“Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.”
– Mark Jenkins
Are you bursting with wanderlust?
When close friends and family tell you to reconsider certain things, it is often wise to listen. After all, it is likely that they have your best interests at heart, However, there seems to be a pattern of well-meaning people convinced that I should not be in certain places of the world.
“Haven’t you seen the news, that place is too dangerous, what are you thinking?”
“I’ve heard kidnapping, drug trafficking, [insert scary sounding crime here] happens all the time in that country, I would reconsider if I were you.”
These are all common anecdotes that come from people with good intentions. However, their notion of how safe a city, a region, or even a country are often misconceived. Unless they have good authority on the matter, it is very easy to fall into the trap of becoming an alarmist about a place they’ve never been.
Rethinking “Dangerous Places”
On my way backpacking across China in 2009, I met a well-traveled Dutch expat working as a translator who has been to over 120 countries across 6 continents. An impressive travel resume by any standard. When asked which recent place he’s visited that he found particularly memorable, he touts Pakistan on the top of his list.
Pakistan? Now? To me, Pakistan was a place people talk about visiting to sound hardcore.
Interest peaked, I badgered him with questions of how safe could it possibly be to travel to Pakistan, given the current political turmoil. He insists that while Pakistan is far from the safest country to travel at the moment, most of the strife and warring are concentrated in select areas between the Pakistan and Afghanistan border (which he made a note to avoid) and that he had no concern for his safety during his visit.*
*Please do not construe the above as current travel advice, always consult a reliable travel advisory before visiting a country.
Seeing I am unconvinced, he then said something that stuck with me:
“Stop taking unsolicited travel advice from people who never had any intention of setting foot in the country in the first place.”
Sounds a bit brash, but the point was well taken. Do we have a tendency to prejudice how dangerous the world really is to travel?
Consider This Scenario
CNN News is on. Rioters are setting overturned police cars aflame, multiple reported stabbings, rampant looting of department stores, with cops in full riot gear stewarding a city knee-deep in unrest. If you had seen this particular report without knowing anything else about the city, would you cross it off your list of places to visit?
It would be unfortunate if you did, because similar wording set the tone for recent headlines on Vancouver, Canada – a city considered to be one of most livable in the world – and also a city I know and love. Despite Vancouver’s friendly reputation as a travel destination, more than a few international voices have (facetiously or not) commented on Canadians not being so friendly anymore. Silly rabbits.
But it illustrates an unruly phenomenon: to outsiders, news sensationalism, bad timing and hearsay can feed the fear and concern of an unknown place.
2 Myths of the Dangerous World
1. What’s reported on the news is always representative.
The news is where many people usually get their first and last ideas of travel safety. However, there is a tendency to focus on sensationalism and negativity that is readily available in the media rather than doing our own research.
2. A place is either safe or not safe.
Every decent-sized metropolitan areas will always have their good and bad pockets. Crossing out a travel destination because of some census crime statistic would be missing the big picture… and many great places to visit.
Food for Thought
I am convinced there is no such thing as a perfectly safe place to travel. But adventure is such: we must take the lows with the highs. Armed with the right research, precautionary planning, common sense and enough wanderlust, the “D” word should never keep you from roaming the world. Take the plunge!
Here are recommended writings from veteran travelers (who kick ass) for inspiration:
Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel: Rolf Potts weaves life philosophy with practical travel advice in this highly inspirational read on the thought process and mindset one should bring on their travels.
Robert Young Pelton’s The World’s Most Dangerous Places: This man’s story might be the closest you want to get to some of the most dangerous places in the world. Adventurer Robert Pelton’s personal experiences and practical guide (though I would not recommend using it as one) on entering war zones, paramilitary and terrorist hotspots. Fascinating read and will give you a perspective on what are legitimately no-travel areas.