Fear less: A National Geographic Explorer’s Story

This post was written by Heather Greenwood Davis on behalf of the Case Foundation: 

In 2012 National Geographic Traveler magazine announced their new Travelers of the Year initiative. The honorees were a group of fearless boundary breakers who explored the world with passion and purpose, inspiring others to expand their horizons, ask big questions, and seek new answers. One of those fearless travelers was Heather Greenwood Davis, a freelance travel writer based in Toronto, Canada. She took a year-long journey with her husband, Ishmael; and sons, Ethan and Cameron (then 10 and 8-years-old), and chronicled their yearlong, round-the-world adventure on globetrottingmama.com. Nominations are open for the 2013 Travelers of the Year awards here.

I’m going to share with you the biggest secret I’ve discovered about fearless living: 90 percent of the things you fear melt faster than the Wicked Witch of the West did when Dorothy doused her with water, once you confront them. The mere action of “doing” usually erases the fear, showing the uninformed foundation it stood on. I know this firsthand.

I know this because for 12 consecutive months – from June 2011 to June 2012 – I travelled around the world with my husband and two sons under the age of 10. We visited 29 countries on six continents and carried the fears of our family, friends, and a lifetime of being raised on a fearful continent with us.

At a recent National Geographic Live presentation, my family and I shared our journey with an audience of about 200 people as one of National Geographic Traveler Magazine’s 2012 “Travelers of the Year.” As I got up to join other winners on the stage, the host introduced me as “fearless.” I quickly corrected him. I wasn’t fearless, I was afraid – before we left, at times on the road, and even when we returned as new people in an old world.

I was afraid but we did it anyway. We weren’t fearless but we did fear less the more we traveled.

Looking back, our first step to fear freedom wasn’t the one that put us on a plane out of Toronto, it was the one that led me to start www.globetrottingmama.com – the blog we used to tell the world we were planning to do this crazy thing. When we launched the site months before we left, it was the equivalent of signing a contract in our minds. By telling the world we were doing this, we would have no choice but to follow through.

The telling made the leaping easier but the fears continued when we finally set out months later, until we recognized a pattern.

We would enter country after country, city after city, carrying the weight of the fears and then, slowly but surely as we met people in the places we were visiting, those fears would disappear. Every single time.

One particular moment that sticks in my mind happened during the latter part of the trip. We were trying to decide whether we should visit Egypt. A friend in Kenya asked what we were afraid of, and as I pondered that question I received an email from home. Attached without comment was a list of the ten most dangerous places in the world to visit. A quick glance showed that we’d visited about half the list and a few more remained on our planned itinerary. We read the concerns and advice for destinations where we had enjoyed wonderful evenings out, met new friends, and never once felt unsafe. It was proof that what people think of a place can never compare with what you know once you’ve seen it yourself. We’d visit Egypt, we decided, and continue to see what the world had to offer. It was one of the best decisions of the trip.

I want to be clear. I’m not saying the world isn’t a dangerous place. I’m not suggesting that you should venture to all places with reckless abandon. Not at all.

What I’m telling you is that not venturing somewhere – in the world, in your career, in your life – because you perceive it to be frightening is never a good way to make a decision. Our 12 months in the world have shown me that allowing your life to be dictated by fear will only leave you with a less fulfilled existence. It’s only by jumping in with both feet and getting as close as you can to the roots of your fears that you’ll be able to determine their validity. Fears stand strong from afar; you have to get close enough to throw the water if you want the witch to melt.