Photo: Akheel Ahamed/Shutterstock

Cost of Fear: How Terror Keeps Ups From Exploring the World

by Christine DeSadeleer Jan 4, 2010
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.

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