Staring Over the Kangra Valley

Yes, Travel Does Have Some Risks

Derek Perspectives, Travel Tips & Advice 102 Comments

Staring Over the Kangra Valley

After my recent post that outlined “42 Ways You Can Make Money and Travel the World”, it was brought to my attention that while the options I listed all sound good on ‘paper’, a select few of the options have some real risks associated with them.

So, I promised the reader who mentioned this to me that I would write a post focusing on the riskier side of travel, something that he felt wasn’t discussed realistically, or at all, on most travel blogs.

It’s a tricky topic to tackle though, mainly because everyone has quite different opinions on what constitutes risk and whether or not the risk involved with travel is really any more than the risk involved with our normal everyday lives in our home countries.

I personally feel that travel is not any more risky than life at home, assuming we put our common sense to use at all times. Bad things happen almost everywhere, and in reality, I often feel safer and more well-taken care of while overseas than I do while back in the US.

(Just yesterday I visited a relative who had injured her leg after falling while on a trip to New Zealand. She needed surgery and extensive medical care, including visiting nurses to dress her wound, and she didn’t have to pay anything for this at all. If she were at home, it would have been a completely different, and much more expensive, situation.)

Often times, people bring up the fact that I was once kidnapped in Bangladesh as proof that travel is dangerous and risky. However, my response is always this… How many of these kind of incidents do you hear about? Not many at all.

It’s not as if things like this happen every day to travelers all over the world, it’s just that when we do read about them, and since the incidents don’t take place in our home countries, we automatically reach conclusions that a certain place is dangerous or that travel in general is extremely risky as a result.

Dara Adam Khel, Pakistan

I could probably count the number of terrible travel incidents that I’ve heard about from fellow travelers over the past 13 years on one hand. And I’m talking about kidnappings, violence, unlawful arrests, detainment, major theft, serious and expensive injuries, people being deported, near death experiences, etc….all the things that would seem to be a huge risk. That’s not what I would call ‘common’ considering how many travelers are out there in the world at any given time.

Being alive is risky. Walking out your front door is risky. Things happen and things happen everywhere.

Of course, the idea of this post is to focus on the risks that do exist for those who decide to venture overseas and in all fairness, I would never state that travel is risk-free or that there aren’t any risks that you should be aware of before leaving home. There are indeed risks when traveling and the more you are aware of them, the lower the chance you’ll be affected by them.

Local Laws

Naturally, every country has their own set of laws and if you don’t take some time to learn at least the basic rules about a destination, you might find yourself in a troubling situation. Some countries are stricter about certain things to the point where you could end up jail for something that you could easily get away with back home. Even a minor drug offense in some countries could land you in prison for life or even lead to the death-penalty, and you can’t expect much help from your government if you have broken a local law.

Working Overseas

Some of the ideas I mentioned in the “42 Ways You Can Make Money and Travel the World” post involve opportunities that are technically not legal. These include anything in which you would be working ‘under the table’ and getting paid directly in cash, such as at a cafe, restaurant, bar, hostel or on a construction site. If you don’t have a proper work visa, then you’re basically not allowed to work in that country and as a result, there are risks involved.

Staff at hostel in Helsinki

If you do get caught by the authorities, you would not only lose the job but you might be kicked out of the country or even banned from re-entering for a certain period of time. You might have to pay a fine or face other legal repercussions. Have I personally heard of this happening to anyone? Nope. But I’m sure it has happened to some and it’s something to keep in mind before you agree to start working.

Also, if you were to be injured on the job, again, while working without a proper visa/employment contract overseas, your employer would not be responsible. You could not really claim compensation or medial coverage since you were working illegally in the first place. So it does pay to understand the job you’re about to accept and to consider whether or not it is a safe, or reasonable, option for you.

Theft

There are always stories about people having things stolen while traveling and theft is certainly something to be aware of. Many years ago I had my wallet pick-pocketed while in Delhi and I lost all my credit cards and a good wad of cash. At the same time, that’s the only incident of theft that I’ve personally encountered in 13 years of travel, despite going to plenty of countries that are typically deemed unsafe and dangerous. The thing is, if you’re not aware of your belongings and you don’t take certain precautions, you could definitely end up having some of your stuff stolen, no matter where you travel, and that would of course be quite unfortunate.

Acting Irresponsibly

When we travel, especially for the first time, it is common to feel as if there are no rules overseas because we are away from home, but in reality, there are rules and often times, the penalties for breaking those rules are severe as mentioned above (just ask any of the foreigners serving time in prisons in places such as Thailand or Colombia).

And apart from legal consequences, it would be a real shame to head overseas only to end up addicted to drugs, which you started taking every day because they were so cheap and readily available and you could take them in the comfort of your guesthouse room way up in the mountains of India. You get stuck there for months until your family and friends have to come and drag you home and force you to get help. It happens, and it happens more than you would think, simply because travelers go overboard with their new found freedom.

Volcano Boarding Injury

Injuries, Illness & Insurance

I think few people would disagree that injuries and illnesses can happen anywhere. Of course, in some areas, certain serious diseases are much more common and it would be wise to take necessary precautions, such as immunization shots, before visiting those areas. And if you do get sick while traveling, it’s usually not so fun, especially when on your own and you can’t leave your hotel room or you’re in the hospital. But this is just one of the downsides and hopefully, you won’t have to deal with it!

It’s also always a good idea to check the safety of any activity you want to participate in because in some countries, the safety standards might not be up to par. If something were to happen, such as injury or being stranded in the middle of the water after the boat you were on sinks, the chances of compensation or medical coverage from the company, in many parts of the world, will be nonexistent.

When it comes to travel insurance, you could be in big trouble if you do get injured while overseas and you don’t have such coverage. In some countries, medical expenses can be exorbitant and if you had to be flown home as well, you’re looking at dishing out a ton of money. It’s also important to note that even with travel insurance, you are often only covered while traveling. So while your insurance might pay to fly you back to your home country for medical care, they may not cover any of your medical expenses once you land. Also, travel insurance doesn’t cover many ‘high-risk’ activities/sports, so you should always make sure you are aware of what your policy does cover before you do anything that could be deemed risky.

