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Will the latest terrorist threat succeed in once again making us scared to travel?

AND JUST WHEN you thought we were out of the red alert…or orange alert? Yellow, maybe? I never could keep up. Either way, right as we were beginning to feel a bit safe again, along comes another attempted terrorist attack.

A fantastic way to begin the next decade with a holdover from the last – fear. Fear of that which can’t be seen, fear of those we don’t know, fear of that over which we have no control. But at what cost does this fear come? You and I both know it can be a substantial one.

New York Times columnist Liesl Schillinger opened 2010 penning an article that asked exactly what this cost looks like. Schillinger sums it up like this:

We understand other countries and other peoples best by seeing them; to see them, we must travel; to travel, in any concision of time, we must fly. Last week, one man with a grievance and exploding underpants boarded a plane for Detroit. This week, the nation’s attention and travel plans in the new year are held captive, as the battered American airline industry reels.

For some, this incident stingingly takes them right back to those emotions felt eight years ago, and many other times since then. Maybe it’s worth taking a look at some realities here.

Without a doubt, 9/11 instilled tremendous fear in those of us living in the West, as we had never experienced this type of attack on our soil. People around the world, from the Middle East to parts of South America, have had to deal with the threat of attack or a government being overthrown as a part of daily life, but North Americans had never encountered this home-turf reality. It changed how we looked at the world.

But as Schillinger relates, “nobody can tally the number of flights not taken, adventures not dared, countries not visited, because of the public’s anxieties about air travel.” So the real question is, not only how much adventure have we given up, but how much of truly living life?

The Cost of Fear

Mike Jones relives the possibility of his own death if he had been partying just a year later in Kuta Beach, Bali, when suicide and car bombs struck nightclubs in 2002. Even with this felt sense of mortality, he notes in his piece, Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good Travelers:

Studies done by the National Safety Council show that one is far more likely to perish by drowning in the bath or accidentally suffocating in bed than as a result of travel. And while such statistics are in no way consolation for those who lost friends and family in the Bali bombings, or the Mumbai attacks, they do emphasize the heart of the matter: that risk isn’t restricted solely to the adventurous.

Ian MacKenzie, on the other hand, contemplated our sometimes (often?) over-reactive nature to that which more-than-likely will never effect us vs. that which we are encountering in a slow-but-sure death sentence (i.e. being killed by a terrorist vs. global-warming inevitably compromising the entire human race) in, What You Think Probably Won’t Kill You:

How many people stop themselves from heading out into “unknown” lands for fear of real or imagined threats? For my mom, it was the possibility of a natural disaster. For others, it may be fear of robbery, fear of being shot, fear of being the victim of a terrorist bomb…it’s the unknown that we fear, rather than the reality.

Yet fear of travel is not limited to worrying about a terrorist attacking a plane – some of our fears are of such a nature that it takes deep soul-searching to move past them.

Beyond Terrorism

After the pilots who were busy “updating their calendars” overshot Minneapolis by 150 miles last year, more than a few people who already had dread around flying threw their hands up in the air.

I recently had a conversation with a guy who refuses to ever go on a plane again, because even though statistically speaking, we are much more likely to do in a car crash than a plane, in his words, “How many car accidents have you been in? And you are still here, talking to me. Plane crash? I would never have known you.” Touche.

Ian MacKenzie looked at this common anxiety-provoking phenomenon in Are You Afraid Of Flying?, pondering the available options if you don’t want to stop traveling (and most of us don’t, right?). Megan Hill recently delved beyond the dread of flying to the distress of finding yourself physically hurt in a different country, and how that experience might impact future travel, in Fear and Loathing: How Risk of Injury Can Inhibit Travel Plans.

So how do we move ahead while all of the very real dangers out there only continue to grow? In many ways, our fears around travel are the same as any fear in life – there is always the possibility of failure, defeat, or harm. But if we don’t take that leap, we aren’t really living, are we? We can only hope that if something bad does happen, we will not only survive, but eventually thrive from the challenge put before us.

Have fears around terrorism or other factors hindered your travel experiences? Share your thoughts below.

