Fear of Failure

Why You Should Travel Despite Your Fear Of Failure

Derek Perspectives 104 Comments

Fear of Failure

I know it’s scary. I know you’re worried. I know you’re ready to change your life and start traveling but no matter how badly you want it to happen, you just can’t take that first step. You try, and you try hard, but you just can’t get that one nagging question out of your head, that one question that stops you from walking out the door. That question is…

“What if I fail?”

Yes, what if you fail? Well, I’m here to tell you that you very well might fail. You might not achieve your goals. You might start traveling, quickly spend all of your money and be forced to return home, broke and without a plan.

That’s just how life goes sometimes.

However, I’m also here to tell you that if you do fail at first, who cares? So you have to return home and get a job. That’s certainly not the worst thing in the world, especially when you’ll have had some incredible travel experiences to look back on. And besides, you can always save up some more money and try again.

I’ve failed. In fact, I fail all the time. Whether it’s failing to find a way to follow through with some of my travel plans, spending months working hard on new projects only to watch those projects fizzle and vanish or failing to achieve many of the goals I set for myself each year, failure is a part of my life.

And I’m quite certain that failure is a part of many people’s lives, if not most.

Of course, even though we all fail from time to time, the thought of potential failure is still not easy to digest, especially whenever we are thinking about making such a drastic lifestyle change as the one involved with long-term travel or whenever we are thinking about doing anything that goes against what we’ve been taught is ‘normal’.

And that is why so many of us give up on our goals…we are simply unable to get beyond that fear.

But that’s the problem. If we allow our fear of failure to stop us from trying new things and to keep us from jumping into the unknown, many of our wildest dreams and most of our biggest goals shall be left unachieved. At the end of life, there we shall be, repeating a long list of regrets over and over again in our minds.

Being scared is not a valid reason to stay at home when our hearts and souls are telling us that we should be experiencing every corner of the world first-hand.

We all worry, we all fail. We’re all human in the end.

The difference is that some people say, “Well, I might fail. Screw it, here I go!” and then take that leap towards their goals despite their fear. And some people, upon failing, take a deep breath, stand up straight and try again.

These are the kind of people who eventually succeed, the kind of people who recognize that worry and failure are a part of life, the kind of people who don’t let that fact stop them from making the most out of their short time on this planet.

Which kind of person are you?

Are you letting your fear stop you from traveling? For those who did take the leap, was it worth it?


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Comments 104

  1. Operation421.com - Matt

    UIn 1 month, my wife, myself and our two best friends will be going off on a 6 month+ adventure around the world. I won’t lie to you or sugar coat it..I’m terrified. I have a great decent paying job that I’ve held for 3 years that I am not going to be able to return to, my family is here, my home…its a hard thing to decide to just do on a whim but that’s exactly what we did. I had been toying around with the idea of traveling on a grand scale for years, well into my early 20’s but I had always put it off as a “for dreamers only” kinda thing and kept at my 9-5. Now, at 32, some things in my life have changed. I’m starting to notice the fact that family members that I thought were “young” are no longer with us. My own body is slowly starting to wear down as well. It seems like I have reached a point of no return a “this is it, I gotta do it while I can” moment. Exactly WHY do we travel though? For us four its because we are sick of seeing a world put through a news camera lens that only shows strife. We want to experience the real world, full of people like us with hopes and dreams and families of their own. We want to see the natural beauty and sights this planet has to offer. In June, we’ll be doing just that, and ill be afraid but I have my beautiful amazing wife and my beat friends with me, and I have the support of the travel community, which I treasure dearly as everyone is so supportive and friendly. In closing, get out there experience life and don’t be too scared, ok maybe you can be a little bit! 🙂

  2. ces

    Such an inspiring post! I have always wanted to travel, to work in a travel-related industry and maybe set up a small travel agency/company but I haven’t find the courage to do so. I am afraid to fail and afraid that I have nowhere to turn to once I failed. It’s amazing of you to inspire others through your posts.

