This week I’ll be answering a series of questions I received during my months away. Monday – Friday will each be centered around a different theme, so be sure to check back daily for your question! I’ll also link the entire series together into one page, available at the end of the week.
You went to ___! Why? Wasn’t it dangerous?
Yes, I went to Turkey (no, it wasn’t dangerous.) Yes, I went to India as a woman and (no, I did not get “Delhi Belly,” and I was not harassed, other than by touts.) Yes, I visited Burma/Myanmar despite having read the news and having zero idea of what to expect. These are three of my absolute favorite countries in the world…and to think I almost didn’t go to them!
Yes, I went to Egypt (on a tour, and left the morning of the second revolution. Though I would not recommend this today, I am glad I went when I did.) Yes, I went into the West Bank while in Israel and I gained a perspective I quite simply couldn’t have gotten without visiting myself. I’ll admit there are times I ventured to places where my personal safety was at slightly greater risk, but this entire trip was a risk. The only way to guarantee your safety is to stay at home…and never leave. No thanks. So, in the places I wanted to visit that made me a bit nervous, I did some reading and I chose to listen to my gut instead of concerned family members or the news.
Arm yourself with knowledge from your country’s state department, or better yet, someone who has actually been there. Certainly something awful could have happened to me, but I believe it is much less likely than we’re made to believe, and to me, the rewards were far worth the risk.
A friend I was traveling with who had been living in China told the story of Chinese students who were preparing to visit America. They kept asking her if it was safe. How could they not be concerned after reading the media coverage of the dozens of mass shootings across the country? Would this be enough to deter YOU from visiting the United States? Something to think about.
In other words, read the news…but don’t let the news alone dictate your choices.
How do you stay safe as a female traveler?
Always have an exit plan. Don’t be afraid to trust others (it’s where some of best moments of travel will originate) but never put yourself in a situation without a figurative, and sometimes literal, exit door.
Listen to your instincts about people, and keep your awareness level high. If you’ve got a strange feeling about a person or a place, there’s likely a reason why. Always be aware of your surroundings, and use your exit strategy when in doubt.
Don’t flaunt your valuables (if you are toting any.) This is common sense that unfortunately, some travelers forget. Lock your bag. Hide your computer in your room. Don’t carry exorbitant amounts of cash. Don’t make it easy for someone to walk away with your things.
Make an effort to blend in with local customs and dress. Keep the target off your back. Wear local (modest) clothing, speak a few words of the local language, have local law enforcement or a local contact’s number available, and respect the local ways of living (in other words, if a local woman wouldn’t do it, maybe you shouldn’t either.) There are certain places in the world where it might be smart to not make eye contact with the opposite sex or to drop that “your husband is waiting for you back at the hotel.” The truth is, however, that the majority of people will treat you with dignity, respect, and genuine kindness. This is the far more important takeaway from any journey where I worry about my safety.
Learn from other travelers before you. I utilized many of the safety tips from other blogs that kept my peace of mind in tact on the road, everything from carrying yourself with confidence to carrying things like a doorstop and a safety whistle.
Finally: don’t worry so much. Quite simply, the world is much safer than we give it credit for. Be prepared for the worst, and then choose to see the good. While unfortunate events can and do happen to travelers, the same is certainly true for people who drive cars. That doesn’t stop most of us from driving around town every day.
Your personal safety should always be a priority. Before you let fear stop you from ever leaving your house (or the country,) stop and think about the real risk, and what you may be losing by not taking one at all. The more we travel, the more we realize that people are generally good. For every time I’ve been nervous or felt unsafe while traveling, there’ve been at least five times someone has shown me random kindness. Do your best to maximize the possibility of positive experiences. Then go out there and face the dangers of this world…I know it won’t be as scary as you think.
Or you could always do something drastic, like…dyeing your hair.
Reality check: are you letting fear and concern for your safety stop you from traveling? Or from traveling to certain places? What steps do you take to put your mind at ease, whether at home or while traveling?
Up next: On People
That is so true about relative ideas of safety, and people’s impressions of the US. A student once, relatively recently, told me that her other teacher (a man I know and respect but who’s British) was telling her the US is dangerous and it made her scared to go there.
Love the look on your face in the alligator photo, by the way.
I think that’s something most Americans don’t realize…we feel so safe at home, but if you put yourself in the shoes of someone who isn’t American? I don’t know that I would feel great about visiting America, based on the news alone… It’s a helpful reminder for me when thinking about my impressions of other nations without actually having been there myself.
And thanks! Holding that croc was one of the scarier moments of my trip. 😛