Many travelers can agree that there is a huge gap in misinformation when it comes to safety abroad. Media profits are driven by ratings. Studies have shown that most viewers will be glued longer if they display negative news or fear, especially for American news. The country that thrives #1 on capitalism will prioritize capital (money) over the knowledge and wellbeing of their people. Hence, the American media is willing to instill fear into their people if it means making more money. It means making a major profit even if they have to dumb their citizens down. As someone who spends months out of every year abroad, I’m here to dispell a lot of misconceptions about other countries and to explore the question: How safe is it to travel abroad?
And to also explore the uncomfortable question: How safe is it to actually live and be in the United States of America? With the number of random mass shootings happening throughout our country, are we really safer than when we travel abroad? Even when compared to the Middle-East? To Mexico? To other developing or “war-torn” countries?
Questions to Ask on How Safe is it to Travel Abroad
- The first concerns and fears that pop up in your mind about certain countries most likely came from things you heard on the news or through friends.
- Do your own research. The best that you can, on the statistics of those crimes and nuisances.
- We have limited news from abroad, some countries are more limited than others.
- Research travel blogs as they will likely give you personal feedback than generalized news.
- Research where in these countries these occurrences are happening.
- Are they in a specific region of a country?
- Are the crimes targeted to a specific demographic, gender, ethnic group, religion? Some examples which you can read more on below:
- Do your own research. The best that you can, on the statistics of those crimes and nuisances.
Random Mass Shootings Make the US Unpredictable & Unsafe
I have been sounding like a broken record the past few years when people ask if ____ is safe to travel to. People ask about getting pickpocketed in Italy. Or the van driven into a cafe that killed a few people in France. People ask if it’s safe to travel to a whole region, like the Middle-East, because of a war happening in Syria. These are all legit questions. But I ask these people to take a step back and re-evaluate the lens in which they are looking through. Simply examine it from an academic, practical and statistical standpoint. In most crimes happening around the world, we can narrow down which cities and areas these attacks occur more or less. And which areas you definitely should avoid.
When it comes to mass shootings in the US, there is virtually 0 indications of where it has and will occur next. The only thing we know is that the perpetrators have been all males, and the majority, white males. Those that dispute this theory show photos of African-American and Mexican men who also committed murders by guns. But the majority of those happened in gang-ridden areas or within domestic disputes. They weren’t random, mapped out shootings. There is a difference. These mass shootings have occurred in kindergarden, army bases, shopping centers, movie theatres, yoga studios, bars, concerts, churches, mosques, synagogues and even in a market in Los Angeles (Trader Joes in Silverlake). No one is spared from potentially getting murdered at any point after they step outside of their house.
The US is a lot More Dangerous to Live in than Many Think
I wrote this on a recent Facebook post:
To all those terrified that I was traveling to Iran, Lebanon and India: Let’s be practical here. You’re more likely to be murdered stepping out of your house here in the United States. Let me please warn you about sending your kids to school tomorrow, or going to the market or movies or mall or church. Purely from a statistical standpoint. Wake the f up. 🇺🇸🖕🏽
“Oh but we live in the greatest country of all! Freedom of speech and human rights, unlike those shithole countries!”
This post resonated with a lot of people. Not with only travelers but also parents who are terrified to send their kids to school every morning. I know an Iraqi refugee living in LA who said that during the Iraq war, she didn’t know if her sons were going to return home from school each day because of all the bombings. Who would have ever imagined that this would become the reality of living in America in 2019? So many people are numb to this because outside of the mass shootings happening in our large country, most people live in peace (without the sound of bullets and bombs). Until it happens to them. And when you have a handful of people murdered who you knew from only one degree of separation, you know it’s a real problem.
I had someone leave a comment saying that living in a country isn’t the same as traveling there. And that these people are “waiting in line to come to America”. There are certainly some people seeking asylum to the US. Or those that dream of coming for better economic opportunities. But not all, not even the majority in these countries. And to assume that everyone from “those countries” want to move here is such a typical western-centric, arrogant American mentality. There are plenty of people throughout the world in Mexico, Iran, Bangladesh, Cambodia and even Syria who would prefer to live in their own country. The world is not as obsessed with living in the US as Americans imagine.
Obsession of Guns make the US more Dangerous (and Egotistical)
Through the conversations I have while traveling, I have people of all ages ask me on a daily basis if it’s super dangerous to live in America with as many guns there are. People are genuinely confused about why Americans are so obsessed. And even more, confused why our laws aren’t stricter with gun laws. Or why we don’t simply ban guns altogether, because really, NO ONE NEEDS GUNS. And people making arguments that we should confiscate knives and cars too because it CAN also kill people are seriously just idiotic to me. The primary purpose of knives and car are not to murder. Guns are. To murder animals or to take out other people in war.
I have had people tell me on a daily basis throughout the Middle-East how they wouldn’t trade in the “perks” of living in America if the risk meant having their children potentially shot to death in school. And this liberty, freedom and capitalism that work for so many Americans are not necesarily the priority of other citizens of the world.
