I’m Young, Liberal, Adventurous — and Too Afraid to Go to Europe This Year

When I went home for a week over the winter holidays last year, I noticed the guns I’d already known were in my parents’ house had proliferated.

Excavated from their usual hiding places in my mom and dad’s respective nightstand drawers, they now lay ominously by each entrance to the house, and three additional handguns were splayed across the coffee table like decorations. They were shiny and of multiple calibers. They lay there, undiscussed, as the fire flickered and the TV switched from FOX news to reruns of Glee — both at the behest of my 75-year-old father.

When I finally asked, my father said he had to be prepared for the ISIS attack that he thought likely to descend on St. Augustine, Florida, the small, seaside tourist town where my parents live. It’s best known for a half-mile strip of overpriced ice cream shops and a historic fort, to which native Floridians are bussed in droves for eighth grade field trips. Oh, and ghosts.

As a liberal, an agnostic, and a woman who remains single — on purpose — into my late twenties, I’m certainly the black sheep of my family. I’m the first I know of in our line to be college educated. I shook off my Catholic-school upbringing with an atheism whose militancy has only recently abated, a spattering of tattoos and an openness to alternative sexualities. I’m pro-gun control and pro-choice. I’ve had an abortion.

But two mornings ago, after hearing about yet another scary airplane incident (yes, I know this one isn’t connected with terrorism), hot on the heels of a lockdown in our nation’s capitol (to which I’m slated to make a visit later on this summer), I sighed, grabbed my cell phone, and sent the following text message to my mother:

Okay. Maybe I should cancel Spain.

I was referencing the upcoming one-week vacation I’d planned in Barcelona, for which I’d been saving money, shedding pounds, and even purchasing specific outfits.

(Okay, mostly bathing suits. Yes, multiple bathing suits. It’s the Mediterranean, alright?)

I’ve already cancelled my flight, adding the 40,000 miles that felt like so much freedom three months ago back into my frequent flier account. Next, I face begging my AirBnB host to reconsider her “strict” policy to accommodate what is only — no matter how I try to justify it — good, old-fashioned irrational fear.

I’ll have to ask for my requested week of PTO back. Worse: I’ll have to explain to everyone that the solo sojourn to Barcelona I’d been gloating about won’t be happening after all.

And that the decision was my own. I’ve decided to be honest about this fact — even though I could easily use the excuse that my parents begged me to cancel. Their Trump-supporting, fear-based conservatism is a not-infrequent conversation point among my close friends, and even in my small and intimate office.

It’s embarrassing.

It’s embarrassing because I know that changing my behavior is a small, but tangible, win for the terror movement. I am terrified enough to go through the hassle and disappointment of changing my travel plans. I’m terrified enough to embarrass myself.

It’s embarrassing because I know this is an irrational fear, that my chances of being involved in terrorist activity — even in what we must admit is a heightened climate — are worse than my odds of being crushed by my TV. (I don’t even own a TV.)

It’s embarrassing because I believe in the importance of allowing for vulnerability in our lives. In my life. It’s embarrassing because I know better.

I grew up in a family whose go-to mantra was “better safe than sorry.” For a time, I went along with it. It was all I knew. I had nightmares about flying at all, let alone overseas. I was afraid of subways, tunnels, bridges, roller coasters. Of ghosts. My family turned the car around if a black cat crossed our path.

For a short time, all that fear blossomed into a generalized anxiety disorder and agoraphobia that meant I could barely leave my house at all.

Growing up involved a long, painful process of shedding all that fear, of separating out the real threats from the unlikely from the just plain impossible. I became someone who took an 11,000-mile road trip on my own, someone who adores flying, and all the freedom that comes with it, despite the uncomfortable inconvenience of security lines. I became a woman who actually prefers to travel solo, who’ll happily eat dinner out or go dancing alone, whose adventures have stretched from Lisbon to Las Vegas. I’ve ridden on perfect strangers’ motorcycles in foreign countries. I have slept in a great many non-ideal situations. I have been afraid before.

But I’m still canceling the trip.

I’m canceling because vacation is about relaxing. And even though my psych minor tells me this is my human inability to accurately perceive risk at work — even though I know this trick of my amygdala’s might rob me of a destination I may not get another chance to visit — I would not be able to fully relax if I went through with the trip.

I would not be able to relax during my layover in London, no matter how short. I would not be able to relax knowing Barcelona is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Europe.

So I made the decision to save what money I could — and cut the losses I must — and go later. Or elsewhere. I made this decision even after telling my worried mother weeks ago, “Yes, the world is scary; yes, the trip is risky. Everything is risky. But I can’t stop living and I’m not getting any younger.”

It’s nice to tell myself I cancelled for her, and it’s true that she was relieved. But that’s not it.

I cancelled because I’m afraid. My brain is bigger than me.

(Or maybe I’m a victim of my upbringing, after all. I did buy a lead-testing kit for my tap water the other day.)

I’m not suggesting you follow my example. In fact, I hope you’re braver than I am. I know many of you are.

Thank you. May your travels be worry-free and safe. I’ll catch up later.

At least I’ll tell myself I will.

Jamie Cattanach is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder and a poet whose work has been featured in DMQ Review, Sweet: A Literary Confection and elsewhere.

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