Fear of Travel: Notes from a “Dangerous” Vacation


Anxiety has infinite aspects.   There is the daily undercurrent of anxious thoughts in their vast variety, with which we all must cope (some of us much better than others), and there is fear.  Fear can be more problematic, being anxiety amped up a few levels in our primal circuits.  Fear can stop us;   this is called behavioral avoidance, and can become very problematic.  One avoids people.  Or flying in airplanes.   Or going back to school, or any attempt at accomplishment where there is a chance one might fail.  And there is travel outside one’s comfort zone. 

Most American travelers, certainly vacationers, have no use for fear, sticking to the better known traditional places, Cape Cod or Vegas or Europe or a cruise somewhere.  As for travel to less prosperous parts of the so-called “developing” world, which in the Western Hemisphere means much of Latin America, most who travel there at all often think in terms of protected resort communities, Cancun in Mexico probably being the most well-known example.   Or there is Roatan, in Honduras.  Your BH consultant just spent some time in Honduras, but not in Roatan, as the focus was nature:  birds and plants and insects and reptiles and monkeys, which are richly abundant in the countryside, not so much on the beaches of Roatan.  Of course, it is after plans are made and the money is paid that darker realization can set in, in the case of Honduras inspired by historical facts and too much media.  Discomforting facts, such as the well-publicized movement of thousands of Honduran refugees, along with Guatamalans and Salvadorans, many of them children, fleeing the violence of the big cities of their homelands.  Or that Honduras currently has the highest murder rate in the hemisphere, along with the second lowest per-capita income, followed only by Haiti.  Then the news of the Zika virus.   Then the report of the indigenous Honduran woman, a well-known spokesperson for native rights, getting murdered by a death squad. 

Honduras as a vacation destination?  The travel company has run nature trips there for 15 years, the American guide went there with the Peace Corps in the 90s and fell in love with the place.   He has never moved back.  Overcoming fear usually involves some kind of leap of faith;   we took the leap (it turns out nobody else had signed up for this “group trip”) and found a country as blessed by nature as the brochure had promised.  Also visibly impoverished, where malnutrition and sanitation are the biggest public health problems;  there is a national health service but access requires that one travel to a major city.  Most people were getting by, some better than others, but in the countryside nothing close to American prosperity.   Our guide, fanatical about the natural world that still exists there but also in love with the country and its people, was very clear about the fact that Hondurans, for the most part, do not live in fear for their lives, a fact underscored by the many we encountered.  It may be very different in the desperate slums of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, but one could make a similar claim about the south side of Chicago, or (at least until recently) the Lenox Street project right here in Boston.  You don’t hear much about folks being afraid to visit America.  Unfortunately, the media has long known that fear is a product that sells, which is unfortunate for places like Honduras and others like it in too much of the world.  

John Dabrowski,   LICSW
Neponset Health Center
Geiger Gibson Community Health Center


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