Continuing this excuse buster series of articles where I answer any and every excuse people make not to travel, this week I want to talk about something that is actually pretty important. Travel safety.
The fear of crime or becoming the victim of a criminal act, actual physical danger or harm when travelling is actually a very real and frightening prospect for many people, women in particular are statistically much more likely to feel this fear. I get it, it is a genuinely scary thought. The problem is when people use fear as an excuse not to travel, they don’t always base that fear on actual fact or reality.
Fear begets fear, and that is what makes it so powerful.
Fear and the mass media.
The mass media would have everyone believe that the world is an insane, dangerous place. According to popular belief, the world is full of extremists randomly setting off indiscriminate bombs, pirates and mercenaries ready to kidnap unprepared travellers around every corner, unstable regimes, religious fanatics and political riots that will put your life at risk and thieves and con artists who will take you for everything you have the second you step off that plane somewhere new.
There is no relief from the dismal paradigm either. It seems like every time you pick up a newspaper or watch the news there are new reports about violence spreading through any given country or stories of horrific things happening to young backpackers abroad.
Every time something terrible happens, it is blown out of all proportion by the mass media and gives the general public which gives them a wholly skewed perception of how safe it is to travel.
The travel warnings from the Foreign Commonwealth Office in Britain and various other countries state departments don’t help matters. The slightest hint of something happening in any given country and they all switch to the default setting of high alert, sounding of the alarm bells and screaming panic stations.
The default ‘we recommend against all but essential travel …’ has become the norm in the government’s travel advisory repertoire, when in many cases this is at best an overreaction. There have been a lot of criticism from numerous foreign governments, not to mention the tourism industry itself, that these government warnings err far too heavily on the side of caution and do a lot of needless damage to tourism. And there is a lot of evidence to back them up on this.
To be fair there are obviously parts of the world where you would have to exercise caution, I wouldn’t recommend a jolly over to an active war zone looking for a bit of cultural immersion for example! And of course there are times when genuine atrocities and genuine risk of a terror attack or other safety factors must be taken heed of.
But a lot of the time these warnings should be taken as just that, a warning to do a little more research, look into the situation and assess the risk yourself.
Travel warnings are not in any way a blanket rule that no one should travel. They are a sign to look deeper, not take at face value.
Every time some terrible incident occurs around the world the media goes into a frenzy, the travel warnings pop up like an automatic response and people stop travelling out of fear.
The recent terror attacks in Paris, Turkey or Egypt saw tourism to those regions take a massive hit as people simply cancelled their plans to travel. As far back as the Egyptian revolution of 2011, many people cancelled holidays to Sharm el Sheik (despite the fact that it is in Sinai, practically an entire country away from any protests) and refused to go to Egypt, declaring it unsafe because of all the news reports. The reality is the protests were primarily centred around Tahrir square, a relatively small part of Cairo, a very large city in a very large country. The rest of the country was pretty much untouched by any trouble and tourists were very well looked after. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend wondering into the middle of a political protest, it was relatively easy to avoid that one square and enjoy the rest of Cairo as safely as tourists have done for many years, let alone the rest of the country!
Fear vs reality.
The fact of the matter is, it is more often than not completely unnecessary, and the frenzied alerts of danger are not always reason enough not to travel.
I can understand to an extent people’s genuine concerns about crime and safety, but it all has to be taken in perspective.
Despite many peoples perceptions, crime rates are often a lot lower in many parts of the world than they are in your home town or city. Yes, sometimes bad things really do just happen to good people and there is always a chance of something bad happening, but no more so (and in many cases much less so) than the chances of something happening the next time you head out into your own home town. You don’t let that stop you living your life at home, so why should you let it stop you from backpacking and seeing the world?
You cannot live your life in fear of what might happen.
Yes of course there is risk out there, just like there is a certain risk of becoming a victim at home, but there are reasonable steps and precautions you can take to reduce that risk to manageable levels.
With reasonable common sense precautions, backpacking is genuinely very safe indeed and beyond taking reasonable steps to protect yourself and your belongings, there is no need to overly worry about crime or your personal safety. Sensible and rational precautions are one thing, but there is absolutely no need to go overboard.
I would strongly recommend being aware of any potential dangers and risks as you travel the world and taking reasonable precautions to prevent anything happening. Doing your research about common scams before you go, training yourself to stay aware of your surroundings and more importantly knowing the situations where you should be paying more attention to your surroundings. Buying a pacsafe and keeping an eye on your belongings, being aware of the possible risks or taking common sense precautions for your personal safety, these are all reasonable and sensible things to do and are absolutely and wholeheartedly recommended as part of a sensible approach to travel safety.
But that is as far as it should go. Do not let precaution turn to fear, do not let practicality turn to paranoia.
Backpacking and travelling the world is very safe. I know I may seem like I’m hammering this message home here, but it is because I fervently believe it. Yes bad things happen, but cases of terrible things happening to backpackers are still relatively rare and it is important to remember that.
By following some simple guidelines and taking reasonable precautions, you can be sure that your round the world adventure will be safe, and you can enjoy the freedom and adventure backpacking brings without any worry.
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