Climbing the Pyramid at Coba, Mexico

What else?

To be honest, I have no idea. When I first started this post, I assumed that I would be able to come up with a long list of potential, real risks that travelers should be fully aware about. But the above is all that came to mind apart from some other things that are just as risky as if you were doing them at home.

I guess I could also mention such things as…

  • Having difficulty once you return home after your travels. Maybe you won’t be able to find a job right away, you won’t have much money and you’re not motivated to do anything but travel some more, all while facing the challenge of reverse culture shock. That could be considered a risk you’ll be taking.
  • Terrorism/kidnapping definitely exists in several regions so it would generally be a wise idea to avoid those areas. At the same time, you can never avoid this risk altogether these days, you can only try to limit your chances of encountering it.
  • Transportation regulations in some parts of the world are somewhat ‘looser’ than in others and this means you should always familiarize yourself with local traffic rules (or the lack of), the road conditions, state of the buses or trains and to also think twice before renting or buying a scooter or motorcycle to buzz around on in order to reduce the potential risks associated with traveling from place to place.

The point is, yes, travel is risky and there is plenty that you should be aware of while overseas. But is it that much more risky than being at home and is there enough risk out there to make you think twice about traveling at all? I would say ‘no way!’.

At the same time, I wouldn’t go running around Thailand bragging that I’m now free to take as much drugs as I wish and party like never before and I wouldn’t go around Amsterdam telling everyone about my new ‘under the table’ job at a restaurant either. And if I were to pick up some construction work while in Australia, decide to hop on a sketchy looking ferry in Indonesia or travel to the tribal regions of Pakistan, I’d make sure I fully understand what I’m getting myself into and I’d have to decide whether or not I am prepared to accept the potential consequences.

What do you think? And what did I miss? What are some other risks associated with travel?


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Comments 102

  1. Aaron

    Thanks, Earl. Liking the site so far and it’s spurring me towards our next adventure. We travel with our young daughter and can certainly understand the risk/adventure relationship. Whether it’s in cities or jungles, there are risks that can be minimized by keeping a clear head about you. Whether its avoiding theft or potentially deadly scorpion stings, if you keep the basic practices for doing so on your mind, you can greatly minimize most risks. It’s when we let our common sense take a back seat that we open ourselves up for most potential risks. The same goes right here at “home”. Cheers.

  2. Travelin_G

    I offer you this question:
    Are you longing for “Adventure”? Isn’t that part of why we leave our comfortable homes and hit the road?
    And I ask this rhetorical question: “You can’t have adventure without….what?” My answer: “You can’t adventure without RISK!”
    For example, consider making a visit to Disney World. They promise you “the adventure of a lifetime!” Well, they might offer a lot of entertainment, but they offer you zero adventure .. because they offer zero risk! I mean, they want you to believe that taking the Pirates of the Caribbean ride is a “great adventure”. B.S.! It is absolutely zero adventure!
    But when we travelers hit the road, we are hoping it turns out to be at least a little bit of an adventure, right? And if you are seeking some degree of adventure, you will always be asking for some degree of risk.
    R=A The more Risk you take on, the more Adventure you might end up with.
    Sometimes I get frustrated with my travel partner when she tries to take all the risk out of a typical day of travel. “Oh we shouldn’t eat street food!” or “We don’t want to take that scary looking bus!” or “Our stuff will get stolen in that hostel! And the kitchen might be dirty!” Right, yes, and maybe. But what did we come here for?

    1. Wandering Earl

      @Travelin_G – I certainly do agree with that! It’s not for everyone but yes, adventure generally must involve some degree of risk for those who seek such travel experiences.

  3. George

    Hey Earl, after reading up online more on immunization shots and malaria pills. I was wondering what you did for it, most of the time sites online speak for vacationers, but I was wondering what a slow-paced traveler like yourself did in a malaria risk area, if you take the dreadful pills or just fight it off with DEET bug spray. Or another example, when traveling around South East Asia for periods of time, do you make sure you get vaccinated for Japanese Encephalitis, or just stick to the bug spray? Thank You!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey George – I’ve never taken malaria pills and I just use the bug spray when in malaria-prone areas. And for SE Asia, I never had the Japanese Encephalitis shot either. All I’ve had are the usual Hepatitis immunizations, typhoid and yellow fever.

  4. Chris

    Hey quick question, at the end of the article you made a comment about construction work in OZ being one of the less wise choices to make. Maybe I’m missing something but I was there recently on my Working Holiday and am not quite sure what downside to that your referring to, unless you mean doing it under the table which presents consequences any where in the world. Anyway just curious, great site by the way -Chris

  5. Michael B

    Nice picture of you at Coba. I have almost the same picture of my wife.

    Having been to a ‘few’ countries and territories I agree with your point completely. There is risk every where, just be smart and know what you are getting into.

  6. Pingback: Keep Your Backpack Safe In Hostels - How to Travel Safe

  7. Matthew Karsten

    One of my new favorite terms to whip out when this topic comes up is “Availability Heuristic”. If we repeatedly hear bad stories our mind incorrectly assumes that these situations are common.

    When in reality there are millions of travelers that have no problems at all. We just don’t hear their stories — because they aren’t as sensational/interesting to most people. “The Smith Family Had a Great Time in Mexico!” will never be a CNN headline. 🙂

    1. Rob S

      “Availability heuristic” – I had to look it up, but now that I know what it means, I’m going to start using it regularly. For those of you who don’t know what it means, here’s what About.com/Psychology said: “An availability heuristic is a mental shortcut that relies on immediate examples that come to mind.” Like you say, the stories we read are usually the horror stories, so they’re the ones that form our “mental shortcuts.” Now excuse me while I write “availability heuristic” 10 times to be sure I don’t forget it. Thanks!!

    2. Wandering Earl

      Hey Matthew – That’s a great term and definitely one I’m going to use from now on as well. It’s all so very true.

