4 Big Travel Fears And How To Overcome Them

When I meet people who tell me they’ve never flown on an airplane or stepped foot outside their home state, I’m always a little taken aback. In this day and age when travel is so accessible, affordable and commonplace, it’s amazing that there are still so many travel virgins out there.

Now, of course, if these folks didn’t want to travel, or were unable to afford it, that would be understandable. But it’s not lack of desire or means that seems to hold so many people back. Instead, it’s fear – fear of heading out into the great unknown and fear of what will go wrong when they get there. And this fear is crippling enough to stop them from living out their travel dreams.

But the good news for travel newbies is that fears can be overcome. It’s just a matter of understanding what you’re really scared of and learning to manage your concerns. Here are the four biggest fear-related excuses I hear from would-be travelers and tips on how to cope with them.

Going abroad is dangerous

This is probably the most common excuse I hear for not traveling. In fact, the idea that foreign places are dangerous is so pervasive that many people not only stop themselves from traveling, but they try to prevent others from doing so as well. “Are you really planning to go there? Do you think it’s wise? Have you heard the news reports about xyz?” are all refrains I’ve heard over and over. But here’s the thing: life is dangerous and bad things can happen to you anywhere. Despite this, we tend to be afraid of the big, catastrophic events that are actually quite rare (such as our plane crashing, or being kidnapped abroad), but less afraid of more common dangers (such as car accidents) that happen all the time.

So how can you quash this fear? First, do some research. People are often afraid of travel because they don’t know what to really expect. In other words, fear of going abroad is really just fear of the unknown. By learning about your destination, you can start to feel more comfortable with the idea of visiting it. You might even be surprised to learn that your destination is less dangerous than where you live.

Also, remember that news reports tend to focus mostly on negative events, giving you a disproportionate image of how dangerous a country really is. Even in countries that do have genuine problems, not all parts of the country are necessarily dangerous. So just because you saw a story about a shooting or hostage situation in one city doesn’t mean the popular tourist town you’ll be visiting has the same problems. The best way to know for sure is to read detailed travel advisories.

At the end of the day, as long as you use common sense (avoid dark alleys, keep an eye on your belongings and so on) you’ll be just fine.

I won’t be able to communicate my needs

If all you have in your language arsenal is a bit of high school Spanish, then it’s normal to feel anxious about heading to a country where you won’t be able to understand a word of the local lingo. But of all the fears on this list, not being able to communicate is probably the most unfounded. Remember, English is widely spoken around the world, and even those who don’t speak it may have enough of a basic understanding to be able to help you out. And the people you’re most likely to come into contact with – those working in the hospitality industry – will almost certainly know some English.

If you’re still worried, it might be a good idea to prepare yourself by learning a few key words and phrases in the local language. Things like, “where is the toilet?”, “I want chicken/beef/pork,” “I want a single/return ticket” and so on, always come in handy. Of course, “please” and “thank you” also go a long way when you’re seeking help from locals.

Other ways around the language barrier include carrying phrase books, flash cards or picture books bearing images of things you commonly need when traveling. You could also try using gestures or miming to get your point across – it may feel silly but it works.

At the end of the day, there are very few places in the world where you’ll struggle to get by without the local language and if you’re a first-time traveler, chances are these places are not on your itinerary anyway.

What if I get sick or hurt?

Falling ill or being injured abroad are unlikely but not altogether impossible scenarios. So the key to getting around this fear is to be prepared. Firstly, recognize that most health problems people have when traveling are minor – according to this list of the most common travel diseases, diarrhea is the number one ailment. Carrying a small first-aid kit with a few common over-the-counter meds should get you through most situations, but if not, remember there are pharmacies just about everywhere.

Of course, a stomach bug is not what most people are really worried about. It’s the bigger health emergencies that could end in a visit to a scary foreign hospital that gets travelers anxious. But it’s worth noting that many international health systems are better than you think. India, for example, has earned a reputation for its highly experienced heart surgeons, while Thailand is top a destination for medical tourism because of its internationally accredited facilities. Moreover, many developing countries often have large expat communities, so sleek hospitals with highly-trained English speaking staff have sprung up to serve them. If you have a pre-existing condition or are simply anxious, find out where these expat-oriented hospitals are and keep a list of them when traveling.