Countries that Many Fear Visiting & Why
Now that we are passed the idea that the USA must be the safer than abroad, let’s move on to exploring some countries and crises that have made these destinations considered “unsafe”. Perhaps it’ll dispell some myths and misconceptions as well as get people to thinking differently when evaluating whether or not a country is “safe” to travel to.
Should You Travel to Myanmar During the Rohingya Crisis? As the Rohingya crisis made international news in the past few years (as rightfully so), many people had different views on traveling there. Misconceptions:
“The whole country of Myanmar must be super
dangerous because of these problems!”
Some people thought that it would be incredibly dangerous. They imagined that the whole country was at war. My friend Rachel is a Morning News Broadcaster in Santa Cruz. This means that she is the first to be informed on domestic and international news, every single day. She hadn’t traveled to Asia before and was doing a 2 week trip with her husband. They had initially planned to visit Thailand and Laos, but my friend Dave (DavesTravelCorner.com) and I convinced them to visit Myanmar instead. This was in January 2018 while the Rohingya crisis was still going on. They trusted us to go though were scared.
I met her after her trip and she was so happy that she decided to go. She was thrilled to have met the wonderful Burmese people of various tribes, the cooking classes she took and the gorgeous scenary. She was also glad that she was able to dispell the myth that all of Myanmar was in shambles. But to also learn of the situation of the Rohingya crisis in the actual country where it was happening. Unfortunately, travelers and most people are not allowed in Rakhine state, but one will learn more about situations when they are physically closer. And actually be in that country versus simply hearing it from international news outlets.
“It’s Morally Wrong to Travel to Myanmar now
Because you’re Supporting the Government.”
It is debatable whether it’s “morally wrong” to travel to Myanmar, or any country during conflict involving the government. Or if you don’t agree with their social rights and laws. This is assuming that you are directly supporting the government if you travel there. You can do your research on how much the government really gets per traveler that goes there. Do they have stakes in airlines, hotels and tax while you are there? If so, what % do they really take? It’s virtually impossible to know exactly.
But what I do know is that we were supporting the locals more than the government. When we stayed in guesthouses, when we ate a local restaurant, when we tipped tour guides and used tourist services, it went to the people. And the locals all had voiced how much their families had suffered because of the massive drop in tourism since the crisis made the international news.
What is Happening in One Area Doesn’t Mean that the
Rest of the Country is Unsafe to Travel to
Most of the Burmese people we spoke to also had very different opinions on the crisis. On the one hand, their news came from what the Myanmar government decided to feed them. Sound familiar? (How bad did the communists sound when the US invaded Vietnam?) On the other hand, they also had first hand experience on what was happening in their own country. Some Burmese people did despise the Rohingyas because of their cultural and religious differences. This is the same racism that occurs everywhere in the world. Some others voiced that the Rohingyas had been in conflict with the Burmese people since they had arrived throughout the last 200 years. The violence had apparently been occurring both ways. Local news showed Rohingyas burning down Buddhist temples and raping women. Just as much were shown of photos of violent Monks and military attacking the Rohingyas.
What was happening more? Chicken or the Egg? Most people really don’t know except the insiders. It’s similar to the Israel Palestine situation. Either way, what we know is that what was happening was confined in a small land space of Myanmar in a small western state (bordering Bangladesh). So when traveling throughout Myanmar, one wouldn’t even feel what was happening except in conversation.
In conclusion, when you travel, it’s not about supporting the government or their ideologies.
It’s about the cultural, people to people interaction.
Whether you go to Myanmar, to Saudi Arabia or to Senegal.
Safety Concerns with Traveling to the Middle East
No one will deny that the contrast between American versus Middle-Eastern values as far as politics, religion, gender roles and ideas of “freedom” couldn’t be more different. What we see as the “right way” is often seen differently there and elsewhere. But when it comes to safety and living, in most of the Middle-East, as long as you follow laws, you will likely be safer than being in the United States. I’m talking about the potential of getting murdered or sexual assault/rape for women. Yes I am aware that there are many things happening that aren’t reported in the news or crimes that go unpunished. This happens in the US too. Alabama was on the verge of crowning Roy Moore as Senator, an ex-judge who was known as a pedophile. And yet his supporters said ‘who cares’, anything but a democrat!
People Often Confuse Strict Laws + Harsh Punishments = Dangerous Country
Let’s clarify that there is a difference in living in America, where you can virtually wear anything (except be nude in public). And say anything you want against the government and not get in trouble. I recognize these freedoms. I’m an American born Taiwanese-Chinese woman that enjoy this freedom every day. Many other governments abroad will jail you for these things that Americans take for granted. But freedom in speech and dress doesn’t equate to being the safest country.
Living in countries with strict laws and harsh punishments also doesn’t make it automatically more dangerous to live in. It does mean though that if you break those laws, that your punishment will be a lot harsher than in the US. And yes that does suck. But this post now is not about that, it’s about how safe it is to travel abroad. Because of strict laws throughout the Middle-East, especially when it comes to harming tourists, crimes rarely happen as a result.
