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The Worst Thing That Can Happen Rarely Does

Somewhere in my journey I learned an important lesson: whatever your location, you can choose to be at peace or you can choose to be anxious.

I remember shivering in a tent in Zimbabwe, feeling miserable yet still excited about the adventure. I was on my own in a new part of the world, and I felt like a conquering (though cold) warrior.

Taking the subway in Cairo during the hottest time of the year was disorienting and slightly scary, but I felt a surge of pride as I successfully navigated myself to the Pyramids. Small victories!

Other times, I remember getting upset about inconsequential things, anxious for no real reason, all while exploring beautiful islands or staying in nice hotels. There was nothing for me to worry about, yet I still felt troubled.

I noticed that sometimes my anxiety would somehow take over, preventing me from making good decisions. I became unable to relax, even in paradise.

Eventually I learned that much of the time I was anxious, my circumstances and location had very little to do with it. Even if I felt weird, I could make the choice to tell myself that all will be well.

When it comes to travel problems, most things tend to sort themselves out. If you forget to pack something, you can usually buy it along the way.

It’s usually a good idea to make sure you don’t forget your passport—but even if you do, you can often sort that out too.

If you miss a flight, well, there are other flights.

When you’re evaluating a decision and feel uncertain, sometimes it’s helpful to ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?”

I still get anxious and antsy, but no longer about the same things. It’s progress.

How about you—do you worry? Does the worst possible scenario ever actually happen?

Comments here.

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*Coming next week! I’m very excited to announce the upcoming release of Get Rich Slowly, a brand-new personal finance guide from longtime friend J.D. Roth. We’ll launch on Tuesday morning at 9am PST—more info coming in Monday’s post.

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    62 Comments

    • kartik says:

      really great!! travelling all the countries in the world… I just imagine how awesome would it be… Its been my dream to see every corner of the world….

    • Anywhereing says:

      Moreover the best travel stories come from the worst of circumstances. So win or lose in almost any situation, you still win.

    • Mae says:

      Agreed, and well said. Even when the worst does happen, it’s really all in how you choose to interpret the situation that decides how it’ll pan out. Some of my most nightmarish travel experiences have allowed me to meet the most amazing helpful people, and see the strangest and most inspiring places.

    • Matt Riley says:

      I used to worry about being on time or knowing exactly how to get to a place, until this past year when I put all that aside. In November I stepped off the plane in Vietnam with no place to stay no idea where to go and just kind of threw caution to the wind and loved every second of my time there….ended up staying there for 3 months. Sometimes Go and Not Knowing is the best way to travel.

    • Amy says:

      I always worry a little bit when I travel alone but now…I just remember its normal and its ok. I’m always aware of my surroundings and the risks associated with visiting different types of countries. 🙂

    • Great post! I spend so much time wondering “what if”…it’s good to step back and realize that even if your “what if” scenario were to happen, you’ll be able to handle it.

    • Quade Baxter says:

      I am now 6 months into living this vagabond lifestyle. I have found it a great way to finally reduce the anxieties that used to plague me back home. My mind has always come up with some incredible Worst Case Scenarios…that have never happened! Now the further into different cultures etc that I get, the less my mind seems to work that way.Plus I have lost weight and am fit.

      If this travel thing could be made into a pill, you could make millions for the great side effects it causes!
      Great thoughts by you on this subject!

    • Pat Larsen says:

      I used to be a military helicopter pilot. We flew combat missions where the “worst” actually had a decent enought chamce of happening and it still never did.
      And if it did- we had plans on how to keep moving forward

    • Kathryn says:

      People can say the worst travel experiences make the best memories but the worst isn’t losing your passport or missing a flight. It’s being killed or attacked, winding up locked in a foreign prison, that type of thing. Shit can happen anywhere and you can’t prepare for the absolute worst but I think it’s vital to distinguish between the anxiety you get from being out of your comfort zone and your intuition that something is definitely off.