  3. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)

    Thank you for writing this compassionate and inspiring call to action, Earl. After years of planning to leave on a RTW trip, when it actually came time to pull the trigger and actually travel rather than simply dream about doing it, I was SO SCARED. So scared, in fact, I almost let my fear stop me from going and instead was ready to sign up for another year of the same as I begged my husband for a reprieve, telling him I just wasn’t ready.

    He reminded me that being brave doesn’t mean not feeling fear, it means feeling the fear but doing the thing that scares you anyway. And so we lept into the great unknown, and here we are 8 months later, still traveling and absolutely loving life!

    I won’t lie though: I still feel fear, even know, and I am still reluctant to face it head on when it shows itself. Right now, I am terrified of having to go home, of having to give up all of this. We have been considering finally leaving Asia and moving on to Europe, but I am scared to do so because in my mind, that brings us just a little bit closer to being done (our money will certainly run out faster!). But I know that whenever I shy away something because it scares me, I know that on the flip side of that, there is excitement and adventure too. Though my instinct is to flee from fear, I think we achieve a lot of great things and have a lot of great memories when we lean into it instead.

  4. Belle

    Excellent post, It’s insane how afraid we get when we start travelling alone, in fact I think the majority of this fear comes from the people at home who are afraid of us travelling and try and inflict that fear onto us. Travelling alone is the most rewarding thing I have ever done, it is liberating and is the best way to build up your confidence not just as a traveller, but as a person!

  5. Stef

    Hi Earl,

    Great article. At the moment I have to admit that I’m scared of failure I guess. I came back of a 7 months travel (before that I’ve been to many places too and lived more abroad than in Germany actually the last 3 years) but when I came back I thought I was sure that it’s ok now, I’m ready to start my “grown-up” job and live the life the society regards as normal. I rented an apartment, got furniture and bought a kitchen which was the most expensive thing I ever bought 😉 Well now I am struggling with “normal” life, I think of travelling again every day and try to think of a back-up plan on what to do. But I’m so scared to just quit my job as I actually really like the people and the job itself, I just can’t sit all my life in an office. And I’d have to sell all my stuff I just bought. I might regret everything when I fail. I know life is short and you should enjoy every day. I want to make new experience, get to know other cultures and countries but on the other hand I also think of my families and friends who I don’t want to let down and dissapoint. Some will understand me (I already talked about that with two of my friends) but some might think I’m egoistic and my problem is that I’m not good at handling those situations. Do you have any tips for dealing with those people to make them understand how you feel?
    It’s hard to do the big step to follow your heart when society and people around you don’t understand it I guess…But I’m working on reducing my fear…because you should never give up on something you can’t go a day without thinking about.
    Regards!!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Stef – I can certainly understand your situation and as for convincing those who don’t agree, sometimes it’s just not possible. All you can do is explain exactly how you feel and stay focused on your goals. Some people will never understand, until you start achieving your goals, at which point, they will realize what you were talking about.

      As for whether or not you should head off again, that’s for you to decide. My guess is that if you close your eyes and spend a good amount of time thinking about all of your options, one of those options will just feel more ‘right’ than the others. And while it might be hard to admit it or to follow that option, your answer will be clear.

  6. Patty Murphy

    Hey Earl, Love your blog!
    At 57 I took the leap, quit my job and sold everything so that I could live the life of nomadic travel. I know that it is the live I am suppose to live.
    Wouldn’t you know I fell down the night before I was suppose to leave and fracured my leg. “Murphys Law” certainly applying here. It is a minor fracture and the doctor said 4 to 6 weeks of no “recreational walking”.
    I’m lucky in that I can fly standby anytime so no rush to get out and I changed my plans so that I’ll go to a beach somewhere. Poor me. LOL. Any great beach ideas?
    I won’t let a broken leg stop me!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Patty – You’ll be out there soon enough I’m sure! As for beaches, there are too many! From Mexico (both coasts), Thailand or Malaysia, Indonesia, islands off the coast of Nicaragua (Corn Islands), Goa in India…all great places I would recommend.

