Don’t Let the Media Fuel a Fear of Traveling

Worried about your safety abroad? Before you let the media fuel your fear of traveling, check out these statistics and personal experiences traveling in "unsafe" countries. | http://passportandplates.com

“You’re traveling where?!”

“Aren’t you scared?”

“I would never travel to that region of the world.”

“You’re so brave for traveling alone.”

 

In the last year or so, the United States government has issued travel warnings to virtually every country in the world. At the time of writing, the United States has deemed it “unsafe” to travel to the entire continent of Europe, significant portions of Central and South America, almost the entire continent of Africa, and (of course) the majority of the Middle East and Central Asia. Naturally.

So, that essentially leaves Americans the option of traveling to Oceania (Australia, New Zealand and the nearby islands) or Asia if they’d like to go overseas and heed the wise words of our government.

I announced earlier this year that I would make 2017 the Year of the Middle East and North Africa (for the most part). The countries I’ve chosen are not only places I already want to visit, but they’re places that are not “unsafe,” despite what the media says. If you listen to the media, you’ll never leave your house, let alone travel.

What keeps you from traveling to these places, really? What makes a country safe or unsafe? Is it violent crime? Is it fear of terrorism? Is it because the media said so? Is it because the government issued a travel alert? What actually causes a fear of traveling?

 

What is safety, really?

Asking a serious question here. Every time I travel abroad, I meet Europeans, Australians, and Kiwis who are afraid to travel to the U.S. If you’re American, you may be bewildered to hear this. What’s so scary about the United States, right? Well, according to foreigners: guns, police brutality, and racism, in a nutshell. Our current political state isn’t exactly helping, either. Maybe as Americans we don’t feel like our day-to-day lives are threatened by any of these things. Maybe (especially if you’re a minority), you feel threatened by 1-2 of these things. And most probably, you don’t consider these as factors that should deter people from traveling to the United States. Yet, the media abroad highlights these issues frequently enough to deter people.

So, what does safety mean, really?  I ask myself two questions: is the country stable? and are there lots of crimes against tourists? If a country is more or less considered politically and economically stable, then I’m down for a visit. Would I visit Yemen, the Congo or Syria? Absolutely not. Would I visit Iran, North Korea or Egypt? Yes, I would. In fact, I’m in Egypt right now. I’m aware of the political situations in these countries, and it is unlikely that a sudden civil war will break out. Same goes for crime towards tourists. For example, pickpocketing is a huge issue in Italy, France, and Spain. Will that stop me from visiting these countries? No. It just means I’ll have to keep an eye on my stuff. Violent crime is SO rarely targeted toward tourists. You can get robbed or pickpocketed in any country, anytime. That should not deter you from traveling.

 

If it bleeds, it leads.

How many times have you read good headlines on news sites? Do you read about the hundreds of thousands of tourists who travel every day without harm? Do you read about the millions of Muslims who live their day-to-day lives with kindness and compassion, without the sudden urge to blow something up? Do you read feel-good stories, at all? You probably don’t and it’s not because they don’t exist. It’s because they aren’t being published. Let’s face it, we all think we want to read about the good, but the reality is, bad news sells – it sells newspapers, magazines, and advertising. And everyone wants to make money, news sites included. Fear makes people make irrational decisions and think emotionally, not logically. The media has the power to change the minds of many. It’s what makes people think that all Americans own guns and it’s what makes many Americans think we’re all going to die in a terrorist attack. It’s what elected our new president. Bad news sells, period.

 

You’re not in control.

People tend to overestimate their chances of being a victim of terrorism. In the United States 13,000+ people are killed by guns every year. 37,000+ are killed by car crashes. You’re more likely to die by getting crushed by furniture or even struck by lightning than be a victim of terrorism.

The point is, you are not in control of how you’re going to die. You could be an adrenaline junkie who lives to be 100. You could be an over-cautious germaphobe who dies tragically young. The only thing we know for certain is that we’re all going to die someday. Wouldn’t you rather live your life to its fullest (pardon the overused cliché) than to live a life full of “could haves?”

Worried about your safety abroad? Before you let the media fuel your fear of traveling, check out these statistics and personal experiences traveling in "unsafe" countries. | http://passportandplates.com

At the Giraffe Manor in Nairobi, Kenya. I would have never come here if listened to the media.

