On Travel and Fear

I spent the last month in both Paris and Colombia.

In Colombia I was a victim of violent crime in a “safe” area of the country. With a gun to my head, I lost my passport and all of my possessions, along with a large part of my faith in travel and in humanity. The days that followed were some of the darkest of my life.

Mere days earlier I was feeling all too light in the City of Light — my happy place, my beacon of beauty, a place that brings light to my eyes and fire to my soul. I return to Paris as often as possible — but not too often, for I yearn to experience more of the world. I know that the globe is far from being full of pastries and side streets, pungent cheeses and cute cafes.

With that in mind, I booked a ticket to Colombia — partly due to the recommendations of other travelers, partly to give a previously ‘no-go’ destination a chance.  I was confident, I was comfortable, I was fearless.

I wanted to experience the “real” Colombia. I believe, sadly, that is exactly  what I got. Never could I have imagined I’d be part of a bus hijacking. Never did I think I’d actually be faced with a moment in which my life could have ended, just because I was traveling there.

It was my first time in South America.

View of Guatape, Colombia

When I took this picture, I envisioned embracing Colombia. I felt fearless.
Now, my gut reaction when I see this photo is that my hands are in the air because someone is pointing a gun at me.

It was easy to blame Colombia, blame myself for going there in the first place. Since I’ve returned home, I’ve spent countless hours to the point of obsession reading about Colombia’s history, politics, and unfortunate legacy of violence. I’ve researched methods for intervention in the cycle of violence, and the ways others are working to solve the problem even here in the United States.

Holding my emergency passport in my hands at the US embassy in Bogota, printed just in time to board the plane that would take me home, I had never been so grateful for my life and the country I happened to be born into. (I had zero help, compassion, or empathy from Colombians after it happened. Yes, you read that right. More on that to come.) I felt lucky to be able to leave that world behind, and resolve to never return. It was my initial way of coping with the pain. I felt that if I could compartmentalize the violence to one specific part of the world, I could feel safe again — and better understand why this happened.

You can then imagine my heartbreak to see violence take place on the streets of the very place I dreamt of returning to, the country I felt most opposite of the one I had just been victimized in. Suddenly, the blame was harder to place.


I’ve stayed silent aside from the occasional social media post about the experience, mostly because I don’t know how to adequately express what I’ve been feeling. I’m searching for the right words to tell the story and violation, the impact this violent crime has had on me.  I resort back to my initial frame of mind, back to when I made the decision not to buy travel insurance on flight there, and it echoes: I have heard that it happens, but it won’t happen to me.

But it did happen. Some days it feels like it would be much easier just to leave the experience behind me and move forward. I will not.

Colombia’s tourism board and government have both reached out to me. I haven’t written back. The only time remorse was shown was when told the police I was a journalist. The only question of concern I felt was “Who do you write for?”

I will write about this.


Yet when I woke up to a worldwide travel alert from the United States State Department, I found that I had something to say — right now, to you. In light of Colombia, in light of Paris, in light of every place people are scared to travel (or scared to live.) It might not be what you want to hear, but I have to write it.

I understand fully that fear is one of the things that keeps many of us from traveling at all. For this reason, many of us who travel seek to inspire others by easing or downplaying fears. And when someone tells us we can’t or shouldn’t do the thing we love most, we feel as if someone is restricting our greatest passion. Many feel the need to counter it with strong proclamations.

Cue an onslaught of travel bloggers telling you to reject the warnings, to “be fearless.” Travelers are standing up and proclaiming “not afraid!” like it is some badge of honor.

If I learned anything from staring at my own death in the face, it is that I am not afraid. The criminals took so much from me in that moment, but they also gave me a window into my own inner strength. It turns out fear itself is much scarier than when the moment you fear most actually occurs.

Fear won’t stop me from living, from traveling, from loving. I will live, travel, and love differently as a result of my experiences, especially this one. Fear should not dictate our choices, but we should listen to it. Listening instead of rejecting fear may have prevented this from happening. I now have a reverence for fear, and I refuse to ignore it or push it aside for any reason in any aspect of my life, from now on.

I have much more still to write, to share. For now, I plead with you: please do not reject fear. Understand it, respect it, acknowledge it. As Elizabeth Gilbert wrote, “This is my fundamental opposition to the mythological dream of fearlessness, and the frustration I feel whenever fearlessness is held up as a virtue. I just feel like that it’s the wrong battle. Because for one thing, you don’t want to get rid of your fear; you need it to keep you alive. We’re all here because we had fear that preserved us. So there’s a little bit of a lack of appreciation for fear when we say that we want to be fearless.”

