Is Not Being Afraid the Same as Being Fearless?

Next up in the #BeFearless series, my friend Sarah, who works in online communications at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. You can read more of her stories at her blog,

Traveling alone...and fearlessly!

A little more than five years ago, an amazing opportunity was presented to me: a chance to go to Thailand for work, to do a press check on a book we were publishing. My boss agreed to my request to take a couple of weeks of vacation there after my responsibilities were finished, and I got to planning my trip. I had little advance warning (just a few weeks) and quickly realized I’d be going alone — none of my friends could get time off from work on such short notice. Undeterred,  I reserved hotels in Bangkok and Chiang Mai and researched the train schedule that would get me between the two. I booked a flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia to see Angkor Wat, not knowing if I’d ever be so near again. As far as I was concerned, I was planning the trip of a lifetime.

And it was, without a doubt. But even before I left home, I noticed a recurring theme from a lot of the people I told about the trip: amazement that I was flying halfway around the world, to a county that had just experienced a coup, alone. I was told it was bold, and brave, and fearless. Once I was there, everyone seemed shocked to meet an American woman traveling alone in Asia. (Apparently, it would have been less stunning if I were European, or perhaps Australian.) I was such a novelty that a group of Buddhist monks in Cambodia wanted to have their picture taken with me, to prove that they had seen such a thing.

Not surprisingly, I found this hilarious, and more than a little strange, because it hadn’t occurred to me that making the trip required any sort of fearlessness until people started mentioning it. I wasn’t afraid to be making the trip, therefore, I wasn’t being fearless — I was just doing what I wanted to do.

I don’t remember exactly when or how I developed that attitude — I just know that at some point I realized that being afraid was an incredibly lame reason not to do things I wanted to do or see places I wanted to see. From that point on, whenever I would hesitate to do something because I was fearful, I would remind myself that fear was, for me, not an acceptable out, and I would force myself to do it. Eventually, I got to the point where I needed a reminder less and less, because I at some point I stopped overcoming fear and just stopped being afraid.

Mostly, anyway. I’ve got it narrowed down to spiders, heights, and walking up to strangers and saying hello. And I’m working on those. Well, not the spiders. I don’t think being afraid of them is negatively impacting my life in any way.


3 thoughts on “Is Not Being Afraid the Same as Being Fearless?

  1. As a solo traveller, I get the same response many times over… but on my journey I’ve met so many women travelling alone who are just, well, getting on with things without it being a big drama. Maybe these women and you and I are indeed a little less fearless, for which I’m really glad because I’ve had some amazing experiences as a result.


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