Safety, Travel, and Fear

When I am traveling and I feel afraid (for example, on a really bumpy flight), I take deep breaths and remind myself that if I die traveling, I at least die doing something I love. (Just remember that if I die while traveling, please).

Fear is a natural response that helps keep us alive, but it can also keep us from living. Fear sometimes needs to be overcome. If I feel afraid of something but can’t identify a rational reason for the fear, I work to overcome it. For example, after falling down a flight of stairs, I developed a fear of heights. Even walking down a hill caused anxiety. So I learned to rock climb safely and reclaimed my brain from that fear.

Travel can be very scary, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. So how is it that I travel as safely as I have? I’ve been to 14 countries, 5 of which are level 2 travel advisories or higher according to the US State Department. This includes France and Italy. Yep, France and Italy have travel advisories. Here are some ways that I determine if a place is safe and how to increase my chances of being safe:

Choosing a Location:

Everywhere you go has potential for danger. It’s called living. So I take calculated risks. Before going on my last 3 big trips (Turkey, Iran, and Mexico), I reviewed a variety of information to help me make the decision to go:

  1. CDC and State Department websites. These tell me what vaccines I need if any, what travel warnings are there for which areas. I start with these sites but always with a grain of salt. Politics are almost always involved in the State Department warnings, for one thing.
  2. Travel guidebooks. There are some amazing guidebooks to places even like Iran because despite what the state department says, the average American will be fine in Iran. (Admittedly, this is not true for Iranian-Americans). These guidebooks help you understand how to act, what to wear, and where to go in order to stay safe.
  3. Blogs. I google and devour as many recently written blogs by Americans who have traveled to these places. How did they do it safely? Where did they go? Would they go back? Never use just one blog, read lots, and if possible, email the writers to ask questions.

Staying Safe:

Keeping your person and your stuff safe requires some diligence, and you can never guarantee success (even in your home town), but here are ways that I mitigated risk in actual scenarios I’ve encountered.

  1. While waiting for my friends to purchase train tickets for us from France to Italy, I was left in a busy waiting area with all of our luggage. I was exhausted, and what I would’ve liked to do was lay down and chill out. But because I stayed aware, I noticed a man who was casually watching me for any signs of distraction. It was clear to me he was waiting for me to let my guard down so he could swing by and swipe a bag or two. So while keeping my eye on him, I also scanned the room for co-conspirators. It felt like forever, but eventually security also noticed him and asked him to move on. Keep an eye on your things, but more importantly, keep your eye on others.
  2. In Mexico, I noticed a man lingering behind me. To test, I would periodically move to another location and discovered he was definitely following me. I strapped my purse close to my body and sat calmly as I determined my next move. I waited for a group of English speakers (in this case they happened to be American) to pass by and I politely explained that I was being followed and could I join them for a few minutes until he goes away. It worked, he went away almost immediately. If the group had not come by, my next plan was to go into a shop and tell the shop owner of my predicament.
  3. I hate that this has to be said, but I can’t tell you enough. Follow all of the rules. You are a guest, and it’s not hard to read up on rules and follow the lead of others. When going to Iran, you bet I made sure I knew what was expected of me. I asked before taking pictures of building that could’ve been Governmental, and I respected my guide and hosts. This should be true in all countries.
  4. A friend of mine had his luggage and camera stolen right out of his rental car while he was in Croatia. This can happen anywhere, of course, but try not to leave things unattended and especially not unattended and visible.

I do wonder what advisements other countries tell their citizens about travel to the US? Do they warn people about the measles outbreaks in areas of the West where vaccinations have decreased? Is Washington D.C. to be avoided because of the high rate of drug abuse? I have been to cities in the US where I have felt way less safe than abroad. Even in Portland there are areas I avoid after dark. The above should be practiced no matter where you are. And remember, taking risks is good for living, just make them calculated!



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