 

Don’t let fear rule your life.

If your dream is to travel, don’t let it hold you back. Learn firsthand about the world instead of through media sources. Go to Jordan and learn what it’s like to be a sheepherder with A Piece of Jordan. Learn about the history of the mafia in Southern Italy with Visit.org. Whatever or wherever your experience may be, let it serve as a way for you to learn about the world, and about yourself.

 

Travel is the ultimate teacher.

If you never travel and never read and never leave your town but simply watch the news then maybe you’ll think that religious tolerance doesn’t exist. Maybe you’ll think that all countries in the Middle East and North Africa are filled with burqa-clad women. Maybe you’ll think that Africa is filled with dirt huts and unpaved roads and starving children.

Religious harmony exists all over the world, despite what the media says. In Singapore, I’ve seen mosques, temples, and churches all within a mile of each other. There are synagogues in Morocco, a Muslim-majority country. In Indonesia, there are a plethora of Muslims, Buddhists and Christians. Harmony exists, despite what the media tells you.

Many express how shocked they are by just how western the United Arab Emirates is, but guess what? It’s home to countless expats. There are more expats in the UAE than there are Emiratis. Morocco and Qatar are two other examples of Arab countries with a significant expat population.

And while I won’t start on my Africa is not a country rant, all I have to say is that Africa is rich and diverse in culture, language, resources and landscapes. The below photos are all various African cities. Not what you expected, huh?

So travel. Travel to a nearby town, to the next state or to another country. Interact with locals. Leave the tourist area and talk to people. Do a homestay. Stay at an airbnb. Support local guides.

Do this because travel is the best education you can ask for. Because nothing compares to experiencing the world and its people for yourself. Do this because the world needs more love, tolerance, and understanding. Do it because fear is a mindset.

 

A quick note about safety.

Before you head to a new place, do your research. Ask other travelers. Read travel blogs. Find local news sources and organizations. Always tell your family and / or friends what your plans are. Buy a local SIM card so you can be accessible. Keep contact information to the local embassy handy. Stay aware of your surroundings. And, if you’re American, enroll in the U.S. Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) for travel updates.

 

Don’t succumb to alarm or fear. Travel to learn. Because when you let fear deter you from traveling, you’re missing out on so much of this beautiful world and its kind-hearted people.

 

Tell me: have you ever traveled somewhere that most people think is unsafe? What was your experience like?

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  • It’s so funny what you say about the USA. The first time I visited, twenty years ago I was seriously expecting to jump off the plane and walk straight into a battle scene straight from the OK Corral. I was rather surprised to discover that not everyone was shooting one another.

    The Global Terrorist Index reports 29,376 deaths from terrorism in 2015 whilst the BBC reports 13,286 deaths from gun crime in the USA for the same year. I think these facts alone are testament to the fact that the media really does blow things out of proportion. The sad thing is it does put people off travelling when in fact I have found some of the supposedly most dangeous places are far from it.

    • LOLLLLLL DEAD. Americans always get so surprised when I mention that people are afraid to visit the U.S. I agree with you though – the media is a major culprit against straight up facts. It’s really sad to see how it affects tourism in so many beautiful countries! I just got back from Egypt and Jordan and tourism is down in both countries because of negative media. It’s up to all us travelers to change people’s perceptions 🙂

  • Lmao the entire continent of Europe!? Don’t forget it also leaves Canada lol I tell my family all the time about the safety portrayed in the media. Yes, it is good to know what is going on so we can be aware and careful but we can’t let it scare us from doing new and exciting things.

    My opinion about safety when traveling is the petty crime rate. Things like getting your bag snatched while walking around or getting threatened to give up your belongings while walking around.