  7. Aus Globetrotter - Jaryd Krause

    “20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did” – Mark Twain. And Earl is right, get out there and give it a go, yes you may fail, but who doesn’t every once in a while? Better to give it a go and know than to never know at all and if failure occurs, you can always learn from that experience.

  8. Anita Mac

    The greatest failure in life is to not even try in the first place! And honestly, I didn’t know there was failure in travel….my first RTW trip – my ticket was good for 12 months, but I only made 7. I never considered it a failure….I had some regrets (http://traveldestinationbucketlist.com/2013/01/09/travel-regrets/), but I chose from the start to make the most of each place and experience, and if I spent my money, I would go home having done what I had set out to do! While I may have missed Morocco and Vietnam, I really experienced South America, cycled my heart out in Canada and basically lived the best 7 months without the hardships see other RTWers impose on themselves! No matter the outcome, the only failure is not trying!

  9. Kim

    Wow, I just essentially wrote the exact same post (different words, same story) on my blog. So, I guess I’ve got to say that I totally agree with you. So many people get hung up on that first fail instead of seeing that success is a bunch of failures overcome. All that matters is that you get there IN THE END, no one says that the path won’t be ugly and littered with failures.

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  11. Simon

    Great post Earl. We all have fears and it seems travel is a bigger fear than people realize or talk about. It means stepping out of their comfort zone and trying something new, which is a risk many people are scared to take. Traveling is important to my parents so I’m lucky to be born into it. Personally I compare it to trying some food you don’t think you’ll like and then realizing it’s delicious. I was a picky eater when i was young and I can remember being repulsed by seafood and now I couldn’t live without it. knowing that experience, like travelling, is a huge life lesson, imo.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Simon – It’s like many things in life. We have a certain belief of how things are and that belief just gets stronger and stronger over time. But all we need to do is look around and see how many people put that fear aside and went for it…and then to see that almost all of them are very happy they did!

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  13. Ben

    I couldn’t agree more with a lot of the comments

    For me, when fear, doubt or despair starts creeping inwards, I remind myself that I am not alone! These feelings that I’m having are all apart of being human and living life. That one mantra or thought helps shift the fear, doubt or despair to something different. For me it’s hope. I realize that all my mentors have or are consistently working through similar things. What makes them my mentors is that they move towards those feelings, like fear, versus running away from it.

    The internet has been a great resource for me to surround myself by people who choose to move towards their fears. So many inspiring people out there! Like Earl! Thanks for sharing Earl!

  14. Andy

    To me, it’s impossible to “fail” in travel. Yes, you can fail to make it ‘Round the World in 80 Days. You can fail to knock X amount of sights and places off your bucket list. You can spend more money than what was intended. You can fall sick and have to get back home earlier. But is that really “failure”? Only when you say it is! To me, travel should not be about beating personal records or hyper efficiency but only about the quality of the experience that you have and, most importantly, allow yourself to have.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Andy – Definitely, and even when things are difficult while traveling, as many have mentioned already, if you look at those experiences as lessons, suddenly they are not as bad as we imagined. It is hard to fail at something that will have such an effect on you no matter what happens.

  15. Stephanie

    I was so scared of failure before I set out on my big trip. People were telling me that I had made a big mistake, giving up a happy life for the unknown. I’m now on week 7 of my trip and am currently in Bangkok having the time of my life. My biggest fear should have been ‘what if I don’t give it a try’. You never know what you truly want until you go out there and give it a try!
    Here’s to many more months (years?) travelling!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Stephanie – That’s exactly it…once you get started, it’s hard to believe how afraid we once were and it’s more frightening to think about what we would have missed out on!

  16. Chris

    An excellent way of looking at things. I think you generate your own luck. You may fall occasionally but eventually you’ll tumble and stumble into what you were looking for.

  17. Mike

    Very true and inspiring post. I am going to be teaching in Spain for the next year and sometimes have doubts about whether I should go or not. I have a safe, stable (boring) job now and a longtime girlfriend. I know that if I go the relationship will end, which is my largest worry. Somedays I feel as though I’m alright with that, but others I feel like I’m making a mistake. Reading this helped because what’s really the worst thing that can happen? We break up and I get to live out a life long dream of living abroad and traveling. Thank you!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Mike – You just need to decide which option makes you most excited about life. If you can determine that, your answer is there.

