I’ll start with some honesty. This is my manifesto against the illogical idea that traveling somewhere else is more dangerous, simply because it’s unknown, or because there was a story on the news.
I have a serious problem with believing something based on emotions over reason and evidence. Fear is often one of those things, and works more like a virus. One who wouldn’t ordinarily be worried about a trip can be infected with fear simply from a friend or family member suggesting that your trip is dangerous or something to fear, despite not actually knowing how dangerous it is or isn’t.
What can seem quite obvious based on your emotions, or repetitive appeals to your emotion in the new, can be quite contrary to evidence. Further more, the effects of spreading these unreasonable fears can be quite drastic.
Personally I have many people worried about my safety often because of specific countries that have lower crime rates than the US across the board. The worry isn’t based on an understanding of the country, but it is fear of the unknown.
Ignorance is not a reason to spread fear, it’s a reason not to spread fear. The unknown should leave us with neutral feelings.
Does fear make us take illogical actions?
Take for example the mistake fare to Kenya which happened to have been in the middle of the news hype of the ebola epidemic. Tickets to Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa were all available for very low prices (~200) and I heard/read dozens of people who canceled or didn’t book because of ebola.
This couldn’t be more unreasonable. Africa is a big continent and Kenya is further from the ebola epidemic countries in west Africa than London, Rio De Janeiro and most caribbean islands. Travel between west Africa and east Africa is not done by road and there are very few flights. Less flights than from west Africa to Europe.
Further more, there has been zero evidence of ebola in east Africa or southern Africa. Yet, there have been isolated cases of ebola in our own country, the USA. Imagine that, people are canceling a trip to a country that has zero cases of ebola to stay in one that has… because of ebola. What sense does that make?
This clearly has nothing to do with how worried someone is, and it has everything to do with how unreasonable their fear is.
The news wants views not reason
Take also our trip to Thailand during the coup. I honestly have never had as many emails and messages of concern for my safety as during this trip to Thailand, of all places.
I have no idea what the news back home was telling people but I know the result. Two managers of two big hotels told me that they were running at 10% occupancy, a painfully low number to even hear in person. One marketing manager (of a top 50 hotel in the world) smiled when a group came in, saying, “it’s just good to see people in the lobby”. Another GM told me that the week of the coup he received over 2,000 cancelations. I don’t know how many nights each reservation was, but at $300+ a night, one can assume the minimum impact is incredible – millions of dollars on one single business.
Despite what the news said, there were no acts of violence on tourists and civilians. The locals couldn’t have been worried less, and the easy feeling spread to the tourists also having a good time.
I can understand why it would be a news story, as it was an interesting thing to learn about (apparently it’s a regular thing there). But I can’t possibly understand what they could have been conveying to people to have such a negative impact on the Thai travel industry.
What I do know is the news benefits less from a story on the Thai political situation that ends in “but it’s totally safe to travel there! Don’t worry, there is nothing to report of violence.”
Stories of violence indeed “do better” in terms of views for the news, so it sometimes means that they report on tense situations, and it sometimes means that they over report on mildly tense situations.
The argument to counter my point is, “don’t you think there’s a reason there are a ton of stories to report?”… to which I’ve said, “often no”. With a single story the news can extrapolate more stories based on the popularity of the first. But let’s just assume that this idea has some truth to it. That the culmination of stories displayed gives a kind of heat map that gives the real truth.
Don’t base your views on the news, and be a hypocrite
And I hate to make this point, but it’s absolutely the most convincing piece of evidence I have.
Lets take for example our trip to Muscat, Oman. We heard a comment or two of concern and I decided to do a little experiment.
I seriously doubt there’s much in the news in regards to Muscat, nor is there much to worry about at all. But I decided to go to google news and see what the top stories were.
Top new stories for Muscat, Oman
The news is so dull that one of titles includes the words “lacking luster”. Oh come on! Not even the news can come up with a “beware” or two? Perhaps “beware of the lack luster markets” would be a big improvement.
The US News
And this next part I am not making light of, nor do I want to promote any political agenda. I have none. I am simply telling you what was on google news’ front page when I clicked “US”. This is the US news on the date of writing this article. All on the front page, and no jumping around or picking things out to make a point.
These are my screen shots from only the first page of google news, and from one single day/moment.
Honestly, if you were planning a trip to Oman and you read the news on this country and got the following stories, would you go?:
A bombing, missing baby, man with fake gun shot, a trial for a murder of 6-year-old, naked man break ins, hedge fund manager murdered, rift in NYPD over shooting of officers, death penalty in LAX shooting.
Would you go to a county where the majority of the news stories involve civilians and police getting killed?
You can either use the news to decided how dangerous a country is, or assume the news reports on a disproportionately high number of bad things.
This isn’t making any other point other than, of course you would go to the country in the pictures above, we live in this country! These terrible news stories are our own. But if these terrible stories were from another culture I guarantee you most people would cancel their trip. Heck, tons of people canceled their trips to Thailand over something that was non-violent.
This really drives home two points…
1) It’s dangerous everywhere
I’m not saying that danger doesn’t exist, but I am saying that the daily threat is virtually unreal basically everywhere. I’ve never been mugged or pick pocketed and I’ve been to hundreds of cities around the world.
