Aren’t you AFRAID?

September 20, 2013 in Inspiration


Aren’t you afraid?

In a word: No.

It’s a question people ask us in lots of quiet ways.

Aren’t we afraid of the political climates in less than first world places?

No, but we’re aware of them. Of course they colour our travels. We make choices to go some places, and not others, based on political climates, but that doesn’t mean we’re afraid of them.

We’ve been in Mexico, Guatemala, Indonesia and Australia during various elections. It’s an educational time to be in a place, there are discussions taking place that don’t otherwise. We’ve stayed with members of politically subversive groups, we’ve attended political rallies in some countries to learn, we’ve intentionally spent time in dictatorships, and in Muslim countries, and in communist countries, as well as monarchies and countries in various stages of development specifically so that our kids will have a bit of perspective on the concept of democracy, but we are not afraid.

Aren’t we afraid of terrorists in “Muslim” places?

We are not. I’ve met thousands of Muslims, become friends with a very few, and lived in some of the most volatile Muslim regions of the world. We’ve been discriminated against, our website has been hacked and plastered with pictures of dead Palestinian children, our kid was once slapped hard for no reason that we could see. We’ve been watched by the secret police and our activity logged because of our nationality. It gives a person a bit of perspective on the American treatment of Muslims within the USA.

It’s good for us, and for our kids, to get a grip on the beauty of Muslim culture, the open-handed generosity of the vast majority of the people who call themselves Muslim, and even the hard experiences have been good for us. There are folks who behave badly and occasionally blow stuff up within the Muslim world, but then, there are dudes who roll up into schools in Connecticut and military installments in DC and blow stuff up too. I’m not afraid to enter a school, or visit DC as a result; likewise, we are not afraid of Muslim terrorists (or any other kind).

Aren’t we afraid of the drug war “raging” around us in Central America?

The drug war of the American making, you mean? No. Families are not the targets of those behaving badly. Reasonable precautions are, well, reasonable. Take a quick look at the statistics, and you’ll quickly see that even with the “drug war” Mexico is a safer place than the USA. We’re not glibly blowing off the “danger;” we’ve had guys on a raid with locked and loaded AK-47‘s between us and our kids in northern Mexico. That’s a moment that gives a traveling parent pause, and makes a person happy to have reasonable Spanish in her aresenal. Honduras has it’s moments; we had one of our scariest travel moments there, but in the end, it was fine. Our community in Guatemala had a group of local men who took it upon themselves to patrol the road in and out of the valley after dark to keep a lid on the nefarious business.

In every single case, even the scary ones, the reaction to our presence has been one of protection and care for our persons. We are not afraid. In fact, we are so “not afraid” that we let our daughter take off on her own with her friends when she was 14, and we are drawn back to that corner of the world as one of our homes.

Aren’t we afraid that our kids will get into trouble or be harmed when they are out of our sight in places where they’re illiterate and with which they’re utterly unfamiliar?

Only when we’re in the USA! 😉 Just kidding. No, we’re definitely not. I can understand why people are afraid to let their kids go in places they are not familiar with, when traveling is an out-of-comfort-zone experience. These same people are fine letting their kids go down the street to the park, where they are all familiar with the environment, the culture, the surroundings, the language. It’s the same for us. Our neighbourhood is just bigger. Travel is our kids “at home” experience. They know how to navigate someplace they’ve never been before. They know what to do if they get irreparably lost. They know how to communicate without language. They know how to not-panic when things aren’t going as planned. We’re letting them do what they’ve spent their whole lives doing. Do I think every 14 year old should be sent off with her backpack with three teenage friends for a week or two in Guatemala and Belize. Obviously not. It’s about lifestyle and familiarity, and developing the necessary skills.

Here’s the other thing: we fully expect our kids to have some trouble learning to get around in the world, everyone does. We aren’t trying to keep them safe from every eventuality (just the really life threatening ones) we’re trying to give them the skills, confidence and ability to be adults, as soon as possible. To that end, we’re willing to let them sink a little from time to time, as everyone does in learning to swim. Ask Elisha sometime about getting stuck on the chicken bus, or Hannah and Gabe about their solo outings in Thailand.

Aren’t we afraid of not knowing where we’re going or where we’ll sleep tonight?

Nope. We’re just not. One thing you learn after traveling a while is that things just work out. We’ve never had to sleep under a bridge. We’ve never been so lost that we were unable to find “home” by nightfall. These things just work out. Keeping a sense of humor is the tricky part! 🙂

Aren’t we afraid of being taken advantage of?