  8. Chris

    “There is barely a country in the world where you will be completely safe.” – Michael Palin

    The greatest dangers faced in ones life, are usually found at home!

  9. Steve C

    Breaking news: I’m jumping the gun a bit as an interview with the missing couple traveling in Peru has not found it’s way back to civilization yet.

    However, this is a good example of travel risk. This couple from California is riding their bikes on a South American adventure. They made the mistake of not contacting their friends and family back home of their next move. Early reports are that they decided to jump on a boat for a trip down the Amazon.

    This oversight has caused loved ones back home to think they were kidnapped or who knows what. US and Peruvian Government agencies have been scrambling to find them. Peru has been getting a lot of bad press as a dangerous country to travel and tour groups have reported people calling in to cancel their trips.

    Lesson to be learned from all this? If you are regularly corresponding with your friends and family, DON’T STOP!! If someone is expecting to hear from you, than let them know what’s up!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Steve – I was just reading about that myself. Amazing how quickly we can slap on a ‘dangerous’ label to a particular country before we even know the facts. Quite sad really.

  10. Patricia GW

    The riskiest activity I’ve encountered while traveling is eating food from marginal restaurants that made me very ill. That’s not going to stop me from trying new dishes or sampling the local street food, though. Getting too scared of the risks, you could miss out on the potential rewards.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Patricia – Glad to hear you don’t let that get you down! I certainly wouldn’t be able to stop sampling new dishes, no matter how many times I might get sick in the process 🙂

  11. Sam

    My brother, who lives in the part of East London (not the South African city!) where we grew up has unfortunately been mugged there at knife-point three times since his teens, loosing his phone, money and even a bicycle. I’ve travelled to more than 35 countries and never had any such problems in any of them. You’re right, Earl, just being alive can be dangerous!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Sam – And I think the country where I met you in person – Syria – is (or at least was) a great example. Who would have thought that Syria was as safe as it was when we were there? I felt safer there than just about anywhere else on the planet at the time.

  12. Vincent Vanzetti

    Great topic. I’ve had this conversation with family and friends so many times back in the U.S. When I lived in Chicago and Washington D.C., there were neighborhoods that I most certainly would not feel comfortable walking around in at night, mostly out of fear of being mugged at gun point. When I lived in Iraqi Kurdistan, I freely walked around the streets of my city at all hours.

    Of course that is a simplistic set of examples, but I wholly agree with your point that there are both dangerous and safe places in nearly every country. I think a sober assessment of risk is always necessary, being careful not to go overboard. It can quickly become a slippery slope to unfounded paranoia, like never flying out of fear of a crash, or putting on hand sanitizer every five minutes.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Vincent – That’s interesting because I often use Iraqi Kurdistan as an example of how the world is safer in many places than we imagine. I never felt in danger while traveling through that region at all, yet, almost nobody will believe me!

  13. Passport Dave

    Awesome post as always Wandering Earl! It’s good to see a travel blogger that actually conquers this topic. Too many either downplay all risks completely or hype them up so much that it scares people. You are spot on with your article. The biggest thing people should know is to simply travel smart. There are obviously risks, but if you keep your wits and not act foolish wherever you go then chances are you will be fine. All about using your head.

    1. Wandering Earl

      @Passport Dave – Knowing that everyone hasn’t different experiences everywhere they go, it’s just not wise for anyone to speak of travel as overly dangerous or absolutely safe. The best road is to talk about the reality…that risks exist, that some can be prevented, others can’t and you need to use common sense/awareness to stay as safe as you can. In my opinion, that methods works in just about every corner of the globe.

  14. LeslieRI

    I’m probably old for this group (52) but I wanted to say how much I admire ALL of you. I’m probably part of the cusp generation for accepted solo woman travel and can’t help but point out what is obvious too me but I’m not reading hear from the women responders. IF we were in that kidnap scenario, as women, it may have turned into a completely awful situation. Much as want to be so independent, and we are, the flip side in many countries including Western Civ is we are more vulnerable.
    I don’t go out at night unless I’m sure of the venue and the transportation back home. I would never stay anywhere but a bona fide travel destination.
    That said I am aware these are the limitations I put on myself and I’m not alone. Which brings me to my point of awe with everyone here. Such fearlessness.
    True confessions:
    I never want to leave the luxury travel niche for the middle income single woman. But I do love to meet people, thus the conundrum.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Leslie – All I can say is that while solo females do face some increased risks, something like being kidnapped has about as tiny of a chance of happening as anything else. There are thousands and thousands of solo female travelers out there, of all ages, and if being kidnapped was that much of a real possibility, it certainly would be something we would hear more of. I would say, go out there into the world, be cautious and aware, and enjoy what this planet has to offer!

  15. Prince Bhatia

    Hi Earl, Thanks for sharing this post, when I read your post about different ways to make money overseas I realize that most of these options are not for everyone. Because every nationality people cannot work freely on other countries easily except first world country people.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Prince – That is very true. The goal here was just to give a long list of options so that hopefully everyone can find one that might work for them.

  16. Maria

    Good post! To me, travel is like investing – How much do you have, how much do you want and what’s your personal acceptable level of risk? High yield requires risk, you might lose everything in a day. Low yield is safer for your capital investment but takes a lot longer to reach the same goal. Down to what you are personally comfortable with. Research is important in investments and travel. 🙂

  17. emma

    I have mixed feelings about this, because of how we define “safety”. Yes, I think anyone would be aware that being drunk, stoned, “flashing money around” or other incredibly obvious red flags would be a danger in both their homeland and anywhere they travel.