    I was in Bangkok two weeks ago and was surprised how safe I felt so I did a bit of research. I searched the crime rates of Bangkok with Philly – where I am from. Philly was higher in all crime rating except for bribery and corruption =P

    • Can you believe it?! As if people will stop traveling to Europe. Oh yes! Can’t forget Canada.
      Hahah yeah it’s funny because Philly actually has a domestic reputation as a bit of a “rough” city, but I didn’t feel unsafe at all when I went a few months ago! Same goes for Bangkok. I think petty crime is something that sometimes comes with travel, but can easily be avoided if you prepare a little. Terrorism and violent crimes are rare in general but people still worry about them which is a shame for many destinations :/

  • Laura Nalin

    I totally agree! Before I moved abroad, I lived in Chicago for almost 7 years. My family was weirded out by the fact that I was moving to South Korea as it was so close to North Korea, but never factored in that I had been living in the murder captial (at the time) of the USA. While I never felt unsafe in either, it definitely drives home the notion that anywhere is what you make of it – there can be danger literally ANYWHERE, but I always find people in other countries to be so warm and curious. Keep on spreading the love <3

    • Haha that’s too funny! Especially because I’ve never once heard someone worry about safety in South Korea. Chicago actually has quite the reputation, but I went a few months ago and was never concerned for my safety.
      And I agree with you! I always find that locals are kind everywhere I go. It’s up to us to keep traveling to show people that the world is actually a safe place (for the most part).

  • Susanna Kelly

    I’m glad that you presented some statistics with your article. I agree with you, but so many are just emotionally driven. I always tell my mother, the U.S. can be so much more dangerous than anywhere else I am traveling. I will keep traveling and make my way around the world and I hope we can continue to do so.

    • Totally! I know that emotions beat out facts all the time but I felt compelled to write this after reading about how “unsafe” entire sections of the world are when the facts say otherwise! I hope that by continuing to travel we can show people that the world isn’t as scary as the media thinks!

  • Cori Carl

    I was entertained to see the US issue warnings about safety in Canada because of the protests outside of US embassies. Canada is so much safer than the US and most of the protesters are US citizens living in Canada, but they still pulled out all the stops and acted like the embassies were under siege. It’s amazing to see how Americans live in such needless fear.

    • LOLLL oh I hadn’t even heard about that! That’s too funny. I’m pretty sure the average American knows that Canada is much safer than the U.S. (it has the reputation, anyway). But yeah our media fear mongering game is strong unfortunately. I just hope that by continuing to travel that we can reverse some misconceptions!

  • Media, schmedia. I’m more likely to want to go somewhere BECAUSE it’s being dissed. Prices will be lower, crowds will be fewer, and I’ll probably get some great photos. Besides, I can remember a German woman telling me, “I would NEVER go to the US! Everyone is getting shot there!” Everyone? To me, it just proves you shouldn’t believe everything you read.

    • Haha I’m with you on that! I just got back from Egypt and Jordan – both “unsafe” places according to the media. No crowds, cheap prices and fabulous photos. However, the negative side is that I truly feel for the people working in the tourism industry in these countries. The tourism economy is hurting and so are the people working in it which is a huge shame. I hope that by continuing to travel to these “dangerous” places that we can show people that the world is actually mostly safe!

  • I completely agree! I just got back from Morocco and so many people thought it would be dangerous. It was not! People said the same thing before I went to Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and South Africa. Now people are scared to go to France! I say live your life and enjoy it without fear!

    • EXACTLY. I feel like no matter where you go, someone has an opinion about the (lack of) safety in said country. I’ve felt more unsafe in the U.S. than I ever have abroad and am a firm believer that people can’t let fear stop them from traveling! Happy travels to you 🙂

  • Vyjay Rao

    You are right. Many times paranoia is whipped up about certain places and advisories issued against travel to these places. All may be in the best intentions. However not always is the situation as bad as hyped.

    • EXACTLY. I think these good intentions result in long-term, negative effects on the destinations. I just returned from Egypt and Jordan and the tourism industry is seriously hurting in the entire region :(. I wish people would go and see for themselves instead of relying on the media!

  • Incredibly true. Great article. It’s crazy when people ask me is Pakistan safe to travel? Is it safe for a tourist? Absolutely! But like anywhere you need to be aware and on your guard. You’re kidding yourself if you think you’re safe in US, France, etc. Didn’t the Kardashian get robbed in Paris or something? Safe is a perspective and state of mind. You are more likely to die in car crash on way to work than visiting one of these so called dangerous countries.

    • I would LOVE to go to Pakistan! A friend of mine is planning a trip there for later this year. Our media just shows Pakistan as this giant war zone where nobody has human rights (ridiculous, I know) so naturally people assume that it’s unsafe. Safety really is a perspective and state of mind like you said, and the statistics support this. Now to get people to actually travel and see for themselves!

