Last Updated on February 23, 2020 by Maggie McKneely
“YEEEE-haw!” Everyone in the surrounding rows smiled and quietly laughed at the blonde cherub’s exclamation as the plane sped towards lift-off. No fear, no trepidation from the little girl – just pure joy as the wheels left the ground.
Some things truly don’t change. I’m 26, and people still refer to me as a cherub. Maybe when I’m 50, I’ll appreciate my youthful looks. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself every time someone thinks I’m still in middle school.
Another thing that hasn’t changed is that taking off is still my favorite part of flying, just as it was on my first flight as a toddler when my family took the pilgrimage from Virginia to Orlando’s Disneyworld.
But some things do. Despite having been on countless journeys through the sky since, and every time landed safely at my destination, those trips are always accompanied by a little voice: “This may be the one time the plane doesn’t make it. It’s not safe. Stay home.” Turbulence makes the voice especially noticeable. With every little bump, “SEE!?? Not safe! The next plane crash in the news? It’s going to be the plane that you’re on right now!!”
Clearly, I’ve never let that voice actually stop me. But only because I’ve learned that just because something isn’t safe doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. Usually, that’s exactly why it should be done.
I’m not talking about thrill-seeking for the heck of it. Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve never ridden a real, honest-to-goodness roller coaster and nor do I have any intention of doing so. Not because I find them truly terrifying, but because I, personally, find that whole “stomach in your head” sensation to be completely unnecessary. What I’m talking about are those things you want to do, but find excuses not to do because they are, for some reason, unsafe.
Moving to a new city. Meeting new people. Finding a new church. Going away to college. Starting a new relationship. And yes, traveling to somewhere completely new and different.
It’s a litany of things people do that are akin to getting on an airplane but come with much larger consequences if everything doesn’t go according to plan. The forks that God throws into our path that force us to say that we’re either going to continue to cling to what is predictable or are willing to jump into the unknowable. Those options we say we may do one day when the time is right – when we have the money, when we aren’t working so hard, when we’re in better shape, when we aren’t doing whatever it is that’s providing a convenient excuse to do the thing that scares us.
But just because a choice isn’t safe doesn’t mean it isn’t the right option. True, those decisions don’t always have happy endings. After all, that’s what makes them unsafe. Why we balk when we are faced with those choices. But isn’t pursuing what will force you to change and grow as a human being always worth doing? Those times in life when we stand on a precipice and don’t know what will happen when we jump – those are the times we learn about ourselves, our strengths, our fears, and how to overcome them.
In the words of one of my favorite bands, Lord Huron, “what good is livin’ the life you’ve been given if all you do is stand in one place?” Can life truly be lived if we never change, never choose the unsafe option?
The most tangible periods of growth and change in my life have not been in the seasons of predictable routine, where each 9-5 day is followed by another exactly like it. No, those times have always been accompanied by making a decision to do a scary thing fraught with unknown consequences, including some of my first travel experiences. Like my first trip to Colorado, that unexpectedly set my feet on the path to a career in politics. Or when I spent a month exploring Montana and returned home with clarity about a broken relationship and the eating disorder I didn’t know I had.
Beyond the exterior appearances of getting to see incredible sights, eat amazing foods, take Instagram worthy pictures – traveling can be as daunting as some of life’s other big decisions. Just because you have a carefully crafted vacation itinerary doesn’t mean you have any clue about what’s actually going to happen on your trip. When we get on flights, we assume that we will get where we are going without incident, but we may not. Once we arrive at our destination, that’s where the real adventure begins. Setting foot in a country with an unfamiliar language, diet, geography, and culture is an experience fraught with unavoidable unknowns. Then there’s the rising fear of terrorist attacks in Europe and Asia, theft-related violent crimes in second and third world countries, illnesses and diseases rampant in other places but don’t exist at home. But going beyond your comfort zone through travel also comes with unimaginable rewards.
When once I would have always picked the safe option, I’ve learned that those choices are not what refine me, teach me, or help me to grow. It’s a lesson I’ve learned over time, and I think that is why I have become so addicted to traveling. Not because it’s safe and predictable, but because it’s the exact opposite.