Lastly, get up to date on all your vaccinations and make sure you have good health insurance that will cover you while you’re abroad.

What if I lose my passport/credit cards/wallet?

Losing your documents is a nuisance, for sure, but it doesn’t have to ruin your whole trip. I once had an ATM swallow my debit card at a bus station in Bolivia … 15 minutes before I was about to board a bus for a distant city. What did I do? Well, I wanted to be sure that no one would figure out a way to retrieve my card from the machine and use it, so I borrowed a cellphone from a kind passerby, called the bank and canceled my card right there on the spot. They promised to express post a new card and a few days later, it was in my hands. Life certainly went on despite the little hiccup, especially because I had other cards to fall back on.

Rogue ATMs aren’t the only threat to your valuables, in fact, pick-pocketing is much more likely. Still, this doesn’t have to be a trip-ending nightmare at all. Just be sure not to carry all your credit cards and cash in your wallet everyday – it’s best to leave most of it in your hotel safe and only tote around what you’ll need for the day. Should the worst happen, call your credit card company right away, cancel the lost card, and they’ll express a new one out to you.

When it comes to passports, again, don’t carry it around unless you have a good reason to. If it does go MIA, you’ll have a much easier time getting a replacement passport if you’ve made copies of it. Keep one copy with you and leave another with a trusted friend back home, just to cover all bases. Your nearest embassy or consulate should be able to help you out from there.

At the end of the day, remember that if the trip really turns out to be as horrible as you imagined, you can always turn around and come home. However, chances are, once you take those first steps and get going, you’ll discover all the wonderful things about life on the road and want to stay. If anything, you’ll probably wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

What kinds of fears stop you from traveling? Have you found ways of managing them? Let us know below!

[Photo credits: Flickr users cvander; shock264; Fields of View; gwire; swimparallel]

SkyMall Monday: Urine Gone

You might not think that writing about SkyMall is very extreme. But I’m constantly dodging marshmallows, defending my lawn ornaments and hiding from biker gangs. The adrenaline rushes are frequent and intense. And while my SkyMall gadgets make my life comfortable and easy, they’ve also made me a bit of a wuss. Thanks to SkyMall, I’m too relaxed. I’m scared of my own shadow. And that means that every sound startles me. Every challenge seems daunting. And every person appears threatening. When your life is cushy and easy, everything new or different becomes extreme. And extreme becomes frightening. And frightening becomes terrifying. Sadly, I don’t handle fear very well. As such, I pee my pants…a lot. With every bump in the night, I get another puddle on my rug. And trust me, when it rains it pours. Since I can’t expect the rest of the world to calm down and take it easy on me, I have learned to adapt to how extreme everything out there is. That’s why I treat the symptom and not the disease (well, that and therapy is really expensive). Now, when things get intense and I get damp, I simply whip out my Urine Gone.Urine Gone is the answer to my prayers. Now, I can wet my pants, my rugs and my friends without consequence. I simply pee wherever my rapidly beating heart desires and then Urine Gone it away once I’ve stopped crying and come out from under the bed (Author’s note: under the bed is a super hiding spot). I simply locate the pee with the included blacklight (yes, you read that correctly) and the Urine Gone treats the stain and the asparagus smell (just because I pee my pants a lot doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop eating healthy).

Think that wearing a diaper would be a more effective solution? I think I’d look pretty stupid wearing a diaper. Besides, a diaper can’t handle the vast amount of urine that escapes my body when I’m scared. And Urine Gone is way more fun than wearing a diaper. Just take a look at the product description:

A UV black light detects the source – the cleaner removes stains and odors! Just darken the room–the black light makes stains glow.

Who doesn’t want to see their pee glow? Finding the glowing urine becomes a game that’s fun for the entire family!

