Chances are you may be reading this because you love the thought of travelling and flying off to exotic destinations but have never actually travelled and can’t quite get yourself over the line despite all your daydreams. If that is case then perhaps you are experiencing some form of Hodophobia, a fear of travel.
Who’s going to look after the animals or my garden, how will my business keep operating, how will I get and read my Russian ticket I ordered over the internet? Will the reservation even reach in my inbox? How will I find the right platform? How will I know where to get off?. How will I go driving on other side of the road? How will I communicate with people in a non-English speaking country? How will I get time off from work, how will I afford it, what if something happens too my health? I’m frightened of air travel, I’m too introvert for travel. All these thought can be overwhelming and no matter whether it’s genuine fear or just excuses here are four tips on why you should get over the fear and travel now: you’re not getting any younger: trips aren’t going to get any cheaper; you aren’t going to live forever; and the most important one, fantastic things are on the other side of fear.
That said, we’re all human and these thoughts would have entered every travellers mind at some point or another. Following is a personal journey of my own battle with various fears. I worry and wrestle with my conscience over leaving my pet. My cat is my life and leaving him is difficult, my husband and I also run a farm as well as a contracting business so most of the time it can seem impossible to get away from our responsibilities. My father in law usually watches over our place but now he is 89 and frail so we have had to arrange a house sitter for the first time. I then struggled with having strangers in my house, but if the alternative was not to go on holiday then I just had to get over it. We went through a fantastic company called trustedhousesitters.com. Fear can stop people from doing so many things, but believe me, fantastic things really are on the other side of fear.
I’ve also always had a strong desire to travel to Africa as its wildlife had captivated me ever since I watched the movie “Born Free” and a subsequent fetish for Wilbur Smith books. Finally, as a backpacker in my 20s I had the opportunity to go as there. I was based in London and for this Australian, cheap fares abounded. Unfortunately, none of my friends shared my enthusiasm for the same trip. Despite my fear of going it alone to a continent so wrought with dangers and going through unprecedented tumultuous times, my overwhelming curiosity and passion got me over the line and once I had booked that ticket, there was no turning back.
I wanted to start my experience by seeing the gorillas in either Uganda or Burundi. Thankfully, my tight budget prevented me from taking this path as it enabled me to escape bearing witness to the mass genocide and people fleeing the terror just over the border in Rwanda. Blissfully unaware of these horrors, I started my journey in Kenya and travelled south through Tanzania, including Zanzibar, then Malawi. In order to get from Blantyre in Malawi to Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, an armed escort to prevent attack from Rebel forces was no longer required to travel through Mozambique. Once in Zimbabwe I came to a grinding halt despite plans to visit South Africa. At the backpackers in Harare, I met travellers on their way back from South Africa and they regaled other travellers going in the opposite direction with stories about being mugged and how dangerous it was over the border. It was already dangerous enough in Harare and I did not dare to venture out on my own for fear of being mugged. Even being in a group did not guarantee not being mugged. As much as I wanted to continue my trip to South Africa and visit one of the most famous National Parks in the world, Kruger, I was experiencing a fear of travel to this particular destination.
It’s also apt to mention here that fear wasn’t the only contributing factor in me deciding not to go. I also thought deeply about the ethical consequences of supporting an economy, albeit in a very small way, of a nation slow to dismantle an abhorrent Apartheid system. Perhaps it was a moral sanction of my own rather than fear that stopped me in the end. However, this was 1993 and innocent people were still getting murdered in the cross fire before any proper democratic election could still take place. Despite this, I still wiped tears from my eyes as I left the tarmac and peered out of this wonderful continent which had managed to find a safe place in my heart. I wondered if this was going to be my last trip to Africa.
My love for the continent never waned and it was another ten years before I returned. This time I was a mother of two small children so still afraid, and with tight time constraints, I followed the mantra there was safety in numbers and booked an overland truck trip with an organised tour. Never one to really enjoy organised tours, I chose a company that fit my travel ethos. The tour involved having to fly into Johannesburg and getting on the plane the next day to Victoria Falls. Due to my past experience and the reputation South Africa was still experiencing I was terrified about the prospect. During my shared ride with some locals from OR Tambo airport to my guest house accommodation I raised the subject about crime. Everyone was too eager to tell me all about their car jacking experiences. Phew! I had made it without being car jacked! After I entering the guest house surrounded by high walls topped by razor wire and guarded by a full-time security guard, I checked in at reception where the lady kept referring to her husband. I stupidly asked if he work here too? “No, he got murdered last year”, she replied in a very stoic manner. I was in shock. It simply was not in my sphere of reality to meet, let a lone know someone who knew someone who had met a horrible violent, untimely death. Maybe I’d have to review my conviction that 99% of people are good. Perhaps this simply does not apply to South Africa. I made my way to the restaurant for a bite to eat where the proprietor introduced herself to me. With her dry demeanor and equally dry Afrikaans accent, she then went on to pursue further conversation. “So you’ve come to get mugged, raped or murdered have you?” Was this some kind of warped South African humour or was she serious? Needless to say, I was genuinely surprised when I woke up in the morning to find myself still alive and couldn’t wait to get out of there quick enough. After an amazing trip from Victoria Falls, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia, I finally reached South Africa. I only got to spend 3 days there but I found it to be in total contrast to everything I believed to be true about South Africa. My fear of travel there was unfounded.
I totally kicked myself for letting fear overcome me once again, by not arranging another week here to continue along the Garden Route and to squeeze in Kruger Park. En route back to Australia I had a day to fill before my evening flight home, so I plucked up enough courage and arranged a personal guide to take me to Soweto. I fell in love with the place and felt totally safe. Tourist buses were only just beginning to make their way there and apart from my guide, I was the only white person I saw in Soweto. Once again I found myself vowing that I would return again with my whole family.
Fast forward another ten years, I’ve now seen the movie Tsotsi, an Oscar-winning film for Best Foreign Language Film. Set amidst the sprawling Johannesburg township of Soweto, Tsotsi traces six days in the life of a ruthless young gang leader who ends up caring for a baby accidentally kidnapped during a car-jacking. It’s a horrifying and moving portrait of an angry young man living in a state of extreme deprivation. In addition, with nearly 1% of the Australian population being infiltrated with South Africans, whose decision to leave would’ve included personal safety as well as economics, why I am choosing to temporarily go in the opposite direction? I still need to think long and hard over why I am bringing the whole family to South Africa. Just as in Totsie, good will always triumph over evil and, the truth is I can’t get Africa out of my psyche and fantastic things really are on the other side of fear.
Some of my favourite quotes from pioneering women who have spent a lot of time alone in Africa:
“Still, we often talked on the farm of the Safaris that we had been on. Camping places fix themselves in your mind as if you had spent long periods of your life in them. You will remember a curve of your wagon track in the grass of the plain, like the features of a friend”.
― Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke’s Memoir “Out of Africa”.
“I have lifted my plane… for perhaps a thousand flights and I have never felt her wheels glide from the earth into the air without knowing the uncertainty and the exhilaration of first-born adventure”
“Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla, an escapist’s Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one. To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just ‘home’.”
― Beryl Markham’s Memoir “West with the Night”