Last week, I went out to dinner with some new friends I had met at a Thanksgiving party. At one point, someone mentioned that she had seen my blog. “You have a blog?” one of the women asked, “I’ve never met a travel blogger before.”
She seemed so genuinely fascinated, that I didn’t have the heart to mention to her that I’m not actually a travel blogger. I just play one on Twitter.
Prior to joining Twitter back before I started my trip in February, I had never read another travel blog. I had certainly never met any other travel bloggers. I didn’t know the meanings of terms like SEO or XML or vlogging. (And was a little bit scared to find out. I mean, vlogging? That sounds painful.) I didn’t know people made money off of blogging. I didn’t know there were lists of popular travel blogs or awards for best travel blogs or big, hot-shot travel bloggers who have millions of followers reading them. (Rather than, say, just their mom… and some sorry soul who typed in “ate a donut and my tongue went numb” during a Google word search).
A lot has changed since then.
Not only do I know other travel bloggers exist, I’ve even started hanging out with them. In fact, the majority of the people that I know in Chiang Mai are fellow travel bloggers that I had “met” on Twitter prior to moving here.
It took some getting used to, to be honest. When I first met the group of travel bloggers in Chiang Mai, I had to introduce myself with my blog name: “Hi, My name is Sally. You may know me as Unbrave Girl.” I felt like some covert superhero… or maybe one of those Dungeons and Dragons dorks… err, enthusiasts.
I was nervous meeting these people for the first time. I worried that they wouldn’t like me – I’m not nearly as fun or witty in person… particularly when I’m not capable of deleting my words. Plus, I’m definitely not as adorable as my cartoon avatar especially since I’ve started washing my clothes in a bucket.
Besides, what would I even talk about? I have a limited number of good stories, and I’ve written about most of them on my blog. Sure, I didn’t expect everyone to be an avid reader of my blog, but I knew some of them did read it. Was it too presumptuous to start off every story by saying, “Stop me if you’ve already read this on my blog”?
Luckily, the group has been very accepting and friendly and not a single one of them has told me mid-story, “Um, yeah, I know. I already read that on your blog. Do you have a story I haven’t already read twenty paragraphs about?” Of course, I’m sure this is due to my ability to miraculously avoid repeating myself; rather than, say, the fact that these people aren’t regularly reading my blog. (Right, guys? You’re all reading my blog, right?! Guys?). Plus, some of them have been kind enough to pass along their travel blog wisdom to me and even helped me move over my blog to WordPress. (I’ve been told this is what all the hot-shot bloggers use. Now that my blog has been moved over, I can now commence being a hot-shot just like all my new hot-shot friends. Right, guys? Guys?!).
Sure, I still don’t know what SEO or XML means. (And I’m sorely disappointed to find out that vlogging merely means “Video Blogging”… and not, say, “Being Beaten By Blood-Sucking Leprechauns.”). I still don’t know how people make money from blogging. (I suspect selling ad-space is involved… and pixie dust… and maybe unicorns.) I’ve been on a few lists of travel bloggers. (I was on this very nice list here, and this list, and that list). But I have yet to win any awards or show up on one of the big-deal lists, like “Best Travel Blogs EVER” or “Travel Blogs That Will Change Your Life (And, Thank God For That, Because Your Life Was Pretty Lame).” And I don’t think I’ll be reaching a million readers anytime soon. (Unless, this whole tongue-going-numb-while-eating-donuts thing hits epidemic proportions for which, I am proud to say, my blog is in the top ten of Google search results for that particular crisis.)
In addition to hanging out with travel bloggers, I’ve also started reading a lot more travel blogs. For the most part, I’ve found the practice of reading travel blogs to be enjoyable. There are some really great writers out there that have some really great things to say. I’ve also learned some pretty amazing stuff. For example, did you know that in China you can buy minty green tea flavored Oreos? Did you know that in Ecuador you can get a hot dog served with a shredded hot dog on top? Yeah, pretty amazing stuff, right? Imagine what I could learn if I started reading travel blog entries that weren’t just about cookies and pork products!