    However what I think isn’t addressed as often are what I consider more of the real and inescapable safety issues in other countries – ones that have little to do with stupidity or irresponsibility. I have a joint appointment at a University in Tanzania, and so I teach there in the (northern hemisphere) summer, and travel around East Africa solo for a few weeks or however long I can afford, after. I speak kiswahili and have made friends that I can stay with and I don’t travel at night, don’t drink heavily, don’t carry a lot of cash, don’t dress in “urban safariwear” but wear dusty jeans and flip flops like everyone else – I take the normal precautions. However despite my precautions I’ve picked up parasites, I’ve been in traffic accidents (I wasn’t driving, just a passenger using public transport and/or taxis), I’ve watched people walking nowhere near traffic get hit by a stray car in front of my eyes, I’ve also seen someone get randomly bit by a very sick looking dog as they walked down the road not even knowing the dog was near them. Add the lack of ANY emergency medical services, and even with travel insurance the lack of any nearby place to use this insurance, and yes, there are serious dangers to be aware of. None of these things came from recklessness or inattention, but from circumstances completely out of the ‘victims’ control. And these are things that normally wouldn’t happen (except of course the traffic accidents, but a bit more rare) in the US or Europe.

    I guess the point I want to make is that some countries come with more risk, despite any action you could take to keep yourself safe. The first time I traveled in East Africa these things were an eye opener to me. But of course when you put yourself in a foreign country with a different infrastructure, you subject yourself to all of the realities of that region. I remember reading travel blogs before I went, and picturing the smiles of the locals and the food and the panoramic views and the blowing dirt and the markets… I don’t remember ever reading about the also very real though less lovely safety issues, but I wish I had because it would have painted the real picture behind the postcard views. Clearly that hasn’t stopped me from living part of my life there – I love the life, the people, the experiences – but I love it knowing that it has two sides, both extreme.

    I’m a huge, HUGE fan of solo travel – and as a female I am especially passionate about solo female travel, and I consider it one of the pillars of who I am, and of my adult life. And I think it’s important to try to see the reality as best we can, and embrace the experience knowing the good and bad – not brushing off solo travel as “safer than living at home” or “danger is everywhere” – both are true, but neither really prepares someone (especially someone planning for more than a 2 week vacation, but rather immersing themselves in a culture) for the entire experience.

    1. Steve C

      Emma, I commend you on your solo travel in Africa. In my above comment, I stated that I’d only had trouble in about half a dozen countries out of about 60 I’ve visited over the years. Tanzania and Kenya are two of the half dozen. My experience is that in all my travels, Africa and Central America have given me the most trouble. Guatemala is still one of my most favorite countries and as soon as things settle down in West Africa, I really want to go to Mali. Am I crazy? (Don’t answer that) Life is an adventure and different people live it in different ways.

      Don’t we all want to go out doing what we love best?

    2. Kay @ Travel Bug Diary blog

      Emma, I think that’s a really good point. In my opinion, the biggest danger on most of my trips is traffic accidents. The riskiest thing I’ve done recently is take an overnight bus in Cambodia. The risk of tired driver crashing on a poorly paved road was probably pretty high. I’ve actually been in a pretty back car accident in Madagascar – a large drove into my van. I’m still surprised no one died.
      That said, all of the dangers I think I face (traffic accidents, getting drunk or high, losing my ATM card), don’t to overlap with the dangers my family and friends think I face. Skeptical family and friends think that I’m likely to get raped, killed in a terrorist attack, or just plain disappear. I think a lot of the people on this thread don’t think travel is risky because we know those hyped-up risks (rapes and terrorist attacks) are highly unlikely.

      1. emma

        Yep, I think that’s the key – the things my family and friends might worry about are really the least likely dangers, while the more mundane dangers (accidents, etc) are the more realistic ones.

  18. Larry

    Earl,

    So you’re saying no matter where in the world you go, you have to exercise some personal responsibility for your actions.

    (Sarcasm Begins)

    Well, that’s not what the people on the TV tell me. They tell me that anything that happens to me is someone else’s fault and I should sue them. It’s my right after all.

    (Sarcasm Ends)

    I hear the same kind of issues when I try to tell people that they should start investing in stocks.

    “Oh, no, stocks are risky. I don’t want to lose all my money.”

    “What if all the companies go bankrupt?”

    What they fail to realize is that with proper monitoring and asset allocation, stocks are less risky over the long term than the very low interest savings account they worship so much.

    You can just as easily lose money by failing to take any risk as you can by taking too much risk.

    Enjoying your blog.

    Larry

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Larry – Those are all good points and I think that we often just make broad assumptions about things we don’t know much about. It’s so much easier to take one news story and label an entire country as dangerous than it is to sit down and actually look at the facts.

  19. Olivia - young on the road

    The more I talk about the risks involved with travel – the more I feel I am psyching myself out and that something WILL happen. Caution and preparation is key, but I don’t think the fear should go overboard.

    Like you said, you have been travelling for so long and only a handful of people have been hurt/put in serious situations.

    As long as you have your wits about you then you should be fine. In the end, it all comes down to chance.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Olivia – The fear definitely should not go overboard or else you’ll end up walking around clutching your backpack tight and treating everyone you see on the streets with complete suspicion. I see people doing just that in many parts of the world. Be cautious but don’t let it control every minute of every day and you’ll have a much more rewarding travel experience.

  20. Zab

    When either travelling or going about our daily lives in our home country, self awareness and an understanding of our surroundings is something we all need to learn. I have spent much of my life living in London or other large cities in Europe and I hope I have acquired some good awareness of my surroundings. But it is silly not to learn and understand where we are or where we hope to go. This post is a valuable reminded of points to consider before and during our travels. Thanks!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Zab – And having an understanding of our surroundings does not take much effort. The more one travels or simply practices being aware, the easier it gets and eventually it becomes a natural part of travel.