So, the next time that life gets too extreme for you and you find yourself soaked in your own filth, don’t fret. Because urine comes and urine goes, but hiding under your bed is fun forever.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

New Virgin Atlantic iPhone app helps people with a fear of flying

I suffer from serious anxiety while flying. I’ve tried learning about the mechanics of flight, popping Xanax, I’ve even taken a flight lesson in an effort to cure my fear. Sometimes I can stay calm, but on other flights, for apparently no reason, I’ll suddenly have a panic attack. It’s more than a small problem.

For people like me, Virgin Atlantic has created a new iPhone app based on their Flying without Fear class. According to a press release, their course has a 98% success rate for helping fearful flyers cope. The iPhone app takes elements of the course (which recently helped Whoopi Goldberg manage her fear) and offers a mobile solution for use during the flight. Passengers can watch a video explanation of how planes work, read answers to frequently asked questions, and follow along with deep breathing and relaxation techniques.

There’s also a “fear attack” button for emergencies. The problem with that idea being, of course, that when I truly panic – shaking and hyperventilating – I don’t really have the capacity to hit my fear button and read and process the information. I’m too busy trying not to cry. But perhaps reviewing the information beforehand might help if a moment of panic strikes.

The Flying without Fear course usually costs about $350; the iPhone app is $4.99 in the iTunes store. Even if the app only helps a little, it sounds like a sound investment to me.

Galley Gossip: Interview with New York Times best selling author Allison Winn Scotch

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book I couldn’t put down. In fact, your book, Time of my Life, made me wish my commuter flight from New York to Los Angeles would never end. It’s that good! With heavy issues like abandonment, divorce, escape and fate, what inspired you to write the book?

Well, I’d been contemplating doing a time-travel story, but I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. I mentioned it to my agent, and I think she was deeply perplexed by both the idea and me! But I didn’t know how to sort it out in my mind. But then one afternoon while the idea was brewing, my best friend called while she was on vacation where her ex-boyfriend lived, and she said, “I’m so weirded out…I can’t stop thinking about what my life might have been like.”

Then we had one of those intimate life conversations that you can only have with your closest friends, about her what-ifs and my what-ifs, and I assured her that this was all very normal, even though people didn’t really talk about how much they wonder about what could have been. We hung up, and I headed out for a run, and BAM…the idea, characters and plotlines just presented themselves very clearly. I came home, wrote what are now the first 14 pages, and sent them off to my agent, who flipped for them. I think, as so many of us get older and look back on our younger years with nostalgia, it’s very easy to consider what the other possibilities could have been –and I wanted to explore that.

As a flight attendant, I love my job because it allows me to jump on a plane and go wherever I want whenever I want, as long as there’s an open seat available. Just knowing I can travel like that brings a sense of calm to my life. My job also allows for a little “me time” since I’m gone for a few days at a time each month. Women today are so busy working full time jobs and then going home to clean the house, make dinner and take care of others, they have a tendency to forget about themselves. Which is why I believe escape is a popular theme for women and why so many women wonder about what could have been if they had made different choices in life. Have you as a wife, mother, and a New York Time’s best selling author, ever wondered – what if?

Definitely! As I said above, I think this is so, so, so common, but it’s a strange thing – we’re all sort of hesitant to talk about it, as if talking about our “what ifs” somehow mean that we’re truly unhappy with our current lives. But I don’t think that’s it at all – I think you can look back and reflect and use those memories, those what ifs, to propel you toward MORE happiness rather than less. Remember the choices you made and why, and if you ARE unhappy, remember your original list of goals and maybe tweak your current course to get back to where you wanted to be. But…yes, I’m totally guilty of what-ifing. :)

I, too, have wondered what-if. What if I hadn’t been working the flight from New York to Los Angeles when I met my husband? Without a doubt my life would have turned out completely different if I hadn’t been working that flight. While reading your book, I found myself conflicted. Part of me was excited that the main character was given a second chance, an opportunity to create a new life with an ex-boyfriend she seemed to have never gotten over, while another part of me rooted for the husband and child she’d left behind. While writing did you ever feel conflicted in the direction in which the main character was headed? Did you know from the beginning what was going to happen to her in the end?

