The Status Quo: Traveling abroad is too dangerous. It’s safer to stay home.

In 2014, I went on a 6-month journey to Southeast Asia, Nepal, Australia, and Brazil for the World Cup. Once in awhile, during the course of that trip, I received Facebook comments that went something to the effect of:

traveldangerfb

Of course, I’m completely grateful that I have people that are concerned for my well being, but the constant misconception that every trip outside of the United States will be the most dangerous thing anyone will ever do has run a bit rampant.

I can’t necessarily blame most Americans for thinking that outside of their world is, well, the end of the world. There are two main contributing factors for this:

1. Media

Thanks to the media, which so often drives much of the public’s standard opinion about most things, many Americans who haven’t had the opportunity to travel can only associate one or two–usually negative–events with any given country.

If I were to play a word association game with someone who was not accustomed to traveling, it might go something like this:

Me: “Thailand”
Them: “Tsunami” or maybe “Riots”
Me: “All of the Middle East”
Them: “Terrorism”
Me: “Chile”
Them: “Earthquakes” and “Those Miners who got trapped”
Me: “Japan”
Them: “Tsunami and that Nuclear Power Plant”
Me: “China”
Them: “ugh, China”
Me: “How so?”
Them: “…”
Me: “Egypt”
Them: “Riots”
Me: “Russia”
Them: “Ukraine”
Me: “Ukraine”
Them: “Russia”
Me: “Malaysia”
Them: “Airplanes”
Me: “Vietnam”
Them: “War”
Me: “Mexico”
Them: “Drug Cartels and Be-headings”

In the US, you will rarely, if ever, find a story coming out of another area of the world that sheds a positive light on that country. The media drives fear to hook viewers, because more viewers equal higher ratings. But we all know that, right?

2. www.state.gov/travel

This official government website provides advisories for travel outside of the United States. It’s a popular place to go if you want to get overly paranoid about any given country.

To me, it seems to serve as the US’s ultimate travel disclaimer. Kind of like how McDonald’s coffee cups have to remind you that coffee is hot, and how this bag of peanuts has to remind you that it contains peanuts, which may cause an allergic reaction to those who have peanut allergies:

peanuts

As Americans, we constantly pride ourselves in being a free nation where we can make our own choices. However, the moment there’s a chance to sue the daylights out of someone for not warning us of the obvious repercussions of making stupid decisions, we jump on it. Check out this eLocal Lawyers infographic on America’s obsession with lawsuits (Click on it to make it bigger):

Click to zoom in!

 

So, it’s only natural that the US government–the one we want to protect us if we travel abroad, no matter how much common sense (or lack thereof) we use–is going to cover its ass in case we waltz into Mexico seeking out drug lords for a cool YouTube video. Then, when we get taken captive, we can’t say “Why didn’t you tell me drug cartels were dangerous?”

Obviously, there are some warnings we should heed from this site, but we also need to do our own research on the warnings before we freak out. We need to become more active participants in our research process. We need to take more ownership of our travels before we even start them.

Mexico is a big country; try to not go to the smaller areas where drug cartels preside. Bangkok is ONE city in Thailand that had some political unrest in 2014, so if you’re concerned, don’t go to the one or two areas in Bangkok where protests are being held.

What would you say to someone if they didn’t want to visit any of the United States because of the Boston Marathon Bombings in 2013? What would you say if they didn’t want to visit because of the riots in Ferguson?

 Temporarily avoid the tiny areas of unrest

Not too hard to temporarily avoiding tiny areas of unrest

Don’t let an isolated–and usually temporary–event in another country affect your entire perception of what that country has to offer on the whole.

So maybe it’s not so dangerous abroad, but would you really call it safer than the United States?

First, I can tell you that most foreigners I meet think the US is one of the most dangerous countries to visit. In this past year alone, I’ve talked to different people from 3 or more countries who say that they are more frightened to travel to the US than anywhere else (with a few war-consumed countries as exceptions).