Traveling to Iran VS Protesting Against the Government
I recently returned from traveling in Iran. I followed the rules of covering up my hair and body. Didn’t speak out against the government while I was there. I felt very safe. I didn’t get catcalled, harassed or bothered once in 12 days. There has been news of Iranian women imprisoned for 15+ years for defying the Hijab (head covering). That is the catchy news headline itself. Read more and they have also been charged for protesting on the streets, exploiting prostitution and speaking out against their government. Most of us don’t know the extent of the arrest. And there is no doubt that it sucks to be jailed for those things Americans can easily do but there is often more to the story than the headline.
Being Drunk in Public in the UAE: Dubai
Another catchy headline that made controversy recently was a white western woman who was arrested in the Dubai airport for showing up after having “a drink” on the plane. Read further and she was apparently drunk, making a scene and fighting with officials at the airport. Yes, it sucks to live in a country where being drunk in public can lead to arrest. But do we not have that law in the US either? How many of my friends were sent to the “drunk tank” back during spring break for being drunk in public? Sure, it’s more socially acceptable to run around intoxicated in the west, but some countries have stricter laws against it.
Once again, if you know the laws while traveling to a destination, just abide by it in your short duration there. Having 1 drink on the plane, or even going clubbing all night in Dubai won’t get you arrested. Being obnoxiously drunk when you show up to the airport in the UAE will.
Even when you are researching countries like Iraq which is high on the DO NOT TRAVEL LIST, it’s due to certain areas in the south occupied by corrupt terrorist groups and ISIS. Kurdistan in the north is still safe to travel to. As well as parts of Syria that were untouched during the war.
The Case for Mugging in South America
I haven’t explored South America as much. I’ve been to Peru, Argentina and Colombia. Those are generally safe places to travel to. But as I mention time and time again, talk to people who have actually traveled there to see their experience. What I have heard many times from those traveling to Brazil that approximately 1 out of 3 people have been robbed, mugged or held at gunpoint at one time or another. I had a friend mugged in Colombia. Rarely do you hear anyone getting murdered. Ok yes, that is effing terrifying. So take those precautions. Can you prevent it? And if not, are those occurences more dangerous than actually getting caught in a mass murder in the US?
Take your precautions when traveling there. Keep your money in several spots in your luggage. Don’t wear flashy jewelry. Dress down. Simple precautions and preparation go a long way.
Read more about boating down the Delta de Tigre, an hour south of Buenos Aires in Argentina.
Rape in India: Is It Really that Scary?
India has made international news for rape, with Delhi being named “Rape Capital of the World”. Statistics do show high counts of rape. When I traveled solo for the first time in 2008, I had done years of research prior to going. I read that it was much safer as a woman to travel (and live) in the south than the north. But it also depends on regions as there are areas in the north more safe than the south. Some women have been grabbed in India, more than other places. Personally I have not, but knowing these precautions, it’s important to always be aware of your surroundings and to dress more conservative. Also avoid going out at night in certain places, take a pepper spray and personal alarm keychain.
With the case of rape in India, the unfortunate reality is that it happens a lot more within poorer communities. In slums, public transportations, crowded living areas, etc. It has to do with the socioeconomics (and caste) as it will be taken more seriously within certain communities. When talking to expat and women living in wealthier areas who take ubers, private taxis and live in security guarded apartments, rape occurences happen way less. It is an incredibly shitty reality, but it’s something to take into account as you hear these news.
Safety Tips when you Travel Abroad
- As I preach continuously:
- Do your research!
- Read other travel blogs.
- Talk to people who have traveled there over those that only know a destination by the news. They will certainly know more than those that haven’t been.
- For those that left the country decades ago and live in America, they may or may not know the current state of safety today. They may only remember the dangerous days of when they left. And once again, they could have left a specific area that was in danger. Hear the opinions of both these people as well as recent travelers to balance your views.
- Hire a Tourguide for the day. If you feel comfortable with him/her, hire them for more days as a personal tour guide, friend, bodyguard and local who can show you all the ropes. While supporting locals!
- Dress like the locals. Lean towards the conservative side.
- Yes it freakin’ sucked that I had to cover up from head to toe while traveling in Iran while it was 100-105 degrees out. I also made the choice to go in July, the hottest month of the year. I give a lot of respect to the women who have protested against the hijab and feminists around the world who continue to fight for equal rights. But if you are a traveler, know the rules, follow it and you will be safe.
- If you are unsure of how to dress, it’s always best to dress more conservative than not.
Read more on Solo Female Travel:
- Best Personal Alarm Keychain to take abroad
- Solo Female Travel Tips for India
- Is it Safe to Travel to Lebanon?
- Travel Tips for Americans going to Cuba
1 thought on “How Safe is it to Travel Abroad?”
Pingback: American Tourist in Iran: Travel Tips - Bohemian Vagabond - Jacki Ueng