I think the only real conflict I felt was about her relationship with her child, and I was worried that readers wouldn’t like her/accept her for needing time away from her child to get back in touch with who she once was. But…I HAD to take that leap because part of Jillian’s dissatisfaction with her life was the fact that motherhood wasn’t what she had expected it to be, and she needed to regroup in order to understand WHY it wasn’t what she expected it to be and maybe to realign those expectations. So that was definitely a big concern/conflict. But look, I’m a mom of two kids, and while I would do ANYTHING IN THE WORLD for them, truly, I also understand those occasional days when you think, “Ugh, what I wouldn’t give to have an entire free 24 hours to myself, FOR myself.” So I tried to play this balance delicately.

Many years ago I walked a blind passenger to her first class seat. As I held her hand, she began telling me things about my past that were right on, and then went on to predict my future – all of which came true. I never really thought about fate until I met her. I always thought people were in control of their destinies, but now I’m not so sure. Do you believe in fate?

Great question! And the answer is…I don’t know. :) I sometimes have a hard time accepting that fate is in charge of everything because I’ve seen some pretty sad situations in life (friends passing away too young, children who are terribly sick), and I feel like the blanket explanation of, “Oh, what’s meant to happen will happen,” is almost a cop-out. I guess that I believe in fate to a certain extent but only in so much as WE are the ones who control it. I’m pretty proactive about my life, for example, and while maybe it was fate that I ended up joining the gym where I met my husband, I DON’T think we would have met if I hadn’t gone up and introduced myself. (What can I say? I thought he was cute!) So I think it’s a blend of the two.

The people I meet and the places I go completely affect my writing, obviously. Your book is set in Westchester and Manhattan. How important is location to your stories?

Important and not so important. My first two books were set in New York because that was the environment I was most comfortable writing about, and for me, writing books was challenge enough – I wasn’t about to set my book in a city that I couldn’t immediately grasp. That said, New York plays an important role to each of these protagonists – in Time of My Life, it represents Jillian’s old life, her single days, so yes, it WAS important to set the book there. For my next book, The One That I Want, location becomes even more critical – it’s set in a small town in Washington State, and the town defines just about everything about the heroine. So I think, once I really got comfortable with the novel-writing process, I was able to take more risks with imagining locations other than my own.

Has a fabulous vacation to another city/locale ever inspired or changed something you were in the process of writing?

Hmmm, not a specific city, but certainly, I take inspiration from wherever I travel to. We just spent part of the summer in California, and the wide open beaches, beautiful weather, and calming attitude really helped nurture my brain for the last round of revisions for The One That I Want.

Rumor has it you’re afraid to fly. What do you do to overcome that fear in order to get on an airplane?

I try to just be logical about it! I know – rationally! – that my fear is totally crazy, and so I sort of talk myself off the ledge with statistics and such. It’s only a relatively recent fear (since becoming a mother), so even though I probably don’t sleep the night before a flight, a small part of me, way in the back of my brain, knows that I’ll be fine. Still though, I really, really wish I could get over it! :)

If it’s the turbulence that frightens you, sit near the front of the aircraft next time. It’s much less bumpy up there. That’s why you’ll sometimes see flight attendants working in first and business class while the ones working in coach are buckled into their jumpseats. It’s that big of a difference between cabins. Favorite city?

Ooh, probably Paris.

It’s such a romantic city. Which reminds me, years ago on a layover in Paris I went to an ATM and accidentally took out my entire life savings. I was so nervous walking around the city with a purse full of cash. Sadly, the only times I’ve ever been to Paris were on layovers, which, of course, only happened on reserve months. It’s a senior trip, which means it’s a very desirable place to go for flight attendants. You live in New York City, so what do you recommend for families traveling with small children to the Big City?