  18. Norman

    The picture on ur blog, tells us all……..why we should Travel and not let our fear take over.

    Very nice blog!!! cheers pal.

  19. This American Girl

    Great post Earl. I too have definitely “failed’ at times traveling… wasted money, wasted time, planned improperly, etc etc. but it is all experience in the end. Thought I might share a post I wrote when returning from travel without a plan or money and realizing it’s not so scary after all.

  20. Rashelle

    For years now it’s been drummed into our heads that with failure comes shame, therefore you’re a big fat loser and will always remain one when you fail. That’s it you’re doomed, no more chances.

    Nowadays if you utter the word failure, you’re considered to be an extremely negative person and you’ve got issues you must address. I’ve even heard it’s bad to say the word no.

    Gosh, give me a break! Why does it all have to be so serious? What’s the big deal if you have a take a test a second time? Or a third time? Or the fourth? Does it really matter that much that you’re not perfect?

    So what if your travel plans don’t work out the first time, go back and try again. Make some adjustments here and there, don’t listen to what other people are telling you because most of the time they have no idea what they’re talking about and if it is someone who has experience in travelling, take it as their opinion, it’s good to stay open minded and nothing more.

    Do you cry yourself to sleep if your attempted homemade chocolate cake got burnt in the oven? No, so why do we give ourselves such a hard time about everything else?

    I say relax, don’t take it so seriously and have fun with it. There’s always going to be something you can have a laugh about. And there is always a way, you just have to find yours.

    I let fear stop me from travelling and a lot of other things for a long, long, long time. I’m not ashamed to admit it anymore, I’m more than happy to talk about it because just like you, I’m human.

    YES, THE LEAP WAS TOTALLY WORTH IT!!! 😀

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Rashelle – There is no arguing with what you said! Nobody is perfect and if we could only recognize and admit that, we’d definitely be much easier on ourselves and take things much less seriously. And the result, I have no doubt, would be a much happier population.

      Glad the leap was worth it for you…which comes as no surprise!

  21. Sam

    Great post! Yes, the potential for failure can be scary, but where would we be without it? Can you imagine how dull life would be if we knew everything we did was sure to succeed? By the way, I love these goofy pictures of yourself you post!

  22. Lars

    very very cool post and I think helpfull for many out there having a life like us! I am experiencing this now far away from home, trying to settle down for 10 months due of circumstances and to make some money (alltough i am not making nice saving money in south-america) so yes i am scared what the future brings, but at the same time I let it happen, whats the worst thing could happen right…?!

    Thanks for an amazing blog post Earl!!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Lars – My theory is that if you’re already living somewhere overseas, experiencing a new culture and meeting new people, the worst thing that can happen will never really be anything remotely bad in the end.

  23. Ourjourneytothesea

    I don’t think any travel can be a fail. Even if you have not reached all the destinations you want or run out of money, you’ve still experienced new things. You’ve learned something, seen new places and probably met some wonderful people along the way, whether you were travelling for a week or a year.

    1. Wandering Earl

      @ourjourneytothesea – Absolutely. Even when a person’s travels come to an end more quickly than they thought or if things just didn’t work out the way they had hoped, rarely do they say that it wasn’t worth it.

  24. Owen Lipsett

    This is great advice Earl. Not just great travel advice, but great advice about life and following your dreams generally. If you ever stop traveling (which I hope never happens 🙂 ) or decide to take a break, you’d be a wonderful motivational speaker. Everything you say about travel and focusing your efforts on achieving your travel goals can equally be said about any passion in life. Please keep up the inspiring work! 🙂

    1. Wandering Earl

      Thanks for that Owen and you’re right, a lot of what I relate to travel can also be related to just about any other lifestyle or aspect of life. It really doesn’t matter what each of chooses to do, our goal of being happy and achieving our dreams remains the same.

