“You’re so brave!” people say when I tell them about my skydive. But I’m not, because I wasn’t afraid. Well, not very afraid, says Hilary Bradt
I won’t pretend that I felt absolutely calm when I found myself at the doorway of that little plane, looking down at a patchwork of Devon fields 15,000ft below, and – yes – the video does show something resembling a scream as my tandem partner pushes me out, but I knew that the risk of serious injury or death was tiny.
Not that fear, and therefore courage, is necessarily related to risk assessment. More often it’s facing the challenge of doing something that you want to do despite the fear, and adventurous travel falls firmly into that category.
Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who accompanied Scott on his Antarctic journey, wrote: ‘If you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical expression, go out and explore... if you are fearful you may do much, for none but cowards have need to prove their bravery.’
The internet has taken much of the uncertainty out of travel, enabling travellers to work out the degree of genuine risk that they are taking. Sorting out rational from irrational fear is a useful exercise when confronting your fears, and the wise traveller will know that the media’s fascination with nasty happenings abroad plays on our fears while ignoring the largest cause of death or injury while travelling: road traffic accidents.
Travellers who are afraid of the local people need an endless supply of courage, which will limit their enjoyment, while those who understand where the real risks lie return from their explorations with tales of kindness, hospitality and an admiration of other cultures.
I am wary of Foreign Office advisories for this reason: some of the world’s most exciting countries for travellers fall into the ‘essential travel only’ category.
One of my favourite websites is polosbastards.com, whose slogan is: ‘Going where we ain’t supposed to’. As it points out, there are plenty of people, such as aid workers, who have to work in the world’s officially dangerous places, as well as curious travellers. Their forum assesses the risks as well as describing dodgy journeys.
But of course it’s only the hair-raising trips that get written about. The successful, dull ones are not worth recording.
No one can predict the next trouble spot. Two months ago, who would have thought that tourists visiting luxury coastal resorts in northern Kenya were at risk but now, after a spate of kidnappings, the danger is clear.
But stuff happens – and can happen anywhere. So the point is, if there’s a country or region you really want to see, just do it! Spend time on your homework, learn what the potential risks are, then take the plunge. It’s like dropping out of that aeroplane. A moment of fear at what you’ve set out to do, then pure exhilaration, followed by a bit of smug boasting when you make it safely home.
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