Oh my gosh, there is SO MUCH to do here with kids. The Museum of Natural History is a big hit for our kids because it’s in our neighborhood, as is the Children’s Museum. I really enjoy taking my older one to Broadway shows, and both of them to children’s concerts and children’s theater, like the Vital Theater at 75th and Broadway. If you’re here in the warmer months, of course, you have to stroll through Central Park – you can often catch a
great spontaneous breakdancing show. :) The kids love it.

I’m dying to take my three year-old to the Central Park zoo. What about when family or friends are in town visiting, what are some of the things you always make sure to do with them?

Eat! New York has the best dining in the world, so the one thing we always do is eat out!

I think we’re going to have to hang out. I, too, love to eat. That probably explains why my favorite place to vacation is in Italy. The food is just amazing there. Now tell me about your best vacation?

Wow, that’s a hard one. I love everything about Europe – everything – but if I had to say the best vacation ever, I’d be remiss not to say last year’s vacation to Grand Cayman that we took as a family. It was just a perfect string of nine days in which my kids were wonderfully behaved, the resort was out-of-this-world, the beaches were breath-taking, and we, as a family,just sat back and enjoyed the hell out of each other. One of the very few vacations when we truly were not ready to return home.

Okay, now you’re going to have to tell us where you stayed!

The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman – have you been? It’s SOOO good for families. I think we’re heading back this year.

I’l have to check it out. City/country you’re dying to visit?

South Africa. I wish I’d taken a safari before my kids were born…now it will likely be a few more years until I can do so.

That’s also on my list of things to do / places to go. In fact, I feel sorry for my South African passengers because I’ve always got a million questions for them. I’m dying to go on Safari. Favorite traveling outfit?

J.Crew sweatpants, sweatshirt and tank top. (Yes, I might be J. Crew’s favorite customer.) My converse sneakers. I travel comfy.

Comfort in flight is very important. Book last read on a flight?

I haven’t flown without my kids recently, and there’s no chance I get to read when I travel with them. BUT, I think I eked out a few pages of Elin Hilderbrand’s The Castaways on our recent trip to California.

Now finish the following sentences.

Once on a flight….I thought the floor was going to fall out of the plane. My husband and I were in Italy, flying on some tiny, God-forsaken, who-knows-what airline, and the entire floor was shaking/rattling/making-VERY-strange noises the whole flight. Even my husband – who has absolutely no fear of flying – was ashen.

If I could be anywhere in the world I’d…Be living in Paris or Hawaii. Either one sounds heavenly.

Next book?

As I mentioned above, the next book is called The One That I Want, and it will be out June 2010!

Interested in reading more about Allison Winn Scotch? Visit her web site – www.allisonwinn.com

Photos courtesy of (book cover, author photo) Allison Winn Scotch, (Hermosa Beach, CA, Waikiki Beach) Heather Poole, (Paris) Fly for Fun

Galley Gossip: The Gift of Fear (on and off the airplane)

Out of nowhere you feel it – fear. You’re not sure why you feel it, and because it doesn’t make sense, at least not yet, you choose to ignore it. Perhaps you just don’t want to be rude or look stupid in an effort to avoid whatever it is you can’t quite grasp that is scaring you. Well I’m here to tell you there could be a very good reason you’re afraid, and it doesn’t always have to make sense and it’s okay to look stupid or act rude, even if you are a woman. Better safe than sorry, I say.

Two years after I first started flying in 1995, the airline I work for sent out a newsletter with a little blurb about an interesting sounding book called The Gift of Fear, by Gavin De Becker. I bought the book and several years later it’s still one of my favorites. De Becker discusses what it means to be fearful and how that fear is truly a gift. If you trust it. Some people call it a sixth sense. Whatever it is; a shiver down your spine, hair standing up on the back of your neck, a lump at the bottom of your stomach, something has alerted your senses. You shouldn’t ignore it. That fear could very well save your life.

One of the first stories Gavin shares is about a pilot who enters a convenience store and then immediately walks right back out because his sixth sense told him to leave. The pilot had no idea the store was being robbed, but when De Becker asked the pilot why exactly he left, the pilot said he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. De Gavin pressed the pilot for more details, and soon the pilot realized what really triggered his reaction; a man wearing a winter coat in the middle of summer, customers all turning to stare at him when he walked through the door. All these clues came at the pilot so quickly, he couldn’t make sense of why he felt the way he felt, but he trusted his gut and got out there quickly.

