Stop Wishing for Safe Travels

"Be safe."

"Safe travels."

"Have a safe trip."

You are about to leave. Your bags are packed. You are saying goodbye to those you love, and their response could just as easily be interpreted as if you're going to war, not a tropical beach to sip Mai Tais. As though the place you are going, or the means you are taking to get there, are inherently unsafe. Of course, your loved ones will miss you and want you to return safely to them, but are they not being just a little selfish by not wishing you a good, fun, or happy trip?

Imagine for a moment that your friends are going out to eat, or your spouse is leaving to get groceries, or your kids are going off to school. If you were to wish them a safe trip they would give you a puzzled look, as if there is some threat they are unaware of, waiting for them at the restaurant, or the grocery store, or at school. They may suddenly become uneasy, even perhaps second-guess their decision to leave in the first place. Wishing for their safety draws attention to a fear that they may not, in fact, be safe, and stifles the energy you desire within them to discover new things wherever they are going. That is why you would never say these words in such a situation, but why do we say this to travelers?

In my time traveling to other countries, the act of wishing someone a safe journey stands out as being predominantly American. Researching similar well-wishes in a few other Western languages and you will arrive at: Bon Voyage, Buen Viaje, Buon Viaggio, or Gute Reise! In every case, the literal translation is "good journey". What is the reason for this difference?

First, let's establish that wishing someone a safe journey is a nice thing to say. When those I love wish me safe travels I say thank you, give them a big hug and kiss, and am truly grateful they are wishing me well. "How selfishly isolationist of you, to not wish me a good trip," is never my response. However, the words we use in our everyday language are more important than we realize, and this statement undoubtedly reflects a broader worldview hiding under the surface. A view that says the world is full of danger. When you leave home, you are no longer safe. You are at risk, and need to be careful.

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The world isn't a scary place. Be adventurous!

This language stems from the fact that we are very comfortable in our small corners of the world. In our own homes, neighborhoods, and cities. What we see in the news tells us that violence and corruption are rampant everywhere else. The way this news has informed our belief of the broader world is a real shame. Our news outlets are structured to feed us negativity because that is what grabs our attention, but in doing so it has created an unfounded feeling of isolationism and fear. I have some news for you: the world is not out to get you. The negativity we read in the news is not the full story, and it's not even close. News isn't worth reading, however, if it is only describing a typical, monotonous day, so we only get the bad stuff.

200+ years ago, traveling meant risking your life. Vacationing in another country was simply out of the question, and not simply due to the logistics of it. Unless you had family at your destination you likely would not have a place to stay. Other cultures were not as open and accepting of foreigners. Many vaccines were not yet discovered, and the fear of disease was real. Traveling across the United States with ten of your closest family and friends carried odds that one of you wouldn't survive the journey. Today, you board a plane, have a drink, take a nap, eat a sandwich, use the restroom, and you're on the other side of the world. Not only that, but you likely have lodging reserved and restaurants waiting to serve you. There has never been a safer time to travel.

You have a choice: continue to perpetuate this feeling of fear, or to encourage the pursuit of adventure and the search for those awe-inspiring moments. When we travel we are hoping for an exciting trip. We are deliberately seeking new experiences, exploring new places, and meeting new people. All travelers should do their research prior to departing, take reasonable precautions, and use common sense, but we (typically) don't travel because it is unsafe, but rather because it is. So from now on, wish those you care about a good, enjoyable, fun journey and share in their excitement for what they are about to experience.