“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?”
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?
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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