    • James Taylor says:

      Wise words. It reminds me of a song by the late Scottish singer-songwriter Michael Marra called “All Will Be Well”. Here is the YouTube link for it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqqgG5_T2eA

    • chris says:

      The more I travel and therefore the most kowledgeable I get, the more I fret. I wonder, if this is something related to getting older…maybe, but not entirely. In my young traveller days, there were no security lines, tarvelers were fewer and one could always find his or her way around. Crime was also much less notwithstanding one’s destination. So this is not necessarily related to the fearlessness of youth, but to escalating world threats, directly proportional to overpopulation overall. A honorable exception to this rule would be NY, which unfortunately is not one of my favorite holiday spots. AND, some unexpected things can happen even to experienced travelers. The bottom line is, always bring your laptop or some kind of international cell phone to search for conditions and to ask for help if you need…and buy some kind of insurance. Also, have your contacts at home prepared in advance to help you as the case may be…

    • So much yes to this. I had one ‘worst thing’ happen on a trip last year: flying back on a tight timeline, and as soon as we landed I had a deadline-is-tomorrow style of interview with a Very Well Known Magazine scheduled, followed by a live event… but we missed the plane (arrived at the airport at the landing time, not the arrival time. Rookie error!)

      And there were no more direct flights for 48 hours. At all. In the end left on a random re-routing, and did the call while changing planes (the fact I was on the call in Milan airport rather than in London turned out to be something the journo loved! Phew).

      Could list out so many more moments like this – they always make the best stories 🙂

    • Jay Jacobsmühlen says:

      I know this sounds weird but I really never worry. There are only two types of situations in this world, those which you can control and those which you cannot. If you can control the situation there’s no need to worry. If you can’t control a situation, there’s no need to worry either because there’s nothing you can do about it. Pretty simply.

    • Paula says:

      I get stressed too, even about small things. But its true that when one looks back, most of the time, there was nothing to really stress about! There is very little that cannot be solved in this world. But the problem is we have to go through the motions to get where we want to be and sometimes stress is just naturally a part of that unfortunately. How does that saying go “Don’t sweat the small stuff”! True words…hard to follow sometimes.

    • Shari says:

      Love being reminded of this! Always helps put things in perspective. A friend of mine has another version she uses that is really effective too. Whenever she finds herself getting upset, she asks herself “Will this matter in 10 years, 5 years, 1 year even?” Usually she realizes it won’t really impact her life, and she won’t even remember it in a year – very inconsequential.

    • Wayne Bennett says:

      My golden rule in avoiding anxiety – or at least minimising it – is not to worry about those things which you cannot change. If you’ve missed your flight, you’ve missed your flight. Don’t stress about it but sort out what you have to do and learn from the experience. Easier said than done, I know, but anxiety and stress can be so disabling and even lead to depression and that’s really dangerous. One strategy I adopt is to have some good plans but with space and time in the plan for diversions and some high quality ‘down’ time… otherwise you’ll stress about keeping to the plan and that’s a vicious circle. Great blog, as usual.

    • John says:

      You hit on a very important concept: choice. In any situation you have three choices. You can accept the situations as is, change the situation, or leave. It doesn’t matter which of the three choices you choose. What matters is acknowledging your available choices and giving yourself the power to choose. When you give yourself the power to choose and thus, the power to control your reaction, all of a sudden the anxiety disappears. Asking yourself “what’s the worst that can happen” is a great way to accept your current situation and move on. This concept can be applied universally in travel, business, and in life.

    • Nadja says:

      I’ve read quite a bit of your articles and I’ve wondered why I come back each time. To me, your writing doesn’t feel cheerful or animating. Now I know why it appeals to me anyway: You don’t hide fear or insecurity. But still you deliver a quite reassuring message: Coming from a place of sorrow there’s most likely a path that will guide us to a better place. Thank you for being honest!

    • Peter Wright says:

      Sometimes it does, it’s happened to me a couple of times in very bad ways, once losing almost every material thing I possessed, home, income, country, freedom for a while and almost my life.

      But, life goes on, if you have the attitude of: It’s not what happens to you in life but what you do about it that counts, you survive to start a new adventure.

