Ever since I’ve been old enough to have my own set of keys, I’ve played out a particular scene from a movie in my mind. Getting home after dark, walking down my street, my eyes dart about, alert to any shadows, any movement. I start to pick up pace and my breathing becomes sharp and quick. I imagine someone is behind me gaining on me. I start to walk briskly, glancing over my shoulders first left and then right. I fumble with the key in my hands and break into a run, moments from the door. I drop the keys. He’s gaining on me. The wrong key goes into the lock. I fumble for the right one. I can hear his footsteps. The door opens. I fall into the apartment and kick the door closed behind me. I’m safe. I’ve won and I will live to see another day.
Why I do this to myself I do not know. Of course I know there isn’t really anyone there, but it is possible and the imagination is a mighty, wondrous and powerful thing. But what if I divulged this weird, deluded behavior to a friend? That friend, sympathizing with me entirely relays to me a story of an incident that occurred to a friend of theirs who was mugged at her front door around the corner from my house. Many of that friend’s friends have stopped going out at night she tells me, it’s just too dangerous. Naturally the next night, shaking and quivering as I make a run for my front door, I replay the details of the friend of my friend’s story in my mind.
The next week when I see the friend again, she has more stories of others she has met that have had terrible things happen to them late at night across the city. Many of them have stopped going out too. I start to worry now even when I’m not walking to my door late at night. My imagination is running riot and what was once simply personal paranoia is escalating into not only possible, but likely. I start to leave work earlier and earlier to try and get home before dark. Soon enough, I’m getting home in broad daylight but the possibility is now looming that things could happen to me during the day while all my neighbors are at work and no one around to hear me scream.
So eventually, I stop going out all together. It’s safer and better at home and I can hear about everything I need to hear about on the TV. My only view of what is happening in the world becomes whatever I can absorb from television news and read on line. Those crazy, risk-taking friends who are still going out come and visit me and tell me their versions of what’s going on out in the world outside of my own. The television shows me its tailored view and I am lapping it up, languishing in my own inability to venture outside and see for myself. I have become trapped, paralyzed by my own fear and brainwashed by the newsreader with the cleavage, Botox lips and freshly foiled hair, but that’s okay. It ain’t so bad here at home. Everything I need is here.
Ridiculous! This is a ridiculous scenario you’re saying? You’re right. It really is. But this is what I am seeing all around me in domestic attitudes toward travel overseas.
Yes, it’s possible that I could be mugged coming home alone late at night, but does the possibility of all of this mean that I will not leave my house ever again in order to be completely safe? Of course not. Over the past 3 weeks, I have come to clearly understand what I discovered with overwhelming disbelief when I first arrived in this country two years ago.
I have struggled with the knowledge that so many people do not have passports in the USA. I was completely shocked when I met my first 40 year old without a passport. I soon came to discover that he was not only, not the only one but indeed common . I have not met an Australian over eighteen years old without a passport and maybe only once every 8 years do I encounter someone who has not left the country (and I don’t mean just to New Zealand).
As much as choices in travel destination or reasoning for not having left the USA may be highly individual, they are also not doubt shaped by general, core, cultural values, social conditioning, political climate and economic implication.
Here are some theories I have conjured.
1. Necessity versus Luxury
I believe that travel is generally valued completely differently to Americans as to say, an Australian. I believe that to the average American, travel is a luxury (if it’s not work related). You save up for a vacation and that is the way in which you see the world and how you come to deserve it. Travel to me is a necessity. It is a right of passage (and I don’t mean Spring Break in Cancun). Traveling, the idea of making your own way in a foreign country is a crucial part of your education and evolution as a person. And it’s fun.
2. Someone Else Will Take My Job
With only 2 weeks paid holiday a year and a competitive job market, I can see how employees get nervous about taking time out to travel. But you can consider taking 2 or 6 months or a year off to go on a travel/ work adventure like most Australians under 30 do. Consider it a course in communications, human relations and global studies. It’ll give you a worldly edge.
3. Lack of Real Interest
While I of course hear comments such as, “Yeah, I’d love to go to Jamaica” or “Yeah, it’d be great to vacation in Rome,” I feel that that is the most that will pique the interest of the average person. It’s mostly travel a-la, “European Vacation” or a weekend in a resort in the Caribbean – a combination of relaxation and travel guide exploration. That is surely lovely but what about a less flaccid attitude toward travel? What about being passionately interested in this earth that we share and wanting to be enriched by experiencing it? What about a desire to understand other cultures by entering their world for a while? What about removing yourself from your comfort zone and challenging yourself and your own ideas?
The Rest of the World Hates Americans. The number of times I have honestly actually heard people say, “Oh I really want to go there, but I think it’s just really not safe for Americans. I’ve heard we get singled out there,” is unbelievable to me. People all over the world will make a dig at the expense of Americans. Make light of it. The fact that people make fun of New Zealanders being not only out numbered by sheep but bedmates of said sheep also, hasn’t meant that you cannot locate hordes of them getting drunk in London, or Paris, or New York, or Berlin, or Delhi or Tokyo on any given day. So here’s a thought … if you’d actually all get your back packs on and get out there and represent within the global community, the rest of the world would see you in a different light. It can be inferred due to lack of participation that you do not feel that you are part of our global village. Get out there and speak up for yourselves.
While yes, there are 'higher risk' areas for particular types of crimes, unless there’s an alert up on your nation’s embassy website, it's not enough to rule it out. If I let press and the opinion of others persuade me, for one reason or another I would never have gone to India or Thailand or Cambodia alone or hitch hiked solo into the French Alps and thus would have missed out on some of the greatest adventures of my life.
While I implore you to travel, you should always travel sensibly and there are measures that can be taken to reduce risks such as not rolling into poor towns in expensive-looking, big trucks, not flashing money or expensive equipment about and dressing simply and with consideration for local religions and traditions and removing jewelry when appropriate. Traveling with knowledge and respect for the places you are visiting, generally endeavoring to convey an unassuming appearance and going quietly about your business are measures that can assist in keeping you out of harms way. But they are only measures.
Terrible things can happen to people anywhere anytime. I could get raped riding home at night on the Venice bike path or shot dead in a wrong-place-wrong-time scenario in Downtown Los Angeles. That doesn't mean however, that I'm going to stop riding my bike under the moon light. You win some, you lose some, but I'm not going to retire from life in fear of losing.
So, if you do not have a passport, go out and get one today. If you do and you’re not using it, I would very much like to hear your point of view. But please, if even secretly ‘fear’ is the answer, remember that the imagination can by so very sly and it is too easy to hype each other up to hysteria. Don’t believe everything you read in the papers and go find out for yourselves.