  21. Andrew

    I think that you’re also failing to address the ethics of some of the jobs you mention. Laws restricting visitors from working, for example, exist to preserve jobs for citizens of a country and prevent depression of wages. In other cases, such as promoting clubs/restaurants in an informal way by hanging around hostels recommending them, I’d argue that you’re violating an expectation of honesty on the part of your fellow travelers. They think that they’re getting a genuine recommendation from a friend, when in fact they’re getting an advertisement from a paid promoter. Your efforts to make money while traveling shouldn’t come at the expense of the residents of the place where you’re living nor of your fellow travelers.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Andrew – I’ve just outlined the opportunities that are out there and they can all be handled in different ways. In some countries, those ‘under the table’ jobs exist because locals don’t want to do them or in some cases, there aren’t enough locals to fill all the positions. As for promoting clubs/tours/etc. to other travelers, I didn’t say anything about being dishonest. I wouldn’t recommend promoting something you don’t fully believe is worth promoting and if I were to use this option (which I haven’t personally attempted), I would tell the other travelers the situation. If you’re offering/promoting something that you genuinely feel is worthwhile and a great value, then there’s no reason to be dishonest.

  22. Peter Daams

    I once heard someone on radio discussing how fear is not rational. My takeaway was that the more you can “imagine” the pain or suffering, the more you will be likely to change your behaviour.

    For example, if you hear news about someone having their eyes poked out by someone while they were walking around town crossing some intersection you know of, you would probably be able to imagine this horrific thing and be absolutely petrified walking around that intersection again. Never mind it was a freak incident.

    But news of a car crash on that intersection (which you’d be lucky to even have make the news) would probably not really dwell on your mind at all.

    I think it’s the same with travel. People’s imagination runs wild when they hear stories of bad things in other places. As a result, they are more fearful of it than they are of the run-of-the-mill bad things that happen on a daily basis at home.

    Fear is not rational.

    I tend to think the US is also not nearly as bad as some of these comments make out. Again, I feel this is down to all the horrific things people watch on television and spending too much time thinking about it. If you stopped to think about it rationally, you’d realise that everyday mishaps are far more likely than those horrible things you see on television.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Peter – That makes sense to me. It sort of reminds me of my recent trip to India. While I was there, one of my family members at home read something about a terrible train crash in India where there were a few foreigners seriously injured. So I received an email telling me not to take the trains in India. Not so rational indeed.

  23. Rob S

    I’ve been living in Sihanoukville Cambodia for nearly 7 years now. I started my blog about 2 1/2 years ago mostly because I was annoyed by all the talk on forums about how dangerous it is here. Yes, it’s dangerous if you’re drunk or stoned (or both) and stumbling around at 2am, but I don’t find it dangerous at all. As far as theft is concerned, I had a 2 year old mountain bike stolen in Australia. I brought my replacement mountain bike with me here and it’s still with me after all this time.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Rob – Thanks for sharing that tale…it’s another example that things happen all over the place and that travel can be perfectly safe.

  24. Odysseus Drifts

    Hi Luisa! I read your comment and thought I’d respond because I’m a woman who often (though not always) travels alone. In fact, out of the past 3 and a half years, I’ve only spent a total of 6 weeks in my homeland.

    I understand your concerns about sexual violence because whenever I’m alone, I share those exact same concerns. I’ve had two really bad experiences of sexual threat, once while I was inside my apt. in Korea, and once while I was walking down a main street in Ann Arbor, MI. Thank God, I managed to escape the men in both these incidences before they could physically harm me. (And I’m certain that in both these incidences, had the men been able to get a hold of me, they WOULD have sexually assaulted me.) A very important thing to note, however, is that it didn’t matter where I was at. The small, charming city of Ann Arbor is like a second home to me. I lived there for eight years. And while I only lived in Seoul, Korea for 2 years, I found it to be an extremely safe place. The sad truth is that even safe places have the potential to harbor a few bad men. But you shouldn’t let the fears these men inspire, even when they’re justifiable, stop you from doing what you want to do or going where you want to go.

    The great majority of people I meet when I’m traveling alone seem to want to protect me, look out for me. I’ve had families who’ve taken me under their wing to invite me into their homes for lunch or into a park to share their picnics. I’ve had men who have told me I remind them of their daughter, and then help me find my way when I was lost. While hitch hiking, I’ve gotten into the cars of men I didn’t know, and . . . absolutely nothing bad happened, just kind words and sometimes an offering to share whatever they had on hand — fruit, water, tea. One of the best feelings that traveling gives me is that it forces me to trust people, and when those people show kindness, the world grows a little smaller and my heart grows a little bigger. So yes, Luisa, as you already know, it’s a far bigger risk for a woman to travel alone than a solo man — but it’s also a risk just to live alone as a woman. Live your life so big that it becomes worth the risks.

    Oh, and here’s a post I wrote a year or so ago about being afraid to travel.
    http://odysseusdrifts.blogspot.com.au/search/label/Afraid to Travel

    (I hope you don’t mind my sharing it, Earl. I stopped blogging a year ago, so I’m not trying to steal your traffic. Just want to share this one. 🙂 )

  25. Anita Mac

    Well said Earl! I have had accidents both at home and overseas. Accidents happen! Life is funny that way. I got mugged and hit by a bus in South America. Long term…a little tendonitis in my shoulders – nothing serious. At home – fell off my bike and cracked my skull. Long term…somewhat more serious! These things happen. Like you said…keep your wits about you, don’t go overboard and most people are fine!

    I guess it is sort of like people who are afraid to fly in case the plane drops from the sky. Reality – you are more likely to have a car accident or be hit by a bus (so I guess I should be fine for life now!! 🙂 ) The plane crash is more sensational that the thousands of car accidents that happen each day, just like a terrible incident involving tourists is more sensational that when someone gets mugged at home!

    Take out insurance just in case, be aware of your surroundings and belongings, and don’t travel to a war zone! Sad to see so many people miss out because they are afraid. As for me, can’t wait for the next adventure to begin!

    Play safe. Have fun. Happy travels.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Anita – You do seem to have those accidents covered already so hopefully that will be it for you! It’s a good point about the sensational aspect of tourist-related incidents overseas…they always grab the headlines. And it’s certainly good to know about them in order to be aware but sometimes this leads to us feeling that travel has instantly become a huge risk after one particular incident.