    • I think you’ve hit upon maybe THE key lesson to obtaining happiness and becoming outrageously successful in life- learning to be content in any circumstance. Letting go of that anxiety frees to you to focus on your passion and create whatever you were born to do. This is what Outliers do. Well written and thanks for the reminder.

    • Lisa says:

      Great timing for this post. I just received a travel research fellowship and have been alternating between excitement and terror. I needed the reminder that even if the worst-case scenario comes to pass (which it rarely does), things will work out.

    • Cindy says:

      Well put. I used to let my young children navigate road trips (back in the day of maps!) knowing full well they would make errors. The point was to turn the errors into fun experiences and give them confidence that they could work their way out of any situation with ingenuity and thought. “Lost” was not an option, waylaid, off course, side trip or goose chase were all good code words for “oops,” both are young men with great resourcefulness, I’d get in their boat any day!

    • I get nervous when my language skills are “un poquito” in a Spanish speaking country. I had a woman yell at me in Spain when I could not answer her question because I only spoke English at the time. I should probably be grateful that I don’t know what she said 🙂
      The locals are much more open in Panama, but I fear saying the wrong thing since a single wrong vowel can mean something totally different.

    • miranda says:

      I too have learned that usually whatever you fear really happens, and the time we spend in contemplation of the thing we fear is time we can spend to visualize what we do want to manifest in our realities. Sometimes, our preconditioned beliefs get the best of us. I was raised in a traditional Italian family, where fear seems to govern much of their though habits. It took me a while, especially as a mother to change that paradigm for myself. My focus it to not program my children to be fearful of anything…and embrace happiness and life. Thank you for your article…and i hope to inspire many more with my stories.

    • You’re absolutely right, Chris. The worrying never does any good, and I’ve done more than my share of worrying.

      The truth is, we do not have control over what happens around us. The one thing we do have choice about is how we respond. We can be in reaction to things, and give in to emotional roller coasters, or we can accept and find the appropriate response. That is empowering.

    • Beth says:

      Often the delays, missed flights, wrong directions, etc… lead you to an adventure of a lifetime or a person you were meant to meet. The Universe is the best tour guide one can ever have. Plan but be open to what comes your way!

    • Mary C. says:

      Chris, You make a good point about travel within … we are always with ourselves no matter where in the world we are located, our circumstances or our stories. Ellen Langer says guilt is mindless … sounds like Worry (with a captial “W”) might be mindless” too?

    • Worry and anxiety are key signs that the ego-mind is running your experience. If you simply take a moment to see what thoughts are creating the fear and change those thoughts to appreciation for “what is” the fear goes away. Thoughts are not real so that can be changed anytime. These not real thoughts can however stir a large variety of emotions.
      Mindfulness is great liberator so you can enjoy wherever you are and whatever you are doing. If you are mindful of your thought and feelings you can choose to be in joy almost continually.

    • Rachel says:

      This is a theme that has been popping up so much in my life lately…crazy how that happens. I tend to have less anxiety while I’m traveling than when I’m at home, trying to live my normal, routine life. As a result, I’ve started using travel as a kind of escape…only to come right back to my anxieties when I get home. I’ve started figuring out how to deal with it, though, and it usually involves asking myself that exact question, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?”. Usually it’s nowhere near as bad as I think.

    • Tisha says:

      I think I used to worry a lot about things – even if I wasn’t traveling. But now, I think I secretly hope things will go a little not according to plan, because then the adventure really starts…

    • Funny, but the insight still applies when the worst does happen… at which point you quickly learn that, as long as you’re breathing, the definition of “worst” is slippery as a greased pig. (I have been looking forever for an excuse to use that expression!) My life got hijacked in December by my diagnosis with an aggressive breast cancer, and one of the biggest laughs I’ve had since came courtesy of a card that read “I guess all those years of worry finally paid off.” Six months ago (when I still had hair and breasts and an abundance of red blood cells), my husband and I were trekking across the dunes of Namibia; I now count it a good day if I can make it up the neighborhood hill with him and our dogs. But damned if it isn’t all an adventure. No road map! No guide! Some days you’re in the sh*t, others you wish you had a new word for joy.