Travel is my passion. Many of you have asked me if this incident will stop me from traveling. I’ll admit, what I went through in the days following the armed robbery, what I’m still going through now…it made me feel like I’d never want to travel again, like it wasn’t worth it. The truth is, that travel is my heart — and when your heart is broken, it doesn’t mean you’ll never love again. It does mean you might take some time apart, time to heal and process and rebuild your faith and your strength. When I do, I’ll be back on the road.

 

To love is to risk, and travel is no different.

With each experience we grow and we learn and if we’re lucky, we live to share those learnings with others who haven’t walked in our shoes.

To me, real strength is not about being fearless — it is acknowledging risks and fully digesting the feeling of fear. It is about bravely facing the truth and acting accordingly. It is about what you choose to do with fear, not what you choose to do without it.

In many ways, I am scared to write about what happened to me. I fear the process of reliving it, of exposing my heart and my wounds, only to have it not be understood, or worse: not read.

Life is never easy and everyone has a story. This is now part of mine, and I will not be silent about it.

For what it’s worth, I offer you the following words regarding the travel alert:

The US State Department’s worldwide travel alert is not telling you not to travel. It’s not even implying you should be scared.

It is asking to you be aware of your surroundings. In my experience, that is never a bad thing. We could all use the reminder.

I used to dismiss warnings like this. Let’s remember that alerts are created to keep us safe. Monitor the news a little more closely — I wish I had. It doesn’t mean you have to listen to it.

Don’t let fear dictate your travels. But don’t dismiss warnings from the state department, either.

Let’s use logic to form our travel decisions and our reactions, instead of emotion in the form of inaction or rejection.

 

Happiness at the Eiffel Tower

Me in my happy place, just days before both myself and the city were attacked.

I want to thank each and every one of you — readers, friends, friends of readers, complete strangers —  for the kindness and support you have shown me in the past three weeks. Although I have yet to respond to all of your messages (honestly it is still painful to talk much about it) each word has truly lifted my spirits a bit higher (and that is saying something!)

A special recognition of a very special friend who astounded me with her empathy and set this up. If you feel inclined to support the site and the continuation of travel regardless of (but in recognition of!) fear, I would be very humbled. Words are worth everything to me but these donations are also graciously accepted and so, so appreciated. 

If you prefer instead to donate to an organization that is working to solve the root of the problem, in a revolutionary way, both in the United States and increasingly abroad, consider Cure Violence. Three pilot programs are in process for Colombia.

I will be sharing the entire story of my experience in the coming weeks.  The denial and apathy I was met with makes me that much more determined to speak out. If you know of any outlet that can amplify my voice, please get in touch.

Most of all I urge you to travel. More than ever the world needs us to be traveling, showing compassion, and increasing global tolerance and international understanding. Please just do so alongside your fear, not in spite of it. Do not ignore the cues of warning, and always, always be aware.

Your time and effort and kind words have not gone unnoticed. Thank you, thank you, thank you. <3

anne in handwriting


Let's connect: Twitter // Facebook // Instagram // Pinterest // Snapchat //

40 Comments

  1. Great advice — with regard to travel, and to life in general, I’d say. Hugs from Madrid.

  2. thank you for being so vulnerable and sharing your experience with us. your words have truly touched me, and I am sure will be inspiring to many.

  3. I’m so so sorry that happened to you! Thank you for sharing your story with transparency. You are right to say that you cannot live without fear. Its what you do with that fear that determines how we go through this life. You are very inspiring and I pray that you will never have to encounter something like that again on your travels. I think once is enough 😉

    • I, too, think once is enough. Better not to happen at all, but what’s done is done. I hope telling my story will help someone else avoid the situation.

  4. Great to read your honest thoughts Anne. So true about heartbreak not meaning you will never love again. Thinking about you — your strength, your courage, and mostly your big heart. xo

    • Aw, thank you Lisa. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. Life is full of things that test our strength, isn’t it?

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this horrible situation.

  6. Anne! First I have to say that I am so happy that you are safe! I also believe the quote where your wrote “Fear should not dictate our choices, but we should listen to it”. Sending you hugs from New York <3

  7. Anne, your story breaks my heart, but I’m encouraged to see that you are taking time for yourself to heal with every new day that passes. You have encountered a tragic and traumatic experience, but just as with every good travel experience you share, you will find the courage to tell this story as well; not only to shine light on what happened, but to prove to the world that you will love… and you will travel, yet again! You are brave. You are strong. You are courageous! Take it one day at a time… Thinking of you often! 🙂

    • Thank you for your sweet comment, Toccara. I appreciate the encouragement. Thanks for sending good thoughts 🙂 Wishing you happy and safe travels.

