Last week, I read a story about a female tourist murdered in Belize (a beautiful but drug-troubled Caribbean island). A few months before that, there was another female tourist killed in Nepal. A few months before that, there were a few horror stories of some European women being raped in India. And then the story of a French professor who was killed while trekking through Algeria’s mountains. These stories are tragic, of course, and give one pause, even if you don’t have plans to travel to those countries, but then I am reminded of the wonderful actor and traveler Michael Palin, who summed up Westerners in two words: Wealthy and Worried.
Which brings us to the question: Is it more dangerous to travel now than before?
When we went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras in 2014, we didn’t stay in the historic and relatively safe French Quarter. We stayed in a neighborhood called Treme (also historic; so much so that HBO did a show about it), which was described by various people as “sketchy.” When we finished one of our Mardi Gras nights, we didn’t take a taxi back to our Airbnb host’s house in Treme; we walked for 30 minutes through the dead of night.
The “sketchiest” thing we saw was a big puddle of water and a guy begging for change, which is pretty much a common sight in every American city. In reality, what we did see in Treme was a brilliant collection of jazz clubs walking distance from the house, and we had a great evening at one of those places (put name of place here). Any doubts we might have had about not staying in the French Quarter were washed away by the beautiful music we heard.
When we visited Brazil for the World Cup in the summer of 2014, we didn’t stay at the Ipanema or Copacabana beaches or the wealthy enclaves of Barra da Tijuca; we stayed in Santa Teresa, a beautiful neighborhood situated on top of a hill that was nevertheless described by various sources as “crime-ridden” and “sketchy” (there is that word again). When we were there, we did see, one time, two police officers making a visit to a hostel where one of our friends was staying, and that was about it. Every single day, we went down 200 steps to the main street, and at night we would go back up those 200 steps, with very few people around, and we didn’t really think much about it.
When Ruby was backpacking alone throughout Southeast Asia, she stayed in various hostels alone, venturing through the various areas by bus and various other public transportation. Then again, Southeast Asia can be thought of as a trodden path for backpackers, and the fact that she is Asian can also add to the fact of her feeling more safe.
That’s not to say we’re fearless, because one always needs to be vigilant, but anytime you’re traveling in a foreign country, you should expect some degree of discomfort and fear, because you’re not in your home environment. I don’t have the statistics on tourist assaults in the last 5-10 years compared to the 1990s or 1980s, but my expectation is that they haven’t changed, and it wouldn’t at all surprise me if they’ve actually gone down.
If some people are more scared to travel now, it’s probably not only due to growing terrorism fears (which are legitimate), but also due to the fact that the media sensationalizes stories about Western tourists and makes it seem like anytime something happens to a Western tourist, it marks the country where it happened with a Scarlet Letter, and makes it seem like the country is not a safe place to visit anymore. Then these said countries (which are beautiful and wonderful) get incorrect connotations – where people think they are full of drug cartels, and people just look at you as strangers with money invading their land, but in reality, most people you come across are nice and proud of their countries, and want to show you why they love their countries.
Traveling while always looking over your shoulder for real or perceived threats will neither comfort you nor your partner. If you wish to see the Great Beyond, then accept some risk, use common sense, and realize that travel isn’t really about having fun. It’s a bit like walking to the edge of a cliff and instead of peering down to see the troubles down below, you take in the unfamiliar sight in front of you and realize how fortunate you are to be seeing it. Travel is a cultural experience, and while it can be deemed as fun, please always be mindful that you are a guest in someone’s country, and you should conform to their traditions & beliefs, and not the other way around. Do not flaunt off your designer goods – who needs them anyway? Live only with the basics, and just be friendly. Don’t let these fears and threats stop you from exploring, you may never know what’s out there if you always end up taking the safer route and staying at home most of the time.