  26. Steve C

    A great topic Earl. Everyone has a different place to draw the line in the sand of what’s risky or not. In reality, it’s not a line but a huge grey area. It’s interesting to me, what some people come up with, what they consider fun. I don’t skydive, bungee jump or even downhill ski. I’ll drink a beer or two, but not a six pack. I’ll go walking after dark, but I’ll really consider the area first.

    I think a lot to do with it is age and experience. I was a big risk taker when I was 20 and in Vietnam. Forty years later, and many miles of travel under my belt, my idea of risk has changed substantially. Out of over sixty countries, I’d say there were less than half a dozen that contributed greatly to my outlook now. I’ve been stabbed, robbed, set up and thrown in jail, pick-pocketed and ripped off changing money on the black market. Looking back, some of these could have been avoided knowing now, what I didn’t know then. Some not.

    Everything you do, everywhere you go has a certain amount of risk. Some “uncommon” (great quote: see above) common sense usually works to keep you safe. Sometimes, no matter what you do, S**t happens.

    However, I intend to travel ’till I die, no matter what the risks. No human has ever escaped the inevitable, here or there. Don’t worry, stay happy!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Steve – Great comment! We definitely learn how to be more aware and how to stay a little safer the more we travel and gain experience but like you said, we can never guarantee that we’ll avoid such an incident. Stuff does happen and that’s part of life. Glad to hear you’ve kept on traveling despite those unfortunate situations you’ve been in over the years!

  27. Forest Parks

    Just a few weeks ago I remember reading the terrible story of the two travelers who were held hostage for a few days and severely beaten in a Peruvian village. It was terrible but instantly reminded me of a story circulating the same time stateside where a group of frat boys drugged a girl and carried her party to party with multiple people sexually molesting her. Terrible things happen in this world and they happen all over. Sometimes I arrive to my home town, London, after being away for a long while and it just seems so so dangerous compared to the rest of the big bad world!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Forest – The thing is, there are indeed such examples in every corner of the globe and so we can either live in fear and stay inside our home or we can go out into the world, as prepared and aware as possible and make the most out of our lives.

  28. RunAwayHippie

    Interesting post Earl. I agree that it is good to not ignore possible risks of travel but at the same time not to stress too much. I plan on leaving for Europe after i finish high school this spring. However my parents are always stressing about how scary it is out there in the world. I mean of course I understand where they are coming from. An 18 year old girl heading to Europe all by herself for a few months would be scary for parents. But I think that (especially in Europe) the risk is around the same as it would be back at home in Canada. I think that as long as you understand the risks and think through the decisions you make, then for the most part it is unlikely that something would go wrong. I just wish that my parents would see this the same way I do. You explain everything perfectly so I’m going to show this to them! Hopefully it helps! Thanks Earl!

  29. Ryan

    The only time I’ve had a bad experience while traveling was in Mexico. At the time I was living in San Diego and me and a friend would go down to Baja Mexico, a few hours south of Tijuana. There was a particular surf spot that we were going to where we would camp out for the night. During our drive down there we had to go through a very small town where we were immediately pulled over by police for supposedly running a stop sign (which we didn’t) and were ordered to pay $100. When we said we weren’t going to pay they took us across the street and put us in this little jail cell. After around 30 minutes we finally gave them all the money we had and they let us out. We then proceeded on to our surf spot destination where we set up camp in an extremely remote area away from everything (the next closest small town was 15 miles away). At around midnight while sitting by the fire we started to hear noises. We eventually realized there was someone in our tent. I immediately ran over to our tent and saw that the door was open and our backpacks gone which had our money, credit cards, passports and phones. Apparently someone or a group of people came in and stole everything and we just missed them. We were right along the coast and nothing but dark open field in the back so I don’t know where they could have gone. We ended up staying there that night hoping they wouldn’t come back looking for more things. The next morning we left barely making it out of Mexico with no IDs or money.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Ryan – That’s an unfortunate experience for sure. I can’t imagine dealing with all that. And it might be best that your stuff was gone when you got to the tent…had you encountered someone right there, who knows what might have happened.

    2. emma

      Ryan, the fake traffic violation is (at least in my experience) really common! The odd times I’ve driven myself around in Mexico I’ve had a small purse of money on hand that is specifically for getting pulled over. I didn’t have it the first time and actually had to give the cop all the money I had. Then I read online that some people would carry a second purse with some amount of money (this was years ago & I can’t remember how much, but they’d advised some figure that would be enough to satisfy but not so much to ruin your trip) and I took this advice, but it wasn’t until a few trips later that I needed to deploy the second-purse when pulled over for “speeding” (I wasn’t). I was with my young child, so I was really, really nervous but it went very smoothly. My child is a teenager now and still remembers the “angry police man” and how we got scammed by a gas station attendant about 10 minutes after the traffic shakedown.

      I’m sorry your stuff got stolen besides. I haven’t been to Mexico in years, but it sounds like it’s a slightly different place safety-wise now than it used to be, and I guess we should feel lucky we just lost some possessions.

    3. Steve C

      Ryan, your traffic stop in Mexico reminded me of an instance I had while driving in Russia. We were driving to Moscow and took a side trip into a small town to find some lunch. I was quickly pulled over by a Russian Cop. He didn’t speak a word of English and I didn’t speak a word of Russian. He pulled out his book and pointed to several pictures of signs. I still didn’t know why he had pulled me over until a kind passerby who did speak some English helped me out. I really had to laugh when he said that in Russia you cannot make a left turn in an intersection unless there is a sign that says you can. Just the opposite of here where you can unless there’s a sign that says you can’t! I’ll have to say that the cop was on the up and up as he only wanted to see my passport. In it, he wrote a note that would be read by the boarder guards when I finally left the country. At that point, a week later, I ended up having to pay the traffic fine, maybe ten bucks as I can’t remember anymore, and then I was free to leave Russia. Boy, was I sweat’n that for the week until we left as it could have been any amount. Just an example of “Who’d a thunk it?”

  30. Jeremy Branham

    Good tips from years of travel experience. I had no idea you had been kidnapped but that was a fascinating read. Could have turned out a lot worse.