  25. Lien

    I love this post, thanks Earl 🙂 … in travelling or doing anything else i learn not to be afraid of doing it alone … just go for what my guts tell me and i’ve had wonderful experiences … if everything goes well then there’s no interesting things to tell, imho 🙂

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Lien – That’s a mighty good opinion…we need those failures/lessons in order to keep us fresh and constantly evaluating our situation as to whether or not we are living the life we truly want.

  26. Trik

    This is a great post! I totally agree but making the first step towards long term travel can be really hard! There is a bestselling book called ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’ by Susan Jeffers. It is well worth a read. The feeling of fear is often worst the actually going out and doing it.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Trik – It definitely can be hard, I agree but the key is to show others that there really isn’t anything to fear in the end. If those have taken the leap can do that, more and more people will push that fear away and follow!

  27. Wil @ Where's Wil

    I recently took the leap to begin my solo nomadic life (I’ve started with Thailand). There were moments before my departure in which I was absolutely terrified of the unknown but it has thus far been the most liberating experience of my life. Cruising down the streets of Ayutthaya on a bicycle, it hit me. There’s no one telling me what to do, where to be, nothing. I’m 100% in control of my life and it’s great.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Wil – That is a great realization to make and it will only get stronger as time passes. Enjoy your time in Thailand!

  28. Gareth

    Thanks for this post. I was too afraid to travel to New Mexico, but went after I saw a bumper sticker advertising New Mexico whilst I was debating my options on the bus; it felt like a sign! It was a life changing trip and introduced me a wonderful new best friend. I’m in the same boat now debating if I should take a TEFL course and travel, but I think this post might just be the inspiration I was looking for.

  29. Alyson

    I’m not scared! I don’t fear failure, I never have. I always add a disclaimer to all my crazy ideas though, I have the right to change my mind about anything at any time and probably will. It’s a lady’s right. We leave for a few years of travelling in 3 months.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Alyson – Enjoy your adventures ahead! And once you push failure away, it certainly becomes easier to ignore that fear and eventually, to eliminate it all together.

  30. Colleen Bowen

    I love this article. It’s very true. = )

    I am convinced that every life well-lived has a catalog of failures, great and small. People who choose to live well however don’t overly attach to or identify themselves with their ‘failures.’ They CHOOSE instead to view them as valuable life lessons. Winners and happy people choose to make both the internal and external narrative of their lives be that of positivity, of overcoming obstacles and of moving toward victories.

    Here’s an indispensable attitude towards keeping ones mind right: Do everything without complaining. Silence the inner whiner. Because there’s gold in tough outcomes if you search for it. But that gold can be missed altogether if too occupied griping either externally or internally.

    Great salesmen know that they improve their sales average by increasing the amount of times they attempt the sale. More attempts = greater results. The average salesman that attempts many sales will have more success than the most talented salesman who tries very little. Keep trying and don’t ever let any ‘failure’ from the past determine your attitude towards your present and your future.

    The most interesting and inspirational biographies are those about people who have transcended great obstacles. Make your life an interesting biography. = )

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Colleen – It is indeed about how we view these ‘failures’. When considered lessons instead, we can turn something that would ordinarily be treated as a setback into something that can help us take an even greater leap forward. And to think that is possible just by changing the way we view our reactions…not so difficult in the end.

  31. Tyrhone

    I have had a few projects fail on me now, and it does make it harder to try the next one. But I know if I don’t I am never going to get anywhere with it. I’m living the travel dream, now I just have to get the rest of it going.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Tyrhone – We don’t know what the outcome will be at all but if you take everyone who has succeeded at achieving their goals, I’m certain that they experienced endless failures before reaching that point. We must push on!

  32. karima

    Hi Earl,

    I really like this post. One of the straight-forward and the best post I’ve read. I’ve tendered my resignation to travel in australia for a year, starting this June. Sometimes I felt scared, and uncertain of my decision, but reading this, i know, I made the right one!

    “Well, I might fail. Screw it, here I go!”

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Karima – That’s the attitude you need! And just wait until you’re in Australia…the decision will quickly prove its value!