No, we aren’t, because we fully expect to be. Next issue.

Aren’t we afraid of having stuff stolen?

No, we aren’t because we fully expect to have stuff stolen, at home or abroad, makes no difference. We had both mirrors very carefully stolen off of the van in New Orleans over Mardi Gras a few years ago. We had ipods lifted in Vietnam. It happens.

Aren’t we afraid of getting sick in some godforsaken place?

We have been, and we will be again. It’s not something we’re afraid of, it’s something we prepare for to the fullest extent possible. Including insurance, immunizations, a hefty first aid kit, and a habit of taking note of where the nearest hospitals are.

Aren’t we afraid of our kids not growing up “normal?”

We’re desperately afraid of our kids growing up with a white-middle-class-American mindset as the extent of their experience. If that is what the definition of “normal” is, then yes, we are afraid of that. It’s the whole reason we travel.

If, by “normal” you mean are we afraid that our kids won’t know how to handle themselves in a classroom or a regular job, or be out of touch with teen culture, TV and movie culture, or One Direction’s latest drama: No, we are not. There is nothing for preparing a kid for the real world, quite like: THE REAL WORLD. I have more than a little concern that what is “normal” in child life is doing a very inadequate job of preparing most kids for that very real world.

Aren’t we afraid of what this galavanting is doing to our retirement future?

If there was one thing the market crash of 2008 should have taught us all it’s that the best laid plans often crumble like a sandcastle on the beach. We had friends, at retirement age, who lost millions. Their life’s savings and work. Their retirement. All of those plans they had for enjoying life, travel and ease in their golden years were swept away overnight. They’re working again. We’re all working again.

Betting the beautiful now on the nebulous future seems a silly gamble to us. The great blessing of living in the digital age is that we don’t have to trade our careers and most financially productive years for adventure. A happy medium is more than possible, it’s reality for lots of people we know.

Aren’t we afraid of getting lost?

Nope. We made friends with the concept.

Aren’t we afraid of strangers?

Statistically, we should be afraid of the people we know. They’re the ones most likely to kidnap us or harm us in some way. Strangers have no reason to wish us harm, and consequentially are a safe and delightful bunch. “Stranger Danger” is a pernicious idea. I can’t imagine a worse thing to teach a kid than that the world is out to get him, when the exact opposite is the reality. Discretion is worth developing, the ability to “read” people is important to study and discuss with emerging adults, but to seed fear and distrust? How awful. Are we afraid of strangers? No, certainly not.

Aren’t we afraid of picking up hitchhikers?

We pick up loads of hitchhikers, the legit looking ones. I’ve never been afraid to pull over and pick up a traveling brother or sister, even when I’m alone. You can argue the hypothetical dangers until you are blue in the face and I will ask you one question: What is your PERSONAL experience? If you’ve never hitchhiked, or never picked up a hitchhiker, then frankly, I don’t think you get to weigh in. Statistically, there is less danger to picking up hitchers than there is driving your car to Walmart. Here are the facts from our personal experience: We’ve met dozens and dozens of fantastic people. We’ve made life long friends of a few. We had dinner with a real live knight because we picked up a hitchhiker. And here’s the icing on the cake: Are you ready?

This very day we are surfing east around Melbourne, Australia, on our way to spend a few days with dear family friends. How did we meet them? They picked up my mom and dad when they were hitching their way across North Africa forty years ago.

Now tell me again, how dangerous it is… and not in hypotheticals; back it up with personal experience or real data, then we’ll talk.

Aren’t we afraid of taking rides from strangers?

Nope. Not ever. We’re also not stupid about it, but we’ve never had a bad experience, nor do we know anyone who has (and we know hundreds and hundreds of pretty hard core travelers.)

Aren’t we afraid of running out of money and being stranded somewhere?

Ha! Always, and never. Money is a constant worry for everyone, isn’t it? This is one of those “7 P’s” moments, as my Uncle Dick would say: Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. We’ve run out of money (the 2008 market crash found us in Italy and swept away our entire trip savings). We had back up plans. We applied strategy to the situation. We’ve gotten stranded, but not for long. You figure it out, you know? Just like at home. I’m very glad not to find myself out of money and stranded somewhere in suburbia which is the antithesis of living my dreams. So yes, we’re afraid of running out of money and being stranded, just like you are, but we work through that, just like you do.