  • JustGoPlaces

    I completely agree. You need to know your own fear and risk assessment instead of being told what to do by others who have their own agenda to push. I as in Egypt last year and thought it was wonderful. Their tourist industry is down because of all this fear mongering and so many people are hurting.

    • Exactly! I was just in Egypt and Jordan this month and agree with you – it’s a shame how much tourism is hurting because of the media. I didn’t feel unsafe the entire time I was there!

  • This is a great post. Really. I don’t know how many times even living in Korea, people have asked how safe I feel (technically South Korea and North Korea are STILL at war). I feel safer here than I would if I were in the States that’s for sure. There aren’t guns here. It really is amazing how traveling can change your perspective on safety and what that means and what it is. Pinned this and totally sharing. Love it!

    • Thank you! It blows my mind that people think S. Korea is unsafe! I know they’re still technically at war but I’ve never once heard someone mention safety concerns in S. Korea! And yes, agreed :). It really is all about perspective I suppose (and traveling definitely helps!). Thanks for sharing!

  • This is a fab post! It’s so true and even I’m guilty of sometimes being skeptical of where to visit – I’ve been putting off going to Egypt but I definitely need to go anyway!

    Jasmin Charlotte

  • THIS. I want to share it everywhere. Ha. Thank you for your important perspective on traveling, and also, why the U.S. isn’t the ideal travel destination that many Americans think it is (including members of my family)!

    • Haha yeah, I think there’s a false sense of security around some destinations and an equally false sense of insecurity around others. There’s no guaranteed safety anywhere, but for some reason people don’t look at the facts!

  • Lena

    I agree with you 100%! I am from Ukraine and sometimes people ask me if it is safe for me to go back home. I appreciate the concern, but Ukraine is a huge country and even though we have problems on Russian boarder, the rest 99% of the country lives its ordinary lives. Travelers are welcome!

    • LOL exactly! Not only are most countries large but at the end of the day ordinary people survive and thrive everywhere! I haven’t made it to Eastern Europe quite yet but definitely need to go soon 🙂

  • Aireona93

    I love that you mention the fact that other people see America as dangerous. It really brings home the point that every place has its issues, and we shouldn’t be too afraid to visit most places just because of things we hear in the media.

    • Totally! Americans are often quite surprised to hear that other people find the U.S. just as dangerous as Americans find..most places haha. But yes, listening to the media is a dangerous game and people would never travel if they let it dictate all their travel decisions!

  • Yes to everything in the article!!! I’ve traveled to the Middle East and other countries in Europe that have been the center of attack and my grandmother is always so fearful that something will happen to me. They will use the word crazy to describe the natives of said countries, but I always find myself reminding them about current and past events in the US. When people ask me if I’m afraid, I tell them that I refuse to let fear drive me.

    • I’m so glad to hear you’ve traveled to the Middle East! I know so many travelers and bloggers who believe the media when it comes to the Middle East and Central Asia which makes me SO sad. One of the things I love about traveling is learning how people live – their lifestyles can be the total opposite of our’s, but that doesn’t mean their culture is ‘wrong’ or ‘crazy’ – it’s just different! I really want more people to travel to all these areas so they can get some perspective!

  • josiekelsh

    This is SUCH a great article! I am always having to justify why I want to travel to certain places that just “aren’t safe”. Mostly these questions are from people who either haven’t travelled at all, or who have only gone to the major travel destinations. I always laugh, because here in Australia, Bali and Thailand are very common destinations, but both of these places have government travel warnings at the same level as Turkey, yet everyone was aghast I was going to Turkey! I’m now planning to spend months in the Middle East this year, and I can’t wait to spend my time telling everyone back home what it’s actually like!

    • Thank you! I know exactly what you mean. It’s crazy how certain places get such a bad rep and others get off scot free. Bad things happen everywhere but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t travel anywhere! Where are you headed in the Middle East? I’m excited to hear that other travelers are going there because the region seriously needs some tourism love!