    I think for most people, they will never have to deal with most of these. The most common one for people will be sickness or injury. As travelers, there are some things we need to be aware of like local and international laws, visas, job requirements, etc. However, common sense applies in many situations.

    And of course, don’t be lazy. Just be aware of your surroundings and don’t arrive in Bangladesh after 2 am 🙂

  31. Chambrey@VolunteerTravelTips

    I definitely agree with this. There is risk to everything you do and everywhere you are whether at home or abroad you just have to decide if you want to take that risk or not. And use your common sense, be aware of your surroundings, walk with confidence, and if you are out late make sure you are with people you know especially if you’re a girl. One time I wore flip flops to hike an unrestored part of the Great Wall. Not the best decision making skills!

  32. Colleen

    Also, places like Vien Vieng are a deadly cocktail of too much partying and dangerous activities. They don’t close it down when the river is low. People are hurt all the time in the shallow water, on the rocks, etc.

  33. Colleen

    I do think the greatest risks to travelers are self-inflicted and usually involve alcohol or drugs. I stayed in a Bali hospital for 3 days while my son was treated for a climbing fall. Literally and without exception, every person I spoke with in the emergency room, which was about 10, during that 72 hour period was there because of a combination of drinking and driving their rented motorbikes and having accidents.

    Girls, especially get into ‘situations’ that turn uncontrollable with too much alcohol on board. Watch your glass. Stuff being added to your drink by someone who wants to rob or rape in on the rise.

    Most robberies of tourists happen late at night when walking home under the influence. The robbers watch who exits the bar late and is in bad shape.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Colleen – All very true. I absolutely agree that drugs/alcohol lead to many of the incidents that happen with travelers. There’s no way you can be aware of your surroundings under the influence and that can lead to real trouble.

  34. Mzuri

    I agree with others; this is a realistic, common sense post that puts travel dangers in perspective.

    You didn’t say this, but I do take issue with travelers who like to say, oftentimes in a condescending tone, that “as long as you don’t do anything stupid …” you’ll be OK. That’s not realistic either. Sometimes shitty things happen, even when you’re alert and doing everything you’re “supposed” to do.

    1. Kay @ Travel Bug Diary blog

      I have mixed feelings about the “as long as you don’t do anything stupid …” comment. You don’t want to blame the victim, of course. At the same time, travelers can keep themselves safer by not displaying their money to the entire world, avoiding getting drunk with strangers, and staying alert. Bad things happen while you’re doing “everything right”, but they’re more likely to happen when you’re careless. I lost ATM cards three times on my travels, and I was careless, sleep deprived, and in a hurry each time.

    2. Wandering Earl

      Hey Mzuri – I do agree that things happen anywhere and at any time, but acting ‘stupid’ can sometimes increase the risk. Getting trashed at a bar in a strange city and then wandering back to the hostel on your own late at night, could lead to an incident that could easily have been avoided.

    3. Mzuri

      I didn’t do a very good job of expressing myself. For me, it’s a given that behaving recklessly/stupidly/carelessly makes it more likely for bad things to happen while traveling.

      What I objected to are individuals who discount people’s safety concerns by saying that “as long as you don’t do something stupid, you’ll be OK,” as if bad things only happen to those who behave stupidly/recklessly/carelessly. I have similar objections to those who assert that, because *they* didn’t experience any bad situations (or feel insecure), a place is therefore safe.

      What I like so much about the blog post is that it is filled with solid common sense that puts the risks of travel in realistic perspective.

      1. Wandering Earl

        Hey Mzuri – That makes sense. And it’s a good point about claiming that a particular place is or isn’t safe because of one person’s experience. In fact, any kind of generalization about any aspect of travel isn’t valid because no two people ever have the same experience anywhere.

  35. Steven

    There is always an inherent risk in travel, as well as there is staying at home. Unfortunatley twice I have had a gun pulled on me. Once in a gas station in the US (just a random occurrence – wrong place – wrong time) and the other in club in Moscow in 1996. Moscow was pretty scary for a period of time in the mid to late 90’s, and I had been warned, but the offer of 3 weeks accomodation from an embassy worker was too hard to resist.

    On injuries, just the other week my in-laws were wisiting me in the US, and my mother in law fell and broke her wrist in several places. $16,000 surgery bill. Luckily they had travel insurance – but that could have happened back in Australia as well

    1. Steven

      Just remembered re the mother-in-law and what I considered to be a bad practise from the insurance company.

      The accident happened in the first week of a 5 week stay. The insurance companies intitial response was to state they would change the tickets and fly the in-laws home in the next two days. We then asked what would happen after that and they stated “We only insure while oversea’s, once back in Australia you can use the public health or your own private insurance”

      So they would have cut the visit short by 4 weeks, for a non life threatening (and realistically a non holiday threatening injury – you can walk, talk, eat, travel with a broken wrist). All to save money – all up in the US it cost $16,000 for the surgery and orthopedic visits – they initially wanted to only pay the cost to change the flight’s (under $2,000) with nothing else for loss of holiday time, no follow up etc. We did stand firm and state it was impossible to cut the visit short and cited various reasons. It took about 36 hours for the insurance company to relent and let the surgery happen in the US, and thus have them finish there vacation.

  36. Lien

    i also agree with Gigi about the pick-pocket, i was pick-pocketed quite a few times in Madrid, Barcelona, Amsterdam but i was not in, or felt the danger of being assaulted, bodily harmed as here in the USA.

  37. Lien

    Hi Earl,
    Thank for this post. so far i also feel safer wandering around myself abroad (Europe, Asia, South America) than in the US. What kind of travel insurance do you get? you mentioned your relative who had injured her leg after falling while on a trip to New Zealand and was taken care of without having to pay for anything, you mean the health system there took care of that?
    Best wishes,
    lien

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Lien – I have my own health insurance back in the US and then I take out travel insurance either from World Nomads or Clements. And with my relative, yes, the health care system in NZ did not require her to pay anything.