Community Connection

Be sure to read Tom Gates’ poignant recounting of his experience in New York City that fateful day in 8:46 am, 9/11 Manhattan.

Culture + Religion


About The Author

Christine Garvin

Christine Garvin is a certified Nutrition Educator and holds a MA in Holistic Health Education. She is the founder/editor of Living Holistically...with a sense of humor and co-founder of Confronting Love. When she is not out traveling the world, she is busy writing, doing yoga, and performing hip-hop and bhangra. She also likes to pretend living in her hippie town of Fairfax, CA is like being on vacation.

  • Megan Hill

    Nice piece, Christine. It doesn’t seem like fear is very productive in the case of airline security, but I do think fear can be healthy when balanced with reality. Go on and live your life, but take reasonable precautions. Thanks for the plug, too.

  • Tim Patterson

    Great post, Christine. The world needs more brave new travelers!

  • Boris

    If fear of terrorism stops you from travelling, then just simply don’t go. You wouldn’t enjoy it and you’re just not equipped for it. It means you’re buying into the hype raised by many western governments and the media and it also means that the terrorists have won. They want you to fear them after all…

  • Traveling_mike

    Many people are more scared of flying these days. The silver lining for those of us who aren’t afraid (or are but still fly anyway) is that now flights will certainly go down in price as demand does. Great for me.

    Perhaps we will also begin to see an emergence of agents who have cost effective ways to travel by ocean and train? I would be very interested in that for my trip to Aus.

  • Craig

    I think some people forget that you’re often at far greater risk traveling in a vehicle than you are flying in a plane. I often feel safter flying than I do driving on the interstate.

  • Turner

    I think this is affecting my travel plans more than I realize, in terms of planning a trip to Africa or the Middle East. My parents might physically restrain me if they thought I’d be going to Iran. Hardcore conservatives, they draw no distinctions between the country and the actions of a few.

  • Duncan

    Hi there,

    Thank you for for using my photograph in this post!

    Please attribute the photograph to Duncan Rawlinson and link to me @

    Thank you.

    • Christine Garvin

      Done! :)

      • Duncan

        I hate to be annoying but is there any chance you could update the attribution for this photo to link to and not


        • Carlo Alcos

          Done deal Duncan.

  • Duncan

    Thank you!

  • Justruss

    I lived in Saudi Arabia for a number of years. Everyone I encounter believes it to be terrorist central.

    I found every day to peaceful and safe for 23.5 hours.

    The other half hour was spent commuting to and from work and driving in the Kingdom is truly terrifying.

  • Corinnahayes

    It is terrible how many people lose out on experiencing the joys of traveling because of the overwhelming fear associated with flying, I too am afraid to fly and I miss out on a lot of adventures because of it. Even though my husband begs me to take a trip somewhere I will always come up with an excuse why not to, we can’t afford it, it’s not a good time, etc, knowing all the while it’s really because I’m terrified to get on the plane. We took a trip to Veags 2 years ago because I decided that I really wanted to experience it instead of just watching it on T.V all the time and wishing I could be there. I forced myself even though I had aniexity for months, Even had chest pains for 2 days before the flight. However despite all the mental anguish I am glad I went, It was something I will remember always.

    Just 2 days ago my husband surprised me with a trip to Mexico that I will be spending lying on the beach with my best friend! That’s right, he didn’t even book the vacation for himself, just for me, while he gets the kids off to school and goes to work the whole time I’m away! So what do I say? No thank you cause I’m afraid to fly…… Of course Im going, but I now need to deal with the aniexty for the next 7 weeks. Bad enough I’m already panicking about the flight, now I have people telling me that I shouldn’t go to Mexico because it’s not safe and they have been bombing resorts and killing tourists!!

    I’m sure we will have a wonderful time and return home safe and sound, But it’s not easy to quiet that little voice in the back of your mind saying ” it could all go wrong…. It’s too dangerous….. Stay home where it’s safe!” How does one experience the wonders of traveling when it causes such crippling fear? I guess all you can really do is just bite the bullet and go, focus on the enjoyment of the vacation and try your very best to block out that little voice, because chances are you can never silence it, only turn down the volume.

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