Sure, the ability to say I have walked out of the Westminster Underground station only to look up and see Big Ben smiling down on me is pretty awesome. That I can look back through my memories and see the sun setting over the Mediterranean from a Greek village, or remember hearing a glacier roar from high above Canada’s most famous lake – I treasure all of those experiences. But they aren’t why I keep getting on airplanes, why I keep ignoring the nagging voice that says the next flight could be my last. And my guess is that most other victims of the notorious “travel bug” will say the same thing.
It’s the chance to have a 3-course, 4-hour long home-cooked meal with 20 other travelers from all over the world and talk about everything from food, jobs, and politics. The ability to stand at the foot of a mountain that makes you realize just how small you are and how amazing the Creator is, or hike up that same mountain and discover a depth of perseverance you didn’t know you had. The opportunity to learn you CAN drive a car through the heart of Times Square, or a stick-shift 13 passenger van through the mountains of Greece (my mom did that; I learned I could survive the ride without having a heart attack). It’s about understanding first-hand the heritage, history, and traditions that make much of the world the way that it is.
It’s about leaving what you know and what you’re used to behind, for the very purpose of coming back a slightly different person.
For me, every time I come home from a trip I return to Capitol Hill; every time some new destination abroad has changed some piece of me, I bring that change home with me to the most powerful city in America, a city where people strive so hard to get ahead or propel an agenda that they forget to look up at the world around them. To avoid becoming blind to what happens outside of the DC bubble necessitates leaving it every now and then.
But everyone leads unique lives and influences a different set of people. In what ways would change and growth benefit the people around you, the work that you’re called to, or help you gain understanding about yourself? Is the desire to stay safe worth the risk of never changing, of forever standing still?
Travel isn’t safe, but that’s exactly why it’s worth it.
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I completely agree with you, one should travel and enjoy the world. It’s ok to take calculated risks and have fun. I travelled young, sometimes in tricky places and I never had a problem. I see a lot of comments on social media about people being talked out of travelling and told to get a mortgage and job… It’s such a shame not to enjoy some travelling at some point. The job and the mortgage will come in their own time.
You and Barbara just go and enjoy everything. We got the travel bug and gave it to Douglas. If we could we would go everywhere! We are going to the Azores, Venice and Austria in late Sept and are really excited. Happy travels!
How fabulous that trip sounds!! We truly have a blast!!
I took my first flight when i was 22! Is that weird? i never really traveled before because of so many reasons.. plus India having such amazing network of trains, it never really mattered. However I take over 50 flights for leisure and work now and there’s just no stopping me. Travel is amazing with some calculated risks. Love your article.
I get that same feeling every time, usually the day before I fly. Yet once I’m on that flight, all is good. I’ve often thought we shouldn’t continue with the trip but all has always turned out well in the end. I too travel with a detailed itinerary but like you, you never know how things will actually play out. That’s what makes it so much fun to look back on I think.
Get on the plane, see the world. Live life. That is why we are here.
Time runs fast. Fit in as much of seeing the world as you can. I think God made it for us to see all.
Ooh Maggie I love this!! You are inspired by so much in your young life and your freedoms give you such abilities! Writing is obviously one of them! Fear is given too much attention to all those apprehensions that limit our ability to just live. You have such a wonderful outlook. Thank you for sharing!
Flying is always scary – but we do it for the thrill of what’s to come afterwards. There’s temporary fear/slight risks and then there’s throw me in the wildfire risks (like jumping out an airplane). Still – we fly, and continue to hope to make it on the other side. Cheers from DC.
I don’t see travel as being inherently dangerous either, no more so than everyday life is. That old saying about routine being fatal is so true! Of course, there are dangers out there and it depends vastly were you visit too! But I mean, people get ran over by buses, stabbed or get in a car accident at home thinking they’re safe because its familiar!
I love this post! It’s so true and hits on some great points. Travel takes us outside of our comfort zone so we can grow <3
I think that what matters is expanding and sometimes stretching our comfort zones. Travel is really good at doing that, and also at challenging our beliefs and attitudes. I don’t think I’ve ever returned from a trip the same person who left. The occasional scary moment is all part of that, and as you rightly say, learning to never stand still helps too. The world’s a tremendous place, and 55 years in, I’m very much in favour of letting it change me as much as possible.