  8. Aunt Becky Kohrt

    With great warmth I would like to tell you I understand, emphathize and completely agree with every word you’ve written. There are places I wouldn’t even consider going, but I am still going to Paris in 2016. That makes me both fearless and fearful I guess.

    The world is measurably more dangerous than when I was your age. When I was in Sicily, I had a moped driver attempt to steal my purse from my person. Locals informed me that he was just trying to make a living and I’m the stupid one if he was able to succeed. I also had a shop owner try to swindle me in a purchase of an amount equal to $900 euro. Life and liberty is so much more desparate in most of the world.

    Mostly I don’t want to travel as much because it’s such a headache compared to when I was younger. Still, I would have to encourage everyone, but especially younger generations, to travel because to understand the world you’d must experience it firsthand. Exercise due diligence and understand cultural differences. I know you will travel again and learn from this awful experience. My travels to Sicily taught me to appreciate my life, friends and especially my family. It was invaluable to my growth as a human being.

    • Thank you for sharing, and I agree. At the end of the day I already appreciate everything that is light after having seen the darkness. Travel is the best education in the world, and it has been overwhelmingly positive for me. That is why it is so important to pass on what I’ve learned from this — so that others can know without needing to experience this pain.

  9. Amy (Two Drifters)

    What a terrible experience. I am so sorry that happened to you. Thank you for sharing such an honest post, and I love your perspective on fear; especially with regards to honoring it and knowing it has a place and can help in our lives.

    • Very well said, Amy. I wish you happy and safe travels and I thank you so very much for the kind comment.

  10. I’m so sorry that this happened to you in one of my favourite countries – and I feel even worse that you clearly had no help from the local Colombians. I hope you’re doing ok now: it seems like you’ve taken a fantastic approach to dealing with the emotional fallout from such a scary experience. All the best and lots of healing vibes from London <3

    • Thank you, Flora. Indeed the worst part wasn’t the incident but the reactions of people there afterwards. I went to Colombia with such an open heart and open mind, and felt that I was met back with denial and lack of compassion. I’m not saying this to make anyone feel bad or prevent anyone from going, but simply because it was the truth of what I experienced. I hope that by speaking the truth I can help someone else from having to go through what I did, or better, affect some positive change.
      I so appreciate the kind sentiments. Thank you.

  11. Thanks for sharing, Anne. Stay safe and keep trekking.

  12. Great post addressing a full circle perspective. Thank you for sharing your story and I’m so very sorry that you had to experience that. But it’s most definitely a worthy share to both seasoned travelers as well as well as first timers. Travel on!

    • That’s the thing! I thought I was a seasoned traveler, and in the confidence I found in braving so-called dangerous destinations around the world, I lost a bit of touch with reality. I hope my story helps things improve there, I really do.

  13. I’m a solo traveler and I have been looking forward to visiting Colombia so much. So sad this happened but great learnings. Looking firward to read about your experience in details.

    • I am working on the story, but it is a painful process. My hope is that in sharing more I can prevent someone else from having to go through this. We can’t go wrong with speaking the truth.

  14. Im really sorry to know you experienced something like this in my own country. It really breaks my heart. I hope you are recovering and getting stronger. I actually believe that every experience good or bad is meant to teach us a lesson. Try to figure it out. Sending you all my love and support.

    • Thank you, Camila. That means a lot. I don’t know you, but I am very touched by your reaction to my story. It was a horrible experience, and I hope that by sharing the truth I can save someone else from having to experience it.
      I wish you all the best. Stay strong, positive and kind. By our life’s actions alone we can make a difference.

  15. Hi Anne, I am so sorry you had to go through and I congratulate you on your strength of facing the situation and writing about it. It is absolutely ok to keep to yourself and try to make sense of it all and not immediately push out a blog post on it. Take you time. And stay amazing!

    • Thank you, thank you, thank you. Today has been a challenging one. It would be so much easier to say nothing and try to forget about it. I hope that by writing about it I am saving someone else from this pain. I really appreciate you taking the time to write those encouraging words.

