Photo by Jes, Pop World Media (

Photo by Jes, Pop World Media (

Ten years old and finally tall enough for the grown-up roller coasters, my friends and I headed to the amusement park. We found ourselves at “Serial Thriller,” a ride with seven full circle loops and lightning fast speeds. Waiting in the seat with my feet dangling in the air, my heart beat started to accelerate. Butterflies maniacally danced in my stomach and my mind raced with “what if” questions as I imagined everything that could go wrong. After a moment, all of the merry-goers were seated and the shoulder harnesses lowered into place to secure us for the ride. At once I felt both claustrophobically trapped and vulnerably exposed. My fight–or–flight response quickly activated and I hollered for the attendant to let me off of the ride.

The thought of traveling to a foreign country with strange customs and unknown languages or foods gives many people a similar feeling of panic. Two years ago, I moved from Texas to Japan. I was amazed how many friends at home told me, “You’re so brave!” While I appreciated the sentiment, I found this statement inaccurate. I do not consider myself brave, nor do I believe bravery is a prerequisite for travel.

Let us revisit that day at the amusement park. Although I was still afraid, after I collected myself over arcade games and funnel cake, I built up the courage to try Serial Thriller again. The fact that my friends enjoyed the ride and safely returned gave me confidence that I could do it too.  Nevertheless, I stayed cautious and maintained a white-knuckled death grip on the harness for every twist, turn, and loop of the ride. Yet when it finished, I did not want the thrill to end and we lined up to ride it again.

You do not have to be brave to travel. Bravery implies that you feel no fear. A smart traveler turns fear into caution. For example, travel with a companion, take photocopies of important paperwork, and trust your gut feeling about people you meet on the road. In order to feel confident, use a guidebook, look at local maps of your destination ahead of time, and find support from other travelers through online forums. Planning your lodging and at least some activities before your trip will help you feel comfortable when you arrive. Trust in the kindness of strangers and most importantly believe in yourself. This will give you the courage to face any challenge – from riding a roller coaster to taking that trip you always wanted.

The world is your amusement park. With each trip you take, you grow wiser, more confident, and richer in experiences. Traveling is a ride that makes you believe in yourself. Once you do it, your fear evaporates. Then for a moment, you are brave. Yet traveling is a ride that is different every time you embark. The thrill of the unknown and the joy from discovering new places are part of the attraction. Thus it is caution, confidence, and courage (rather than bravery) that accompany you when you line up to travel.

Has anyone ever told you, “You are so brave!” for traveling? Do you agree or disagree?
Have you ever felt afraid to travel? What helped you overcome your fears?