Fight or Flight: Feeling the Fear and Travelling Anyway

Fight or Flight: Feeling the Fear and Travelling Anyway

Scary situations experienced when travelling end up making us more resilient – and make for great stories when we get back, says Julie Alpine, in the latest instalment of a regular column

This article is part of a regular column from SUITCASE’s Julie Alpine
celebrating the joy of travel.

would my memories of the newly opened Disneyland Paris be without the frisson of fear I felt on
being stuck on the It’s a Small World After All ride when it came
to a juddering halt mid-way round, leaving me and the boy I was
with (the only one my dad ever thought I should marry) stranded in
the dark, surrounded by small, ghostly animatronic figures, the
rictus grins on their little faces, frozen? (If we can’t trust in
Disney not to suffer glitches, what in God’s name can we trust
in?). In truth, the greater terror on that trip was over the loss
of my (much vaunted by teen magazines at the time) “feminine
mystique” when we both succumbed to gastroenteritis later that
week, ensconced in a tiny room in the Montmartre neighbourhood, with matchbox-sized
bathroom, cardboard-thin door.

Travel is, by its very nature, scary. Leaving our comfort zone,
emotional support animals and daily routines behind, we set off
into the great unknown hoping for the best, checking and
re-checking that we have our passport, visas, phone chargers, wits
about us. As a kid, everything scared me – boats, lifts,
flesh-eating parasites – but, in the kind of aversion therapy big
at the time, and in the wake of Susan Jeffers’ 1983-published
bestseller Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, I forged ahead,
operating on the policy that what doesn’t kill us makes us
stronger. And it worked. Because, while it might seem
counterintuitive to leave the relative safety of home, the
horizon-broadening, character-building effects of immersion in
other cultures, making eye-opening discoveries, challenging
ourselves to cope in sometimes hostile environments (what, no
WiFi?) are the epitome of liberating.

Horror film tropes are horror film tropes for a reason. When I
asked around about what things had terrified friends on their
adventures, what I heard, time and again, was the stuff of the
films we’d grown up watching from behind splayed fingers. Primal
fears, come to life. And triumphed over.

Challenging ourselves to cope in sometimes hostile environments is liberating

“I was sailing from Cuba to Mexico,” recounts travel writer and SUITCASE
contributor Imogen Lepere. “A huge gust of wind came out of nowhere
and, because we had our mainsail up, we very nearly capsized in the
deep ocean – extra-scary as a shark had taken a fish off our line
minutes before. But the crew worked together to get the sail in and
then it was pretty exhilarating; we had the wind and waves behind
us and we were flying along through the night.”

“I was in Athens, near the Acropolis, watching these
young, cute-looking dogs playing,” remembers publisher Harry Rekas,
“when one of them started to growl. Then they all did. I ran for my
life, but two of them managed to grab hold of my coat. I was able
to fend them off, but it wasn’t just the fear of injury… There
were people everywhere, going about their business, watching this
guy being chased by a pack of 20 dogs. It was the embarrassment
that almost killed me.”

“I was speaking to the guy sitting next to me on a flight from
LA to London, just following take-off,” shudders
actress Mhairi Steenbock. “The war in Iraq had just started and he
was a bodyguard, en route to Baghdad. At one point, the
conversation tapered off, then he looked up and asked me if I knew
how to parachute. I thought, ‘why are you asking me that?’ I was
anxious for the whole rest of the flight.”

Jaws. Cujo. A thousand air disaster movies… As for the axe
murderers (and the rest) out there… well, if I collated even half
of my stories and those shared with me by any woman who has ever
travelled alone on the subject of creepy men, I’d have a book on my

We persevere.

Having survived the 9 October 1996 earthquake in Cyprus, the largest seismic event in the
eastern Mediterranean region since 1953, I was in my apartment in
Chlorakas village that night, alone, when I was woken by an eerie
rumble, my bed shaking. An aftershock. A picture fell off the wall
downstairs, glass smashed. I jumped to my feet thinking “door
frame”, “strong table”, but, as I watched a splintering crack
appear along the stuccoed wall of my terrace, a fruit bowl jump off
the counter, apples rolling everywhere, it wasn’t shelter I headed
for but the telephone. And, while there wasn’t much my parents
could do to help me in the middle of the night from Scotland,
5,071km away, I was grateful for their company until the building
stopped swaying.

Even my cousin who, when working in a remote region of a West
African country, actually experienced flesh-eating parasites
(vanquished one terrible, long night with the aid of a sterilised
knife and a bottle of whisky) is still around to tell the tale.
Life is for living, and we don’t have forever, so let’s set aside
our jitters over foreign prisons, mechanical faults on
rollercoasters, not having packed the right footwear for an
impromptu trek in the Atlas Mountains, and go. Because the only
thing you’re going to regret are the things you didn’t do. That boy
I went to Paris with, say? I fear my dad was right.

Souvenirs in a Tunisian Souk

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