    • Gina says:

      Wise words. Asking myself “What’s the worst that can happen?” has compelled me to take action in a lot of situations, not just travel, where otherwise I would have remain paralyzed. My other favorite is “Let’s see what happens!”.

    • Hey guys, I notice people are kind of divided when it comes to travel. I enjoy it and love every aspect, but many get stress and anxiety from traveling. My biggest worry is when I take my boyfriend with me, I want him to enjoy it. He tends to get more anxious though.

    • Thanks for this post Chris. I struggle with the same anxieties. I actually refer to it as “travel anxiety”. Always worried I’ll miss the plane, be late, forget my passport, have to leave my favorite lipstick at security, etc. but never really afraid of the actual flying or mode of travel. Guess that means I trust others more than myself. Great insights – will definitely put them to use for upcoming travel!

    • Your own internal state is independent of your external state.

      Once I realized this, I stopped being such a grumpy jerk. Life is a lot better when you take control of your own emotions.

    • Just wanted to send a shout out to Gretchen Icenogle. Very inspiring words and may you keep “kicking ass”. Excellent perspectives and I’m moved to embrace those fears without a guide or a map! Thanks.

    • Sally says:

      Am coming to see those situations as “hmmm, wonder what opportunity or adventure is going to show up instead?” One always does!

    • Susan M Hall says:

      Kabul is a city of hustle and bustle. There are few paved roads and no traffic lanes, intersections or traffic lights. Livestock including sheep, goats and camels weave in and out of traffic consisting mostly of old Toyota Corolla Sedans converted to taxicabs.

      On a recent trip my Haitian driver was passing traffic on the “sidewalk” to get me to the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port au Prince, for my 9 AM flight.

      I say a little prayer, relax and take in the panoply of images. A man walking with two chickens one under each arm. A boy using a palm leaf in a downpour for an umbrella.

    • alison says:

      I worry that I will have a panic attack and become disoriented. So far this has not happened. In fact, while traveling I am less likely to have a panic attack than I am at home. Nevertheless, in an attempt to avert this possibility, or any other unforeseen circumstance, before I leave, I search out churches or rescue missions in the area I’m traveling too. I KNOW I can go to these places and they will take care of me. Just knowing that this is an option for me assuages my concerns.

    • I have found that what I usually worry about never comes to pass. Unfortunately, while I worry I forget that it will more than likely not happen. So, it is a good practice to remind yourself that what you are worrying about will probably not happen. It is also a good practice to start expecting the best. Maybe it might happen?

    • Nicole says:

      The second big travel adventure I went on was to Thailand, and my Aunt gave me some very good advice, if you do have the unfortunate experience of getting mugged just give them your money, purse, passport, whatever, just remember everything is replace-able except you. I did get robbed in Thailand, 3 times total, never violently, but had money taken, oh well, it’s just money right? I’ve missed flights I’ve had no hotel booked and nearly every hostel bed in town taken, gotten kicked out of my place the night before NYE in Sydney, but I am here today to talk about it, so yes it all works out.

    • Nancy says:

      The worst has happened; in the past 6 years, a ridiculous number of times. The valuable lesson I’ve learned is that I can survive it, carry on and choose to be happy.

      One of my favorite books to turn to when facing fear is “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron. I take it everywhere I go. Two of the many underlined passages are these: “The trick is to keep exploring and not bail out, even when we find that something is not what we thought;” and “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.”

      Keeping these sentiments in mind has allowed me to have some great adventures where before I may have turned and run.

    • Wade says:

      Great post! I have heard this referred to as “response ABILITY” – Thanks for the reminder!

    • Akinsola says:

      I was busy celebrating my birthday on April 17 that I forgot to read the this, most times I have been unsettled during travel and in life but those things never really happened. I was in Accra,Ghana last year and I wanted to get down to Takoradi which is about 4hrs away I went for days thinking about how to make it due to my very busy schedules until one sunday I talked myself in and It was the best part of the journey having the chance to see the beautiful beaches of Cape Coast and Takoradi.

    • Anna says:

      Chris, thank you for the article. Yes, we CAN choose to be at peace or to be anxious, agree with you 100%.

