Why travel teaches us to be afraid

My phone was vibrating in my back pocket. I knew any second now, it was going to start ringing.  Thrill, loud and untimely.

Don’t answer that“, the voice was certain and firm, if slightly unnerved.

What? Why? What do you mean?“, my heart started to beat faster and my pace quickened, I knew what was coming.

Not here, it’s not safe”, my student, my team member was now looking after me. I was terrified.

I once spent a long and painful summer working in South Africa, I led a team of volunteers working on an NGO project in the centre of Durban.  It was brutal. It’s up there with one of the worst experiences of my life. But I met some pretty special people and that’s what makes life great. It makes it worth it. My team was a mix of British and South African girls, all under 19.

We worked with some really poor families and in some really dangerous neighbourhoods.  Looking back now I can remember the stress and the worry, I had a team of people to look after and I was in unfamiliar territory. We weren’t given the support we should have had, we were forced into dangerous situations and my personal resilience and tenacity developed at an alarming pace. This was where I really learnt to speak out, even when your voice shakes, even when everyone is telling you, you are wrong. Even when you’re afraid. 

This is where I learnt to be afraid of travel.

One of our working locations was in a downtown neighbourhood, on a daily basis we witnessed drug deals, rough sleepers and loving people with good hearts. On that particular day, I was with one member of my team who was a Durban local and she was street smart. I’m pretty good at being attuned to my surroundings but she saw something that day that I didn’t, she knew it wasn’t worth answering that call.

Travel teaches us to be afraid for so many reasons.  That very street only 1 year later was the scene of xenophobic riots and violent attacks. My whole body knew something wasn’t right. Travel teaches us to be afraid so we can trust our gut instinct.  Often we know what’s right and what’s wrong.

Travel teaches us to be afraid so we can learn from our mistakes.  Every book, crime stat and website said to stay away from the Townships but I headed to KwaMashu, one of the most notorious, because a girl from my team lived there, that was her home.  This was one of the best decisions I’d made on the trip, I learned from a mistake, I had been afraid, so I’d judged. But I felt so welcomed and safe in the walls of her home.

Travel teaches us to be afraid, so sometimes we can see there is nothing to be afraid of.

I will always be careful when travelling. I check my belongings are safe, I’m careful of what neighbourhoods I stay in, who I meet and how much money I carry on me. But travel has taught me to be afraid of so much more than my personal safety.

Travel taught me to be afraid of waking up in 40 years time filled with regrets.

Travel taught me to be afraid of staying inside your comfort zone.

Travel taught me to be afraid of living a life full of  ‘should’s’ and ‘shouldn’t’, rather than dreams and ‘what if’?’.

Travel taught me to be afraid of living a small life.  The world is so big, what if we only got to see a part of it?

Travel taught me to be afraid of living in a bubble, not meeting diverse and wonderful people who live so differently than me.

Travel taught me to be afraid of saying no. It closes doors and hearts and it’s no fun.

Travel taught me to be afraid of missing the small things. Be grateful for what you’ve got right now.

Travel taught me to be afraid of missing out. There is a whole wide world out there, open your front door, who knows where you might end up.

Travel taught me to be afraid. But all of this is good. Have you heard that phrase, ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?’. Live a bold life. Challenge yourself, push your comfort zones boundaries. (I mean be safe when travelling, don’t be reckless ), but live a brave life, full of excitement and tears and love. Ask yourself, what would you do if you were not afraid.

* Did you like this post? I’m writing a new series, once a month I’ll post a lesson that travel has taught us. Last month I wrote lesson #1 – Why travel teaches us to say goodbye. I’d love to know what you think or if you’ve got any lessons you want to share.


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