“Aren’t you worried?”
“How are you going to do this?”
“Are you serious?”
And the last, most common question, “Isn’t it dangerous?”
When we told my parents we were visiting the Middle East for a month, my parents took it really well, to be honest. There was a sharp intake of breath, a grimace, closed eyes, and then, “you already bought the tickets?”
Once we assured my parents that yes we looked up travel warnings, yes we read the news, yes we would be careful, and yes we were intent on going, they smiled bravely and said, “Be careful!”
The rest of my extended family didn’t take it quite as well. I got a couple of phone calls begging me to change my mind. I had to remind a couple of people that I was an adult, I made my own choices now, and I wasn’t stupid. And here I am, at the end of the six-month trip, alive and well!
Many of us Americans live in a relatively safe, middle-class bubble and watch the news at night, filled with fire, bombs, wailing children, and first-class apocalyptic rhetoric. If you listen to that, and only that, then yeah, the world is a dangerous place with ISIS headquarters in Cairo, bombs under the Temple Mount, Colombian drug runners setting up shop across the street from UNICEF, Russian missiles pointed toward the nearest NATO countries, and etc., etc.
And there is some truth to it: the Malaysian airplane downed by a Russian missile was heartbreaking. The issue in Syria and the ISIS activity in the Levant is so infuriating I am left speechless at the atrocities committed on a daily basis. There are tragedies around the world that we must face.
But honestly? After traveling the Middle East/Mediterranean for a month and backpacking Latin America for five, I can’t think of one time where I was scared for my safety. There were definitely uncomfortable moments, upsetting times, and frustration, but never a fear over bodily harm. And this is coming from a girl that was completely ignored or mistreated by men because they were machistas. Granted, solo female travelers need to be a bit more careful, but then we have to be careful even in our own neighborhoods sometimes.
I know some people that were terribly concerned over their daughter visiting Colombia because of FARQ and drugs, even though the 1990s were a huge turning point in the Colombian drug war. That, to me, is like saying, “Don’t visit Los Angeles because of those riots in ’92! You know that place is dangerous.”
So, is the world a dangerous place? Yeah, parts, I think. You won’t see me signing up for a tour of South Sudan or Crimea any time soon. But it is also filled with beauty and goodness and kindness. We have had complete strangers offer us directions, give us a place to stay for the night, buy us drink and medicine when sick, and safely see us to our next destination. It’s always smart to use your brain and read a situation, looking for dangerous people or places, and avoid those. I certainly did!
Before reacting to the idea of traipsing off into a war zone, consider these things:
- The media reports bad news, not good. Sometimes they even exaggerate the proximity or intensity of violence.
- The world is full of good, well-meaning people. Think about it: isn’t it rather nationalistic and xenophobic to believe our country is safe and kind, while all other countries are dangerous and brimming with criminals?
- There is danger everywhere, to an extent. There are uncertainties and bad things in every place on earth, and they happen to every human at one point or another.
- Research, learn about the culture and the political climate, and make educated decisions. We didn’t go to the Red Sea because it does cross territory ISIS patrols, just as we didn’t hike through the Darien Gap into Panama because the drugs do flow through the jungle there.
Safety is great and important, but an over-emphasis on unneeded precautions keep you from living out your adventure!