Western women are aware of this; many are not. Those who do not may get themselves in serious trouble.

Looking for Adventure in All the Wrong Places

The key, most people believe, to dealing with the fear of travel is preparedness. A technical term referred to commonly is risk assessment.’ Thus, the more prepared you are to deal with situations, the more youve analyzed or considered the risks, and the more experienced you are, the better off youll be, and, thus, less fearful you need or ought to be. These are commonly held common sense travel (and life) notions. This is the sort of thinking that the devil you know is better than the devil you dont know.

I feel that, while generally no one would argue with these truisms, it is the relatively unconsidered elements of travel–lets say, the devils you dont know–that perhaps pose the greatest dangers for women travelers. These are elements of travel not often considered to the extent that perhaps they should be. In some cases, these are personality traits that come into play; these are myths and tulpas (thought forms, self-delusions) that occur; these are unconscious, unknown cultural factors not thought of. And, finally, these are the unknown “quantum factors–the unintended consequences–that rear their ugly heads.

Personality Considerations: ‘Macho’ vs ‘Macha’ Travel

A sense of hubris–an exaggerated sense of self–that makes some women feel that they can deal with just about anything–an ill-placed, over-developed sense of self-confidence or self-esteem, that “I can handle anything is an attitude that can grow with achievement and success within Western culture. In the case of men harboring this somewhat immature attitude, I call this “macho travel. In the case of women, I refer to this as “macha travel. It is essentially self-delusion in the service of ones ego. This can get you into trouble every time.

Some women are in apparent rebellion against the culture, feeling that theyve been held back (often rightly so), to the extent that they may be over-compensating and out to prove just the opposite, showing, in a word, that they can do it, that they are just as capable, if not equally and oppositely so, as men. This devil may care, just watch me! attitude can also get you into trouble.

Myths, Delusions & Tulpas

Ive seen attitudes of travelers time and time again that “you only attract trouble, “you are the ‘victim,’ only if you behave so that you attract it. If you play the ‘victim,’ i.e., act scared, worried, and afraid, youll indeed become the ‘victim.’ While often true, it is the opposite notion, very commonly asserted, that is genuinely false, namely, that if you behave the confident, assertive, calm, unafraid, un-worried, not scared traveler, you wont be victimized.

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