As much as I’ve enjoyed my recent forays into travel blog reading (I mean, come on, who wouldn’t enjoy learning more about Oreos and hot dogs?), I’ve also found myself getting increasingly, well, annoyed.
There is a general consensus among many of the hot-shot travel bloggers and the so-called “lifestyle design” bloggers. (Don’t ask me, I don’t know what “lifestyle design” means, either. I suspect it has something to do with pixie dust… and Vlogging). This consensus is that if you don’t travel (or do something cah-razy like quit your day job to follow your dream of being a canoe-maker) than you’re living a life of fear. And fear, they say, is a bad thing.
Mind you, this practice of fear-bashing is not a new thing. People have been picking on fear for years. There’s that old chestnut about fearing nothing but fear itself. Back in the fourth century BC, Aristotle said fear was “pain arising from the anticipation of evil.” Even Buddha chimed in with some anti-fear sentiments: “The secret of existence is to have no fear.”
With all due respect to my fellow travel bloggers (and, uh, Buddha), I beg to differ.
Fear isn’t so bad.
Fear is what keeps us alive. If we didn’t have fear, we’d all be walking into oncoming traffic and jumping off cliffs. We’d be fighting bears with sandwich swords and living out of the canoes we’d fashioned from own our bare hands (because the money from our left-behind day job has long run out and no one wants to buy a canoe from someone whose knowledge of canoe-building was gleaned from reading articles on WikiHow).
I let fear hold me back from doing lots of things. I’ll never sky dive or bungee jump. I have no desire to walk on hot coals. I firmly refuse to drive a motorbike. I won’t white water raft or ride on top of a bus. I’ll never swim with sharks.
Will I still die? Definitely. But at least, chances are, it won’t be via shark attack. You can call me boring, but, frankly, I’d much rather have fear hold me back… than a missing arm.
We all just need to give fear a break.
And we need to give all the non-travelers out there a break, too.
Granted picking on non-travelers isn’t anything new, either. Saint Augustine was ripping on homebodies as early as the fifth century. “The world,” he said,” is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.”
Fair, enough, Mr. Augustine. But, you know what, some of us are perfectly content with reading one page.
My brother’s wife hates to travel — like, really hates it. If she has to be away from her home for even one night, she starts to have a panic attack. Yet, that doesn’t mean she’s not brave. She’s battled a debilitating jaw condition and has had numerous painful surgeries. She followed her dream, went back to school as an adult and helped run a family business. She’s brought two kids into a world that’s scary and dangerous and uncertain. Heck, she married into my family for crying out loud! If that’s not brave, I don’t know what is. Sure, she may never travel or even want to travel, but she’s still fearless.
Traveling doesn’t automatically make you a braver or better person. Life experiences do — whether those life experiences happen in your hometown or some hut in some town you can’t even pronounce. My life experiences have included travel, but not everyone’s life experiences do… or even should.
Eating food off a menu you can’t read doesn’t make you courageous. A backpack doesn’t equal a backbone. You don’t get guts by reading a guidebook (or not reading a guidebook… or whatever other cah-razy thing you’re doing).
Bravery is taking risks, facing fears, doing what you believe in, taking a chance, fighting for yourself and fighting for other people. Sure, traveling embodies a lot of these things. But so does having a kid, or getting married, or starting your own business, or supporting a cause, or leaving an abusive partner, or battling cancer, or coming out to your parents, or letting go of someone you love.
Bravery is not defined by how many stamps you have in your passport (or whether or not you even have a passport), but by who you are and how many lives you’ve touched along the way. Helen Keller, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Anne Frank. These names are synonymous with bravery. Why? Because they persevered, they fought, they dreamed, they hoped, they inspired, they changed lives. Anne Frank did all of that from an attic. Rosa Parks? She became a hero by staying put.
So, yeah, you don’t need to go very far to be brave. You just need to be alive.