Showing the light for anxious travelers

Role Models for Anxious Travelers

I just came across this article by Tim Trainor for the East Oregonian. It’s an interview with Roanne Van Voorst, world traveler, anthropologist, risk specialist, public speaker, author, trainer, rock climber, personal coach…well, the list goes on and on. She has fear, or has had it, about all these things, but she doesn’t let it hold her back, and that makes her a good role model for anxious travelers.

We hodophobes need all the role models we can get, and I hope you’ll click through and read the article, and maybe even go to her website for more information about her books and courses. She knows about fear objectively, as an academic, and she knows about it subjectively too, as a person who’s grappled with it in hand-to-hand combat. She won, or keeps winning, since fear isn’t an opponent you can just beat into a corner and then leave behind once and for all. It’s a natural part of life.

And establishing dominance over it is a discipline. It’s like exercise; you have to work at it regularly or your skills atrophy. It’s like a healthy diet; you have to be deliberate about what you feed your mind, just like you have to be deliberate about what you feed your body. And it’s like getting those 8 hours of sleep you need every night; you’ve got to take time out to let the tension drain from your body. You’ve got to become a relaxation ninja.

And just as you can’t practice self-care for only one day and then forget about it, you’re going to have to keep dealing with your travel fears too. It’s a way of life.

Van Voorst said some things in her interview that are especially important for those of you who are engaged in the battle with fear. First of all, it’s not your fault.

It’s possible that your fears come from your childhood experience. If you didn’t have a stable caregiver to show you the world is a safe place, you’re not likely to be comfortable with traveling outside your comfort zone.

And even if your upbringing was picture perfect, some of us are just “wired” to be on the anxious side. It’s an inborn trait.

Don’t let that make you hopeless about change though. As Van Voorst immediately goes on to say, “…you’re not a slave to your brain.”

No, you are not.

Your travel fears may have originated in your genes or your childhood, or they may have been the result of trauma or accumulated stress. We’ll continue to explore the possible causes of hodophobia, because knowing where your fears came from helps you to think about them differently. It helps you tell yourself a different story about them. For example, you may start saying you’re afraid to travel because of your inborn temperament and stop saying you’re afraid to travel because it’s dangerous. It’s not.

And what’s the best way to internalize the knowledge that travel isn’t dangerous? You’ve got to do it.

Van Voorst isn’t the only one to say this of course. Most mental health professionals are going to say the same thing. Travel professionals say it too.

Even consummate traveler Rick Steves has travel fears about going to unfamiliar places. But he’s able to reason with himself, get the facts, and assess the risks. If he rationally knows he’s not in danger, he heads into the unknown, even when he’s nervous. And once “the new” becomes “the known” his anxiety dissipates.

Here’s the thing. Steves is talking about normal anxiety, the kind that anyone might feel when stretching against the boundaries of the familiar and moving into the unknown.

He’s not talking about hodophobia, an overpowering fear of travel that makes the simple act of moving forward seem impossible. That’s a territory I doubt he’s ever explored. You can probably draw the same conclusion, based on his statement that “It’s easy to sit at home and be afraid.”

It’s not easy. You know that. It can be torture to sit at home and be afraid when the big, wide world is calling to you and you can’t make yourself answer.

Steves is right when he says that getting the facts and considering them rationally can help you fight back against your travel fears. But it’s not enough, in and of itself, to overcome a phobia.

Van Voorst understands this because she’s an expert in fear first, and then in travel. She knows that overwhelming fears are best addressed using a “…strategic and gradual approach.” She sounds like the real deal.

Have you tried her courses? If so, what was your experience like?

Are you putting together a “…strategic and gradual approach” for combating your fears? Will you share your experiences about what works for you and what doesn’t? I’d love to hear your story.

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