“Aren’t you ever scared?” they ask me. (Those vague, mysterious expat fears…)
“Scared of what?” I reply. They can’t really answer that. They just have a sense that my expat lifestyle should be scary but no specific reasons why.
I recently spent a few weeks in my hometown of Zumbrota, Minnesota and was able to connect with a lot of old friends I hadn’t seen in a while. Some of them I hadn’t seen since I made some major life changes and they had many questions: “Aren’t you ever scared?”
My major life change? I quit my job in 2013 and left the USA for Asia with no real plan. I live in Taiwan and travel frequently. But I’ve always traveled frequently so to me it’s normal. To others, it’s just kind of scary.
If they could define what really scares them (those expat fears), here’s what I imagine they might say:
The fear of almost everyone worldwide. Yes, it scares me but it’s also out of my control. It can happen anywhere, and it does. I’m no less safe in Taiwan than I would be in Minneapolis or Tampa or Orlando. Sad but true.
Bad people are everywhere, but so are the really good ones. I actually was a little bit scared one time in Costa Rica. I arrived at the bus station in San Jose at night, a blonde traveling alone and standing out in a sea of dark-haired Costa Ricans. A “bad guy” approached me and tried to get me into his illegal taxi. I sensed danger and walked quickly toward the bus station crowds in a well-lit area, found a real taxi and avoided the danger. Bad guys are always there, lurking in the dark corners, but I’m aware and avoid those dark, deserted alleys.
Screwed up plans
I’ve always traveled with the philosophy that everything that happens will someday make a good travel story – as long as I avoid death or dismemberment. I kept that idea in mind when I arrived in Italy with no hotel and found myself wandering along the Italian coast all night, with no bag, no hotel, no direction … lost but not defeated. Eventually, I found my way to Turin and appreciated that luxury hotel bed even more! My loose plans were totally screwed up but somehow I survived and it became a valuable learning experience and an amusing travel tale.
Something bad might happen
Bad things do sometimes happen, but hard times tend to bring out the best in humanity. One time in northern Thailand, I found myself stranded on a remote mountain road with a broken scooter an hour before sunset. My friend and I didn’t panic, although we could’ve had a total meltdown. We were eventually rescued by non-English speaking Thai angels and were able to experience the kindness of the locals in an unusual way – bonding over our misfortune.
I actually fear snakes more than flying! After spending over 20 years in the aviation world, I have an insider’s view on how the process of flying works and I think that insider’s knowledge helps calm any fears. I will admit to being slightly terrified a few times, like landing in Kathmandu or flying through a thunderstorm in the mountains of Costa Rica, but I survived and it makes me appreciate flying Delta Airlines just a little more!
Stepping outside my comfort zone
I stepped way outside my comfort zone when I left the US to teach English since I did have a total fear of public speaking. But in the words of my very wise Mother, “You’ve always liked a challenge.” She’s right and I faced that public speaking fear in order to make a living teaching. Speaking English is the only valuable asset I have so I’ve gotta use it!
Not speaking the language
I speak about 4 words of Chinese, but somehow I’ve bumbled my way through living in a Chinese-speaking country for 3 years. Sign language, a smile, and a humble attitude go a long way in communicating with the local Taiwanese people. I know I should make another attempt at learning Chinese, but…
Three things that actually DO scare me?
I try to avoid them. Or else I just eat them.
Driving through Guatemala City without my pistol actually terrified me. Living in a large house on a remote mountain outside of Antigua, Guatemala scared me. I made it through five weeks but wouldn’t do it again.
Living life with regrets
I never want to look back and wonder “What if?”
That’s why I let go of any fear of the unknown, the unexpected, the unusual…and I jumped off the cliff and faced some of my fears. That’s why I travel – regret avoidance. I don’t ever want to regret missing out on amazing experiences while I’m young (well, kind of!) and healthy.
I fear that someday it’ll be too late. That’s probably my biggest fear.
That, and snakes.