Too often, when I invite friends on trips with me I hear the same predictable excuses: “It’s too expensive.” “Too far.” “Wasn’t there a terrorist attack there like four years ago?” Maybe no one wants to suffer through a trip with me, and these are just well-contrived lies, but I’ve noticed a trend here: missing out on an unforgettable travel experience solely because of a few irrational fears. Here are 5 excuses that should never stop you from going abroad.
Even if I’m going to a modern, first-world city, I still hear an outpouring of warnings. People thought I was crazy for going to Eastern Europe, as if every town was a decaying, Chernobyl-esque hive of thugs and con artists. The truth is, violent crime is 106 times more likely in the United States than in Serbia. When I went to Israel, half my friends thought I wouldn’t be coming back. Their fear was fueled not only by terrorism, but by the “foreignness” of the country itself. It’s in the Middle East. It’s in the news a lot. So, it must be unsafe. For perspective, 90 people were killed by terrorism in Israel in 2016. In the same year, nearly 1,000 were killed by gun violence in New York City alone.
Are there unsafe regions in Israel? Con artists in Serbia? Pickpockets in Barcelona? Absolutely. But the only thing that really makes a country unsafe is you. If you stay alert, careful, and use common sense, you can go anywhere in the world with peace of mind.
This one always makes me laugh, because I’ve never met anyone more hopeless with directions than myself. I’m the guy who got on a bus heading the wrong way in Edinburgh, and ended up in the Scottish countryside by accident. So, when people tell me they’re worried about figuring out public transportation, finding their way back to the Airbnb, or wandering into a dangerous situation (see above), I say two things. 1: If I can manage, anyone can. The more you lose your way, the better you get at finding it. And 2: Getting lost is fun! If you showed up in a new country with a roadmap pre-programmed into your brain, traveling wouldn’t be half as exciting. One of my favorite memories is driving through the Scottish Highlands with my roommates, no cell service, having no idea how to get back to the highway. Being “lost” and being “free” aren’t so different—it’s just matter of perspective.
If you’re looking to avoid culture shock completely, it’s just not going to happen. I’ll always remember trying to buy a pashmina souvenir at a covered market in Jerusalem. The price was 600 shekels—definitely out of my budget. I said thank you and left, but the shopkeeper followed me down the street. “550 shekels!” he yelled. “500! 400!”. I was flustered, but after a moment realized that not haggling was considered strange in Jerusalem. (I ended up with a bargain…I think).
They are the stories in which culture shock hits hardest that you usually bring home to your friends. It might be jarring, but it’s supposed to be. If you want to minimize any negative effects—the more research you do, the better. Watching YouTube videos can give you an up-close look at a country through someone else’s eyes, and some great ideas on what to do. For road trips, I like going on Google Maps and dropping the marker at various points along the route. This helps me feel better-oriented, and more familiar with the area when I arrive. So don’t be afraid of culture shock. Prepare for it, and seek it out.
When I lived in Scotland, I constantly felt like I was missing out on things back home. Friends’ birthdays. Thanksgiving. Buffalo-Chicken Calzones. I forgot why I was abroad in the first place—to take a break from my comfortable, predictable life, and study somewhere that would surprise me.
To feel more connected to home, it can help to watch a favorite TV show. Skype with a friend. Join your family’s fantasy football league, even if you can’t watch the games. Stay in the loop, but don’t get tangled in it.
When I finally came home, I found myself missing just as much. My roommates back in Scotland, weekend trips to the Highlands, the way I could never understand my barber’s accent, and had to just nod along cluelessly. Andy Bernard from The Office said it best. “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them”. Well, there is. Just remember—you are in the good old days. So, make the most of them.
Breaking the Bank
Let’s face it—traveling is expensive. But it’s important to remember that it’s also an investment. You’re not just buying some cool views, exotic food, and access to strange accents. You’re buying an experience. When I booked a last-minute trip to Bulgaria, I wondered if I should have put that money toward something else — house, a car, or retirement. But I was going to Bulgaria. Even the thought of it was so unusual, so exhilarating, I knew it would be worth it.
To really keep costs low, use Skyscanner to browse cheap flight options. Scott’s Cheap Flights is another good one. Book hostels or Airbnb’s instead of hotels. Walk, don’t cab. Find hidden gems on your own instead of paying for tours. Eat at street vendors rather than larger restaurants, or better yet, cook for yourself. By all means, be frugal. But if you do have to break the bank—break it. It’s worth the investment.