Travel is an adventure, and by definition, adventure is that point at which you weigh risk and reward and carry on. Never being stupid, but accepting risk as part of the journey. I love the lede … we once had a flight where the turbulence was so mind-numbingly bad the entire plane was quiet until, after the fourth of fifth time the plane dropped suddenly before being hurled upward again two little boys in the back of the plane started going “wheeeeeeeeeeeee”. And when I looked around, they were flinging their arms up as if they were on a roller coaster (which the ride was every bit that). But their laughter soon had the plane laughing … oblivious to the turbulence because of the joy from two little boys.
I have the same feeling when I get on a plane. I’m always so excited to travel but start to panic when I get in the sky. I’m glad that you’ve realized that it’s the scary and uncomfortable moments that are what’s needed to make you grow. I’m trying to live by that and learn from my mistakes. Thanks for the honest post.
Thanks for this frank post! I can so much relate to it, especially looking back at when I was younger. Travel surely expands our horizons and to do so we have to come out of our comfort zones sometimes.
So many good points in this article. I’ve always been annoyed when people talk about travel being “unsafe”, because bad things can happen anywhere — even at home. And that’s no reason to stay locked up inside, fearing what might happen if you go out. Travel can push us out of our comfort zones, and the scary things are what help us learn and grow into better people. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
I really enjoyed reading your perspective as a traveller from the US. I’m Australian, and I think many Aussies are raised with a different attitude towards travel. Long trips, gap years and living overseas is much more common. My parents did it, their parents did it – so they were very understanding when my time came. I love how you talk about bringing what you’ve learnt abroad home with you – couldn’t agree more!
Absolutely agree with you,it’s ok to take risk sometimes and enjoy what you love doing. Great read.thanks for sharing
Travel is one experience that pulls you literally out of your comfort zone. And when you are out of your secure cocoon, you are bound to face challenges and that is the beauty of travel. Flying still thrills me even after so many years of travel. And take off and landing are my favourite parts of flying too.
You are so right. One of the joys of traveling is experiencing things that pull you out of your comfort zone. That’s why I love it so much! And enjoy that youthful appearance 😉
I agree with the point you’ve stated in this post. As a risk taker, I personally enjoy the thrill of getting into the unknown everytime I travel. If feel like I’m truly living when I get out of the comfort zone and venture into the unknown, hoping that I’ll get to other side safe and also hoping that I’ll probably view things from a new perspective after visiting a new place.
I do agree that travel is dangerous, but so is crossing my street to go to the shops. If you’re careful and don’t take stupid risks then it’s no more dangerous than staying at home. Getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing new things is so important! (I do worry before I get on a plane – which is the safest way to travel!)
Luckily I don’t have that feeling of what if something happen to the plane. But my husband would be nervous from home until he sat in the plane, then from we got out of the plane until we arrived at the hotel or what ever accommodation we would stay in. I agree that travel is not always safe, but the thrills make it unforgettable!
Beautifully written post. I love it and found myself nodding and saying “YES! THIS!” throughout your post. Driving a car isn’t safe – in fact it’s one of the most dangerous daily activities many of us do – but we still do it, right? Of course, you always need to take care to minimise risks where possible, but by golly what a boring life it would be if we never ventured off track, if we never pushed ourselves outside of our comfort zone, if we only spent our days in what was familiar. And Travel always, always makes me appreciate my home as well a bit more.
I love this! I also love all the pictures from the places you’ve been. The beginning could have been written by me; I always have the same experience on a plane. Yay for living out of your comfort zone!
I just feel that there is no reason worthy of stopping someone from traveling. Flying is scary for me too sometimes, but that doesn’t stop me. If things have to happen they will happen anyway. Coming out of that comfort zone, traveling and learning about the places, cultures, history or just submerging myself in the views make everything worth it.
This was such a good reminder! As someone who likes to play it safe (and hates airplanes haha) sometimes I need the nudge to step out of my comfort zone!
Great content, and so true! I’ve travelled since I was young, like you, and now that I’m older people question if it’s ‘safe’ for me to travel with my kids. As though staying home is any safer! And I push myself to do things outside my comfort zone so that my children will learn to be bold. I appreciate your insight – keep on trekkin’!
Like all the commenters above, I totally agree! I also loooove that moment when the plane’s wheels leave the ground, there is something about that moment that makes me sooo happy.
*I have to admit, I hate the feeling of landing though. eep.*