  16. Hey Anne,

    I travelled in Europe with Jaimee last winter, so your experience was a sad and painful blow. Thank you for leaning into your pain and using it to grow both individually and the travel community. Pulitzer. Please do take your time in processing the experience. And don’t worry, you will definitely have an audience/readership. It’s like clicking the like button on a disturbing Facebook post, I don’t look forward to reading the details. But your story is so important, and not just for travellers. We all need to stay informed on and connected to the history behind and current violence that is plaguing our generation.

    Peace,

    • Hi Shannon, it’s great to hear from you. Thank you for your empathy. As you know this is a painful experience for both of us. We had so many idealistic plans for the rest of our weeks in Colombia, and Jaimee was producing an incredible video about the country. What I think some people don’t understand is just how excited we were to be there and how much we wanted to dispel the bad reputation. Those criminals took a lot from us, but they also unknowingly took away two advocates for their country. It’s a shame.
      As for the readership, I’ve never really cared much about that. I have, though, lived as a bit of a people pleaser, flying just enough under the radar so as not to offend or upset anyone.
      I have already received many hate comments from Colombians, sadly, but I will keep speaking out because I believe the truth is that important. So many have asked or implied that I in essence sweep this under the rug, because no one wants to look the truth in the face. So I thank you for reading it, there is more to come. I agree with you about the importance of staying informed. Thanks again.

  17. Good advice, we have been on the road for two years not in some of the worst places on the earth for crimes. We never have had issues, i don’t know why. If because there’s two of us or what. I do believe they target different types of travelers.

    • Hi David, I’ve traveled to nearly 50 countries — some of them “dangerous.” I had never had any issues, not even a petty theft, in all the years I’ve spent traveling. I was with a friend in this case (not alone) and we did our best to dress down and not look like targets. I even speak near fluent Spanish. Yet because of what we do for a living, it was impossible not to have computers, phones, and cameras on us. Quite frankly, the way everyone talks about Colombia these days I didn’t think it would be a problem. That is why I am speaking out, so that people will understand that, as much as we might want them to be, Colombia’s days of violence are far from over. It has been embedded in the culture for so long, it breaks my heart. And it just cannot change overnight. We need to stop pretending it has.

  18. I’m so sorry this happened to you. It’s true that we often downplay the scary parts in order to encourage people to get out there more. I know that anytime I choose a travel destination I weight in my head the risks vs. the benefits. In the end I think we’re all playing the odds to a certain extent.

    I’m not really surprised at the lack of empathy, although it doesn’t make it less appalling. I have been told a few times in a few different countries that the foreigners are always responsible, because if they hadn’t been there, whatever happened would not have happened. Car crash? It’s the foreigner’s fault. A fight breaks out? The foreigner will be charged. Robbed? To be expected, because being a foreigner equates money.

    I have been thinking for a while now about writing about the bad things that happen as well. It’s not always all fun and games, and perhaps there would be more space to convey this.

    • Hi Annie, (nice name!)
      Thank you so much for this comment. I really appreciate your words and you sharing your perspective as a fellow traveler. I am looking forward to sharing the entire story soon.
      I agree that it is important to share the ugly sides of travel as well. If I had heard more about what others have since shared about Colombia I would have traveled very differently there (or perhaps not at all.) I believe the one positive we can work towards in sharing a very negative situation is that we might prevent it from happening to someone else. We can’t control how others react to what we share, but if we tell the truth of our experience at least we’re putting knowledge out there. If we’re lucky enough to be in a position to share our stories we have a responsibility to be truthful about it (especially if it can help someone.)
      Happy and safe travels and thanks again for writing your thoughts.

  19. Hi Anne, somebody pointed me towards your site after I announced I’d be traveling to Colombia next week. I am sorry to read what happened to you. I am a bit worried now about how safe it actually is (everybody else tells me it’s 100% safe for solo female travelers).. If you have any advice for me, I’d appreciate it.

    • Dani, I have many safety tips for Colombia, both from my own experience and my research after the incident. I plan to write and publish on this more in depth, but for now if you’ll email me at: parttimetravel@gmail.com, and include where in Colombia you’ll be traveling, I’d be happy to share specific advice.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Solo Female Going to Colombia? Just Don’t. | The Ramble - […] spoke to another woman who doesn’t remember the harassment, but is in therapy after being the victim of an armed…
  2. Is it safe to travel in Colombia? | Reisepreis-24.de - […] be a problem in all of South America) than by hijackers. But again – this is situational, and Anne…

Leave a Reply


Pin It on Pinterest

Shares
Share This