      • josiekelsh

        Not 100% sure exactly where we will go as we will be making it up as we are on the road, but on my list are Oman, UAE, Qatar, Jordan, Iran, maybe Lebanon and Israel. We are also planning on heading into the ‘Stans, time permitting. I know what you mean about tourism love – not only did our trip to Turkey help them out, it was fantastic for us too. There were no queues at the big attractions, and some of our day trips ended up being private tours. So I recommend going while the rest of the world isn’t!

        • AWESOME list! Sounds like you’re covering a lot of the cool places. And the Stans! I’m jealous.
          And agreed with you! I just got back from Egypt and Jordan and they were virtually void of tourism. Obviously great for photos and stuff but I do feel bad for the people actually working in tourism. It’s a great time for us to travel though, selfishly speaking 🙂

  • You are so right and I agree with everything you’re saying 100%! I wrote a similar post to this on my blog when I was in France during the terrorist attacks, articles like this need to be shared more…
    P.S. I’m Australian and, even though I’m not scared and don’t particularly follow the news, but from what I have read it is true that I’d probably be ‘less nervous’ to travel to Iran or Egypt than to the States. I hope this gives Americans a different perspective, and I wish for people to just stop living in fear because it is safe/unsafe no matter where you go (except for maybe the actual war zones 😛 )

    • That’s really funny that you’d rather travel to Iran or Egypt than the U.S. Many Americans are mind-blown that travelers worry about their safety in the U.S. but I hope those that have read this are gaining a bit of perspective from what I wrote and the comments! And yeah, I remember reading something about how France and Belgium both took a hit in tourism because of the attacks. Such a shame because that kind of thing could literally happen anywhere but the media just loves to freak people out. I hope by continuing to travel we can show people that the world is actually really safe (for the most part!)

  • I seriously couldn’t agree with you more! It’s crazy how much power the media has and how negatively it affects us and our perceptions. When I was preparing to go on my first solo trip to Kenya, so many people told me that I shouldn’t and that it would be dangerous. But they were saying that because that’s what the media was telling them. I remember having to tell them that no, I wasn’t going to get Ebola and that not the whole of Africa was ridden of Ebola. If only they dared to see the world for themselves or even just look up personal experiences and encounters on the internet and do some research, they’d see how wrong the media portrays many regions of the world. Hopefully by travelling and talking about our travel experiences, more people will realise that the world is not as dangerous as the media likes to portray. Such a great post! Definitely one of the more important topics we need to talk about 🙂

    • OMG people are SO out of control sometimes. Especially when it comes to Africa, which I swear some people see as one giant country with starving babies and safaris. SO ridiculous. I’ve also been to Kenya and people were super skeptical about it when I was going. I actually got totally lost in Nairobi and a ton of locals helped me find my way home! People really need to do their research and travel and see for themselves :). I hope we can inspire them to do so!

  • This is such an important topic right now. Thank you so much for sharing the message 🙂 Happy travels!

  • Bec Honey

    I’ve been to Iran and I have never met such kind, generous, hospital people anywhere. So many friends and family freaked out about me going there but I never once felt unsafe. I’m Australian and at the time of travel our smart traveller program labelled Iran as level 3 ‘reconsider your need to travel’ it was totally ridiculous (they’ve since downgraded it to level 2). Some of my closest friends are muslims and it saddens me, the negative perceptions the media has generated.

    • I have been DYING to go to Iran! I was actually planning on going this year but now Americans are banned thanks to the actions of our president :/. Hopefully that changes over the course of the next few months. YEAH the government warnings in most countries are such a joke…I completely disregard them and do my own independent research. It’s sad because so many countries are hurting tourism-wise because of all these negative perceptions again Muslims. I hope by continuing to travel we can show people that the media is just fear-mongering for ratings.

      • Bec Honey

        Really? Americans are banned, that really sucks & I hope it changes soon :-(. I can no longer visit the US on an esta visa waiver because I’ve been to Iran. I now have to pay $160 for a visa, provide my life history in documentation and have a security interview with the US embassy. That’s still better than being banned. I’ve heard US tourism is down since Trump as well.

        • Yeahhhh but only because the U.S. banned Iranians first. Tit for tat unfortunately. And yeah I’m not surprised to hear tourism is down in the U.S. Really don’t blame anyone for that. And that SUCKS. I have British friends who have been affected by the same issue since they’d been to Sudan as well. Such a pain for everyone involved :/