Is travelling the world dangerous? Is taking a gap year safe? These questions come up a lot, and there is often a lot of confusion between levels of personal fear and genuine danger, so given that it is such an important topic I just want to take a moment to discuss whether travelling the world or taking a gap year is safe or not.
The very simple answer to this question is yes, travelling the world is in general terms very safe indeed.
I can of course completely understand why people who have never travelled have an innate fear of the big bad world that is out there. The worlds media sells that fear. They peddle the misery of war, conflict, disease and natural disaster and ramp them up to unnatural proportions. They would have everyone believe that the world is full of pirates, terrorists, rapists and murderers just waiting to target every single tourist the second they step out of their air conditioned bubble. It warps people’s perceptions of the world and makes them far more afraid than they need to be.
Sensationalism, scaremongering and fear.
This level of sensationalism is the norm in modern Western society because that is what makes headlines, that is what sells newspapers and fills the blank spots in the endless monotony of 24 hour rolling news.
The problem is when that level of fearmongering becomes the norm, reasonable judgement can go out of the window and it can create an imbalance. Instead of a reasonable evaluation of the actual risk it can cause an unnatural level of fear that can cripple many people and stop them from following their dreams of travel.
The world is a genuinely wonderful and safe place.
I have travelled the world for 15 years now, including in some of the worlds supposedly most dangerous places, and I can say with my hand on my heart that the world is generally a good place, with good people just like you or I trying to be happy in their own lives. Travelling through it is an amazing experience, and one that is generally very safe.
That does not however mean there is no risk at all, it would be extremely naive and borderline irresponsible to suggest otherwise, but the world is not the cesspool of crime, corruption, disease and predatory danger that the media would have you believe.
Bad things do happen, there are risks in anything you do, including staying at home, but travelling the world in and of itself is not inherently dangerous.
There is always the risk – however small – of something terrible happening wherever you are and whatever you are doing. That is just life. But there are two important things to remember when stating that fact. First of all the actual risk of becoming a victim of a crime or terrible incident is far lower than many people believe, and second of all you can become a victim just as easily at home as you can when travelling abroad. In many cases the countries where a lot of Western travellers come from have far higher crime rates than the countries they are visiting.
What do the statistics say about how safe travel is?
Don’t believe me? Just look at the actual statistics for a moment. According to the Office For National Statistics and the Foreign Commonwealth Office, the evidence shows that out of the 4 million and change UK citizens who travelled abroad between 2014 and 2015 (the latest statistics available at the time of writing), only 19, 244 travellers needed consular assistance worldwide, and that is for every issue, from serious crime to getting drunk and losing their passport. The statistics for those becoming the victims of serious crimes – the ones the majority of people are afraid of – such as violent assault or rape are a fraction of that. Hundreds, out of 4 million.
Let me repeat that. Hundreds. Out of 4 million!
I’m not saying those aren’t terrible crimes, each and every incident is horrific for the victim involved and they each deserve sensitivity and empathy. Neither am I saying there isn’t a risk of future travellers falling victim to these crimes. I’m just saying the fear of becoming a victim has to be put into perspective.
The fear of becoming a victim is often far greater than the actual risk of becoming one.
Yes there is always a risk that something bad may happen to you when you are travelling, just as there is risk in anything in life, and you should absolutely prepare for that risk and take reasonable precautions to protect yourself, but that doesn’t mean that travelling the world is dangerous!
Take reasonable precautions for your safety, but don’t be afraid.
The trick to keeping yourself safe simply lies in …
Understanding the risks and dangers,
Reducing the risk as much as possible.
The ways in which you can do that of course will be discussed in more specific articles, but the simple message is be prepared, take precautions but don’t be afraid.
If you do that, then you will have negated a lot of the risk that is out there. If you are knowledgeable and prepared, you will be a much more formidable opponent to any potential danger that may be out there and you are significantly more likely to make the world around you a much safer place than it is already.
Staying safe is as much about making yourself less of a potential victim as it is controlling the environment around you.
So my advice to you is this. Read up as much as possible about the genuine risks that are out there, be as aware and as prepared as you can be and then take the reasonable and common sense safety precautions that are designed to keep you safe and sound. If you choose, you can take further steps to ensure your own protection and safety
Travel in and of itself is not inherently dangerous. Backpacking around the world is actually pretty safe. So when you take the already low risk of something bad happening to you and add the fact you have prepared and reduced that risk even more, the odds are that you can travel the world and come back home safe, sound and with nothing but a ton of awesome stories to tell!
Because you have to remember that the world in general is a not just a safe place, it is also a truly awesome place full of majestic sights and inspiring, warm and compassionate people, and if you let fear stop you from experiencing all that wonder then that will be a real shame.
So use the tips in the travel safety section as well as the more detailed knowledge and advice in my books to give you the knowledge and the confidence to help keep yourself safe, and then get out there and enjoy your travels!
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