  38. Luisa

    Hi Earl,

    Good topic for a post. It’s true there are dangers involved. I agree it’s not as dangerous as sometimes people think, specially if they never read about this kind of traveling before people tend to think everything is harder and more dangerous than it really is. Like you said, right now there are hundreds of people traveling the world with amazing experiences! But I’m not sure I would say is “as dangerous” as being “home” either.

    Either way, someone told me something that made me think… When I argued that I had read several accounts from people who had traveled around the world and never reported any bad experiences this person told me that often the really awful experiences are not shared online, in the blogs and websites where all the nice experiences and beautiful photos are. I guess there’s some truth to that.

    I’m a woman and I’ll be traveling alone, so I’ll say one of my main worries is the possibility of sexual violence. I can totally imagine that that’s not something everyone would feel comfortable sharing in their blog even if it happened to them. The fact that there are no accounts doesn’t mean it never happened.

    We all know that it’s something that even at home is often not reported, either because people are ashamed or afraid, so it’s not hard to imagine that being in a strange country, under the stress of traveling and with no family support easily at hand, won’t increase the likelihood of people sharing that with total strangers.

    1. Laura

      That’s a good point Luisa. I agree that it’s easier to talk about fun experiences than difficult ones.
      Another thing to think about is that part of the danger lies in not understanding another culture as well as your own. Sure, there are a lot of dangerous places in the US, but I often know where not to go. I can tell if someone is acting strange and can see the warning signs. Sometimes it’s harder to “read” people and situations if you’re not used to the culture.

      Case in point, my parents had a neighbor who would often talk to them (a lot!) and try to come into their apartment. They didn’t understand anything she was saying, but didn’t feel too bad. Later, they had a local friend over when she knocked on their door. While she was talking, their friend got very uncomfortable. The friends told them after she left that the lady was saying some really crazy things, and they should not let her in anymore.

    2. Wandering Earl

      Hey Luisa – I see your point. While some things don’t get reported, plenty does though (just check any news website) and so the fact that I’ve never come across more than a handful of such serious incidents in over 13 years of travel, considering the thousands of people I’ve met, lived with and worked with overseas, is still something to take note of.

    3. Rob S

      Forums seem to be the places where people share awful experiences. While it’s good that platforms like these exist, you need to read between the lines when you’re on forums. Often, one disgruntled individual will start a thread and keep it alive. One I’m thinking of in particular was started over 2 years ago and there are maybe 4 accounts of bad experiences spread between 2008 and the present, but repeated and commented on so frequently, the casual reader would think they happened every day.

    4. rose

      Good point Luisa, that is also one of my biggest worries when travelling. I was once in a very scary situation that fortunately got cut short when a train official intervened. I have also had a few friends relate stories of agressions during travels – most of them feel ashamed about them, rather than outraged, and don’t go telling them to everyone. While I think that the chances of being sexually assaulted are just as high living in North America (or Europe) as during travel, it is definitely something to keep in mind while travelling!

    1. Laura

      Why would you say that? It’s certainly not the safest, but it’s definitely not the most dangerous.
      In 2010 (and other years, but I couldn’t find one for last year), Forbes had experts create a list of the top 15 most dangerous countries in the world. According to them, Afghanistan was the most dangerous with Iraq and Somalia following. While I’m sure things have changed a little in the last few years, I doubt that America has suddenly jumped onto the list.

      Feel free to look over.

      http://www.forbes.com/2010/01/14/most-dangerous-countries-lifestyle-travel-haiti-afghanistan-iraq_slide_16.html

  39. Gigi

    I totally agree about feeling safer abroad than in the US. Particularly since I’ve been spending most of my time lately in Europe. Here I’m more likely to get pick pocketed than at home. But at home I’m more likely to have my car stolen or be assaulted. As I told my parents, I’ll take the higher incidence of pick-pocketing any day of the week. And, as you also mentioned, much of it has to do with being a conscious traveler. Being aware of your surroundings. Not taking unnecessary risks. And when you do take a risk, being fully aware of what you’re doing and what the potential consequences are.

    That said, in 14 years of traveling nearly every year and now almost a year of full-time travel, I’ve never had anything worse than a little pick-pocketing happen (and the pick pocketing I mention? Someone pulled my scarf out of the open pocket of my backpack in Morocco; sad, but not a huge deal).

    Excellent post.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Gigi – And there’s many more of us out there who have been traveling for long periods of time and really have only had to deal with a pick-pocketing or two, nothing more serious than that. Also, the more we travel, the more aware we are and before long, staying aware becomes natural.

  40. Kay @ Travel Bug Diary blog

    All really good points. I’ve been traveling independently for over 10 years, and in my experience the “dangerous” situations I faced have been my own doing. I’ve lost ATM cards or just forgot to bring cash (kind innkeepers lent me money in both cases) and drove a rental car into a pole (I’m still working with my insurance company to resolve that one). It’s interesting, because both losing money and damaging a rental card are pedestrian mishaps that can happen to any kind of traveler – both backpacker and package tourist.
    I’m not much of a partier, so it’s not hard to avoid the dangers that often come with getting drunk and losing your ability to make sound judgements. Gary Arndt at Everything-Everywhere blogged about staying safe by avoiding nightclubs – and I tend to agree that the most dangerous situation a solo traveler can into is to be drunk and out of control in a club.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Kay – I agree with that as well. It’s amazing how many times I hear a traveler tell me they had something stolen and then after telling the complete story, they finally throw in that they were drunk or had been partying all night before the incident. And when I had my wallet pickpocketed, it was definitely my fault for my wallet inside of the front velcro pocket on my pants which made it a ridiculously easy target. Had never done it before, but I did it then and there you go…

  41. Michael Hodson

    Great post, Earl and I totally agree. As another avid traveler, I also don’t like overemphasizing the risks of travel, but at the same time, I also hate to see all of the posts and tweets all the time saying that each and every location is totally safe. For the most part, travel isn’t much more dangerous than being in a city in your home country, but there are some unique risks to travel that shouldn’t be underemphasized. Thanks for the excellent contribution to this topic.

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