      I never traveled extensively, and can only imagine how intimidating it might be to be in another part of the world alone, among strangers that don’t speak your language. But there are so many situations on the native ground, so to speak, that make us angry, frustrated and tense for nothing.

      If only we could learn to ask ourselves that simple question “What’s the worst that can happen to me?”, life would be so much easier.

    • Shout back to Leanne Fournier for the precious encouragement – thank you!

      A second to Nancy’s recommendation of Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart. Her Comfortable with Uncertainty is another great source of wisdom on this topic.

      And thanks always to Chris for his everyday alchemy, showing how fear sublimates when it meets a concentrate of curiosity.

    • I love this!! Thanks Chris. And coming from someone who has missed many (MANY) flights…I can say with certainty that it always works out just fine. 🙂

    • Nur Costa says:

      That was a beautifully written post 🙂 It was heart-warming to see I’m not the only one feeling this way. Thanks for sharing.

    • Christen says:

      Strangely, travel is one of the few things I have much anxiety about. My lack of worry usually results in me being too careless at times, but as you said — the worst rarely happens. I make my flights, what I forgot can be replaced, and there are always other flights.

    • I recently worried on an ice climbing trip. I thought, for sure, I was going to die trying to climb the ice without climbing gear. The worst case scenario never played out, I got to see behind a beautiful frozen waterfall, and I even made it down safely while worrying about that as well.

    • Dave Whilock says:

      Actually that’s great anti-anxiety exercise – if I already catch myself thinking about the worst possible scenario, I’ll also try to imagine how would I deal with it and what would it mean in the long term.
      Great post!

    • As an only child of extremely fearful parents, I rebelled early and became wildly NON anxious about everything. I’ve always believed (with my heart as well as my head) that the worst rarely happens, and in the event it does, I’ll either die…or figure it out!
      I’ve made it to 57yrs old with this philosophy and had a helluva lot of fun in the process! 🙂

    • Sihao Cao says:

      You make some very good points in this post Chris!
      If one is at peace with the worst case scenario, then everything else will be okay.
      It is also true that, more often than not, worse case do not happen.

    • Leolin says:

      Great post! As a parent I tend to get anxious over the worst possible scenario whenever I think about the 10,000 things that could happen to my son or to my ability to care for him. This is why I dont watch the news. I counter this by remembering that at this moment he and I are safe, happy and healthy. I also focus on the things that I can control like getting out of debt and building wealth so that I can take care of him financially. I also think about the fact that I dont know one person who had a major catastrophe happen to their child. That and deep breathing usually keeps from from driving myself crazy with what ifs.

    • Monika says:

      So true! And the feeling of relief when those bad things (plummeting from the sky to the earth at breakneck speeds and exploding) don’t happen is awesome. If anything, anxiety can sometimes help one be more prepared, but that calming voice of ‘it’ll be ok’ still needs to be there somewhere.

    • Alicia says:

      It seems like the worst thing that can happen, But I think that’s because so few of us ask ourselves what the worst thing would be. We think of a negative outcome and we attach ourselves to it, we accept it as our final answer. If we analyzed that with “okay, well then what…” we’d realize there are a number of outcomes beyond just the first and sometimes the outcomes can go from bad to better. 🙂 Always ask yourself, “okay, well then what…”

    • I completely understand travel anxiety. When I was in Italy, I had booked a hostel for the night in the middle of Tuscany. I was super-excited! I got to the train station just fine, got a cab, and headed out. We drove for almost 45 minutes. Uh, I was supposed to be able to catch a bus to this place. No such luck. The beautiful Tuscan villa was built in the 1400s and in the middle of vineyards…no shops, no restaurants. I was shown to my room and hit worry overwhelm. Until I realized that I get to choose how I react. I trusted the Universe to get me out of this situation, and two seconds later there was a knock on the door. The owner was going to take me to her house near Sienna. I got to speak Italian. I was pampered like her long-lost daughter. It was an amazing experience that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

    • We think of a negative outcome and we attach ourselves to it, we accept it as our final answer. If

    • We’re all pre-wired to watch for dangers, but being positive and confident makes our experiences safer and more pleasant.

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