The main reason for fearing the United States? They fear getting shot and don’t understand how nearly anyone can just own a gun. (They also fear renting a car, bumper-tapping someone and then getting sued. That’s almost a direct quote)

I’m not here to start a gun control debate, but I’m just giving the common outside perspective of traveling to the US. And honestly, if you do a quick search regarding gun-related homicides in the US vs. the world, they have a right to be scared.

Firearm homicide rates in selected high-income countries, 2010 (credit: humanosphere.org)
Firearm homicide rates in selected high-income countries, 2010 (credit: humanosphere.org)

The US is a great country for many reasons, I agree, but personal safety is honestly not at the top of my list.

I traveled outside of the US for over 6 months this year, and never ONCE did I encounter a moment where I felt truly threatened. In fact, most of the people in the countries I traveled to seemed overly kindhearted, always going out of their way to help me.

However, in the other 6 months–when I was in the US this last year–here is what happened within a short distance of just where I live (and that I actually knew about from the news):

  1. A shooter kills 7 at Santa Monica College (4 miles from home)
  2. A driver drives through Venice Boardwalk and kills one (3 miles from home)
  3. A student kills 7 at UC Santa Barbara (95 miles from home)
  4. An armed robber was chased down and killed by police with a shotgun at a 7/11 exactly one week before my trip (only 0.6 miles from home)

Again, this is just what has happened around where I live and work! Not to mention that we’re due for a huge earthquake sometime soon and we’re currently in three-year water drought. Oh yeah, and downtown LA just got hit with a tornado not too long ago.

Now that I’ve sufficiently depressed and scared the pants off of some of you, I’m really not here to prove that the US is a dangerous place to be. I just wanted to give some examples that seriously challenge the validity behind the argument:

“The reason you shouldn’t travel abroad is because it’s too dangerous. It’s safer to stay home.”

Conclusion: Use common sense when abroad like you would at home

I believe that traveling domestically and abroad does wonders for the human race. Most importantly, I think it helps break down barriers between people by causing us to reflect on why we believe what we believe. Do you believe something is right or wrong because you discovered it on your own? Or was it taught to you by your community, your parents and your friends? If that’s the case, do they know why they hold that belief? One of my favorite quotes by Mark Twain sums it up best:

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

Regardless of whether you are home or somewhere around the world, I think the answer to safety remains the same: use common sense.

If it’s 2 am and there’s a dark, shady alleyway in a big US city, you wouldn’t walk down it, right? If you see a dark, shady alleyway in Guatemala, then don’t walk down that one either. If you stumble upon protests or riots in the US you would most likely try to avoid them if safety was your concern. The same goes for when you’re abroad.

If needed, do a little (unbiased) research and avoid the areas of perceived danger.

God forbid a natural disaster occur when you’re abroad, but if it does, just know that the US has its fair share as well.

You’ve got one life, and, if you’re reading this, then you’re probably fortunate enough to live in a place that allows you to travel abroad and see the world and all it has to offer. I beg you, don’t spend your life holed up in a room somewhere for the fear that if you travel you have a higher probability of encountering dangerous situations.

The real danger is missing out. There is so much to see and learn about in this world, and by “playing it safe” you might let it all slip by undiscovered. Don’t let preconceived notions, the status quo, and worst-case-scenario media determine where you can go in life.

Do you think that traveling is dangerous? Has someone kept you from traveling because they told you it was too dangerous? Has traveling allowed you to overcome your fears? We’d love to know in the comments!


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Jake is the younger, yet taller and more dashing brother between “Jake and Chad.” He’s the voice of reason behind every one of Chad’s audacious ideas, as he puts the “calculated” in “calculated risk.” He also writes songs and makes videos for the joy of the Internet. Jake is currently redeeming the millions of airline points he’s racked up through mad travel hacking techniques and is probably on a plane somewhere.

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