What is it about travel that propels reasonable people to cram our bodies into tiny airplane seats, live out of a backpack or suitcase for days or weeks, eat unfamiliar food, get lost in a language we don’t speak, and sleep in places among strangers? As a middle-aged woman, mom, therapist, and serial traveler, I have come to discover that travel is not just a desire, but a need in order to achieve self actualization.
Being told that travel is dangerous for solo female travelers or females in general is a repeated theme I have heard many times over, but I have found that those signaling a warning have always been individuals who don’t travel or if they do they rarely plan travel outside of the United States, Europe, cruise ships or all-inclusive resorts. The former options are all great travel destinations, but they don’t always offer me the experience I seek which is to immerse myself in a culture unfamiliar from my own, have an adventure in the outdoors and to bring a little risk to travel.
As a licensed clinical social worker, I know all about the psychology of risk and although the word may be associated with negative consequences, not all risk is bad. If it were, we would all stay in the comfort of our homes, neighborhoods, cities and hang out only with our families or close friends, people we consider “our own kind.” Taking risks and calculating those risks can be applied to just about anything we embark on, from seeking new job opportunities, engaging in new relationships, becoming parents, getting a pet, trying out a new recipe, creating a piece of art, being vulnerable, and of course, travel.
Travel elicits all sorts of emotions from the moment we book the ticket, from excitement to fear to even maybe regret (buyer’s remorse). What travel also does is challenge us to think bigger, to expand our minds, to create connection and to discover what we all have universally in common. Take a trip across the globe and we will find that we are not that much different from each other. We all desire connection, we want to take care of our families, we all laugh, eat, drink, work and dance and play.
Instead of reacting out of fear, listening to the naysayers and changing our travel plans to countries “others” say are dangerous, seek out travelers and bloggers on the internet who share their personal stories and adventures in countries you desire to visit, heed advice, suggestions and caution from travelers, local tourist and trekking companies and Airbnb hosts and hotels and booking sites. The advice and suggestions need not alter our behavior, but it may help us understand and calculate risk versus reward. Our behavior, whether it is in our home city or abroad remains the same, whether we are shopping for groceries in our home town or hiking mountain trails in the great outdoors, we remain cautious of our surroundings, pay attention to local signage and warnings, communicate with our loved ones where we are and when we will be back, and plan a little ahead so we are not stranded on a city street in the dark, have no access to food, water and shelter or be at risk to Mother Nature. Consider safety and the bottom rung of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Once we secure the first two levels, physiological and safety, travel can nudge you up a level on the pyramid of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. By taking the risk and traveling somewhere you know nothing about you may gain the rewards of discovery, love and belonging and possibly also stumble on some self-actualization, recognizing that all humans have needs and talents and become all that we are capable of becoming, or simply put, a better version of ourselves.