So why did the cop who walked into the very same convenience store seconds later not feel the same way the pilot did? Because when the customers in the store spotted the cop, relief swept over them, replacing fear, which may have been why the cop did not pick up on what was going on quickly enough to prevent him from getting shot.

Remember Richard Reid, the shoe bomber? At flight attendant recurrent training we learned there was something about the man that made each flight attendant on his flight take note of him right away. For some reason those flight attendants got an uneasy feeling the minute he walked onto the airplane. But no one said a word to each other. At least not until the ordeal was over. If you feel a little uneasy about a certain situation, tell someone. If someone tells you they feel a little weird about a certain situation, listen. I know I do.

Fear on the airplane: A few years ago a passenger on one of my flights from New York to Los Angeles caught my eye. Constantly he kept getting up to use the bathroom, and once behind the locked lavatory door he stayed there for an unusually long amount of time. When I tried to address him as he passed me by to get to his seat, he ignored me – several times.

“There’s a passenger making me a little nervous,” I told a fellow coworker. We were just about to begin the first beverage service.

“The one wearing a black polo shirt and dark sunglasses sitting in a middle seat near the front of the cabin who keeps getting up to use the lavatory?” my coworker asked, nonchalantly rearranging the napkins, stir sticks, and sugar.

Two hundred passengers aboard our flight that day and my coworker knew exactly who I’d been talking about. Coincidence? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Because right after the passenger wearing the polo shirt returned to his seat, another passenger came running, literally running, down the aisle to the back of the aircraft.

“I’m sitting next to this guy and I can’t explain it, but he’s scaring me!” a young woman cried, literally, she was crying.

I handed her a Kleenex, assuring her I knew exactly who she spoke of and that we, the crew, were not only watching him, but we had already informed the cockpit who had contacted the ground. As soon as the words were out of my mouth another passenger walked into the galley.

Flashing a crew ID, the off duty flight attendant pulled me aside so no one else could hear and whispered, “I just want to let you know that there’s this guy…”

This guy, the one wearing a polo shirt who sat a few rows away from her, had made her nervous. Funny enough, he never did do anything wrong. Yet we continued to keep an eye on him. When we landed in L.A. the aircraft was met by several serious looking men and women dressed in dark suits. An FBI agent pulled me aside and asked a few questions. I told him everything, even though there wasn’t much to tell. Eventually the passenger in question was let go. But how strange is it that the one and only passenger we all feared had been issued a passport two days prior, had purchased a one way ticket with cash, and had a connecting flight to Florida where he said he was going to school?

Coincidence? You decide.

On a layover: Once at a layover hotel in a city I no longer remember, I signed in and collected my room key from the front desk in the hotel lobby. Because all the other flight attendants had gone up to their rooms to make the most of our short, nine hour, layover, I stood all alone in my uniform waiting for the elevator. Finally the doors opened wide and I stepped inside. A well dressed man holding a garment bag stood leaning against the mirrored wall. I smiled, and when I went to push the button, I noticed there were no other floors illuminated. Just mine. Immediately I felt a little weary.

When the elevator stopped at my floor, I stepped out, rolling my Travelpro bag behind me. So did the man with the garment bag. I took a left and quickly walked down the hallway. So did the man with the garment bag. My heart began to race. Because I’d read De Gavin’s book, and because I trusted my fear, I passed my room, continuing on down the short hallway to the big red sign that read Exit. The man continued to follow me. Once I reached the fire escape, I circled around and quickly passed the man, heading back to the elevator and down to the lobby to report the incident. Of course I got a new room. Sure, the man with garment bag could have been an innocent guy, but I wasn’t going to take any chances.

Neither should you.

If you haven’t read The Gift of Fear, you really should. It’s an amazing book and I’ve recommended it to more passengers and flight attendants, particularly women, than any other book. What you read may one day save your life.