Around the WorldAsia

The “Negativity Bias” and Travel Envy

It keeps you safe, but does it keep you inside? Image from mmorpg.com.

Reading my Oprah magazine this month (yes, I subscribe to Oprah magazine in all its self-help glory, and yes, I feel slightly ashamed admitting it), I came across the phrase “negativity bias.”  A quick Google search later, I had a definition.  The negativity bias is a description of the phenomenon in which our brains are built with a greater sensitivity to, and stronger recall for, unpleasant news . . . an evolutionary tool designed to help us avoid danger in the future by reminding us of past bad experiences.

And the negativity bias isn’t just helping us remember not to eat the red berries.

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Photo by Valerie Szwaya, himheradventure.wordpress.com.

These absolutely gorgeous photos are not mine, but a friend’s.  She’s currently on a teach-abroad journey with her boyfriend Kevin in the Fujian Province in Southeastern China.

Now, not only do I know that Val and Kevin have been having a mostly horrendous year — full of infected teeth, doctors who still diagnose based on the humors theory of medicine, and broken promises — but also Asia has never been on my list of ‘must-sees’ (Other than Europe, an African safari is absolutely top of my bucket list).  Nevertheless, every time I look at these photos I’m hit with not only envy, but also my own negativity bias.

Why can’t I control my homesickness and germaphobia well enough to take off on an adventure of my own?  Why, despite my comfortable cushion of savings, do I pull my hair out with stress over taking time off work to travel?

To answer these questions, all sorts of embarrassing stories swirl through my mind, reminding me of my own past bad experiences and warning me not to walk into danger again.

“Remember that time you just had to try alligator sausage in NOLA and ended up in the hospital with food poisoning when you got back home?” my mind whispers.  And even though I’m not sure it was the sausage — in fact, pretty positive it was the dicey take-out Mediterranean I ate in my room my last night in the city — I start to wonder if I shouldn’t retreat a little further into my comfort zone next time I travel.

The negativity bias is absolutely correct to warn me away from Fujian Province — that level of rural life I most certainly couldn’t stomach.  Val has brought me first-hand reports of defecation and chicken slaughter in the streets to which I responded with a hearty “hells to the no.”

But where’s the line between knowing one’s reasonable limits and pushing oneself towards new and better adventures?

I wish I had better answers for you, Go Girls.  I know most of you are out there traveling to a level I would never be able to . . . backpacking and couch surfing and running your passports ragged while mine has only seen one Canada stamp (which barely counts, if you ask me).

Now, I’ve had some fabulous trips and I look forward to many more.  I was on my first airplane four years ago, and two years have passed since I took my first solo trip — both outside of my comfort zone, even though they may be routine for most Go Girls.

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Photo by Valerie Szwaya, himheradventure.wordpress.com.

But maybe it’s not a contest.  After all, a trip is supposed to be fun.  Whether it’s challenging or relaxing, it’s definitely supposed to be fun.  And maybe it’s okay if my fun has to include lugging my giant of a suitcase with a full week’s worth of clothes (no, I don’t wear them more than once, and yes, I know that this is a completely impractical way to pack).

So I’ll never hike the Appalachian Trail without stopping at a lovely B&B equipped with antibacterial soap and running water.  I’m still out there — wandering and wondering through this world of ours . . . one push at a time.

Ann Santori
Blogger and podcaster
Ann Santori is a B.A. graduate in English Literature and Political Science from Carthage College in Kenosha, WI. She was born and (partially) raised in Chicago, IL before moving to the suburbs and therefore igniting her life-long desire to travel far beyond towns where the only thing open past 9pm is the IHOP.

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