  33. Maria

    Failure, rejection, things just not going quite the way you thought – all part of life but what’s most important to is what I’ve done afterward.

    What did I learn throughout the experience?
    Did the experience illuminate a different goal entirely?

    Turn the frown upside down, grab those lemons, make that lemonade – experience life and own those experiences.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Maria – I’m a firm believe that almost any situation that we automatically label ‘negative’ can be flipped around and viewed in a more positive manner if we just sat down and did some thinking. And the questions you listed are a great way to get that process started.

  34. giancarlo castagne

    There are no failures, just lessons. Some lessons can be quite painful, but you learn and hopefully grow stronger and wiser from them. Try as many lessons as you can with always the knowledge of the previous lessons.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Giancarlo – That’s also a great way to look at it. Why do we have to use the term failure and view it so negatively? Turn it into ‘lessons’ and everything changes.

  35. Biff Jones

    When people close to the end of their lives are asked what was their biggest regret the majority say, “The chances I never took”. Think about it. Live your life while you can.

  36. OCDemon

    I love reading about other people’s failures. No, wait, let me clarify. It’s easy to misunderstand the abilities or conditions of “successful” people by thinking that they either had it easier or were smarter than you, while plenty of the time it was just that they failed 7 times and succeeded the 8th time whereas other people gave up after attempt #2. It’s not that you’re awful at everything you try, it’s that everyone else was too, and after enough effort you’ll suck slightly less than before. Inspiration, people. It’s the new thing.

    1. Wandering Earl

      @OCDemon – Yeah, you’re right. And I am always telling people that their success depends on not giving up. Most people do give up on their goals once they realize that it does take considerable determination and effort to make it a reality…but those who push through and overcome the obstacles, reap the benefits in the end.

  37. Carola

    I agree with Talon.
    Ask yourself ‘What’s the worst thing that could happen?’ And then allow your brain to classify the answer somewhere in between ‘That would be horrible!’ and ‘Oh, that wouldn’t be so bad.’
    Cause often when you think something will be horrible it will just because you expected it to be.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Carola – Great point. A little thought really does change our perspective and many things that we believe will suddenly appear to be completely different once we spend some time dissecting them in our heads.

  38. Pauline

    Well said and I couldn’t agree more! However, I have a voice in the back of my head that sometimes tells me it’s irresponsible to just take off and use most of my savings to see the world. As you’ve mentioned, it has to do with the “norm” that I’ve been taught. It’s certainly very hard to break out of the mold, but I’m getting there.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Pauline – Just keep at it. And you can use the same method others have mentioned…”What makes it so irresponsible?” Nothing much considering that you can find ways to earn money while traveling and that you will meet so many new people and have so many new experiences that more and more opportunities will present themselves. The chances of it proving to be an irresponsible decision are far less than it being the best decision you ever made!

  39. Talon

    One of the best lessons I’ve learned is to ask myself “What’s the worst that can happen?” Usually when you run through all the scenarios you realize it really isn’t that big of a deal. “Leap and the net will appear.” Amen!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Talon – That’s a perfect question to ask and every time I’ve asked it to myself, I’ve never really come up with anything too terrible either.

  40. Nicole @ Suitcase Stories

    I let fear control me for a very long time. The fear came from past failures (not travel related) so I was scared to do, well anything really! Then, the week before she passed away, my mother told me not to let the past control my future. So I took her advice. I didn’t think it was possible but one day I just decided not to be scared anymore. Now, after 13 months of full time travel I am living my dream life all because I let go of my fear of failure!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Nicole – And the results are often the same no matter what our situation may be. As soon as we force the fear away, life changes almost immediately. Great to hear that you’re living your dream!

  41. Craig Makepeace

    Even the great man himself, MJ, failed:

    “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed”. – Michael Jordan

    And I love this other quote:

    “It’s better to try and fail than to never know and always wonder”.

    When faced with difficult decisions I always ask myself what is the worst thing that can happen, and if I can live with that then go for it. And trust your gut, your gut knows!

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