And the irony has never been lost on me that when I plan a trip to Cancun, Thailand, or Oman, I get tons of worries. But when I plan a trip to New Orleans, St. Louis, Baltimore, Chicago and many others with high murder rates, there are never calls of concern about safety. Never.
Statistically, these cities are way more dangerous than basically anywhere else I’ve been in the last year. I’ve already made the point that people don’t actually look into whether or not some place is more dangerous, but I’d like to suggest that people don’t care. People just prefer what they know.
The slight chance of danger in the cities you pass while traveling are likely similar to wherever you do your shopping back home. The chances of any danger are so small and insignificant that you’d likely not pass up going to the mall for ice cream. Even for places like Paris that have an increase in chances for pick-pocketing and theft, the chances are still so small that it would be inconsistent to try to use that as a logical excuse for not going. It isn’t logical, it’s emotional. Danger is everywhere, but it’s small. Your home mall, or the international city you’re visiting.
2) The news makes it more dangerous
Clearly the above is not daily life for people all over the US. I have never been shot, I can’t even name anyone who’s been shot. But regardless, we can all agree that these pictures make up the extremes.
Similarly, a story of a mall bombing in Kenya is the extreme. In terms of bombings, I hate to say it… but my guess is that Kenya isn’t in real competition to the US. And out of the millions of people in Kenya, and the millions of tourists a year, finding one incident years ago proves very little.
The news is an unfair look at life. It is bias towards page views. All the good people I meet while traveling, all the people who are willing to share their food (even in the poorest areas), and show us around or even give us a place to stay… none of these kind people make as good of a headline as one bombing in terms of clicks.
Saying Thailand is safe (which it is) doesn’t keep you glued to the tv, but constant terror alerts do.
Of course I assess risk and use street smarts, like any traveler should. But sometimes there is just not much to fear. In a very small town in Bali and in a small homestay the locals knew we had macbooks and cameras and yet we left our key in the door while we went to swim for convenience sake.
I’ve never had anything stolen, never been mugged nor have I been in any danger at all. So how is it that I’m the kind of guy who leaves the keys in the door?
For the record, my father-in-law leaves his car keys in his truck in case his amish neighbors/relatives need to borrow it (no, that’s not a joke). The reality is much of the world is good, but I use street smarts to decide when it doesn’t feel good. I don’t use the news.
The travel industry is just as bad
May I suggest that the travel industry does the same thing. I guarantee you that an article on “how to stay safe while traveling” would do better than an article on how there is no real danger. But most of the advise is ridiculous.
The day someone sees me with a money belt, please smack me and make me read this post. But not only is a money belt a complete waste of money, I can’t imagine it not being a bad idea.
Which do you think would stand out more? Me buying street food by taking money out of my pocket… or me unzipping and reaching in my pants to get money? I’ve long thought that I’m probably safer looking like someone who doesn’t have money than clearly being someone who has so many valuables that I need to hide them in my crotch. I’m not worried about muggings… but maybe it’s because people don’t see me shoving money in my crotch.
The “Safety” Deposit Box – the perception of safety
And although this is slihtly off-topic, I have to share a story of my friend Seth who always uses the safety deposit box. I told him in Thailand, “the safety depsoit box is only good for losing things”. Two weeks later we’re getting out of a 30 minute tuk-tuk ride to the Krabi airport and Seth’s face looks like a ghost and he says that he left his passport in the safety deposit box.
Me being me, we showed up exactly one hour before our flight. I suggest… well rather sternly suggest that he call the Holiday Inn and have them send it in a taxi. There’s no other way it could be done. We went to find a kiosk or something to print tickets and he found a help desk that called the hotel which got the passport to him.
Also, may I note that he never gave them the code to the box. So who was he protecting his stuff from?
To me the safety deposit box is the symbol for travel safety. Your concerns, your money belt, your tsa locks, and safety box… they are all vanities. The hotel gives this vanity to you to help you feel safe. But it actually perpetuates a long standing stigma that there’s something to need safety from.
One of the most common places for US citizens to travel to is Mexico. Tourism is huge and largely based on US travelers. A lot of people know at least one person who has had a bad experience in Mexico. A run in with dirty cops or robbed, or something. This must prove that Mexico is dangerous?
Do you also know someone who has had a bad experience in the US? Of course, you know so many people in the US, how could you not?
But do you know someone who has had a bad experience in Somalia? I seriously seriously doubt it.
Why? It’s not because Somalia is safer than Mexico or the US, it’s not. Instead, it’s because you know less people who have been to Somalia, probably not anyone.
Your personal experiences and relationships (and the news) can contribute to confirmation bias. You hear more bad about Mexico, so it must be unsafe. But instead, the reality is that Mexico is just a popular destination and you’re bound to knwo someone who has had a bad experience.
If this doesn’t make sense look up examples of confirmation bias. Also, a fact that “psychics” use to fraud you is that you tend to remember certain things and forget others. If you think about Mexico being unsafe, you can remember examples of it being unsafe, and forget that you probably have met hundreds of people who have enjoyed it.
The more time you spend doing the typical local forms of travel the more you’ll see that there’s nothing to fear.
The next time you read up on safety, think about the numbers relatively. 12 people in one bombing does not mean a country with millions and millions of people is unsafe. You would never apply that logic to your own country.
Chances are the place you are worried about is not more dangerous than some place you visit regularly. Be consistent. Don’t be fearful of places because they aren’t where you grew up.
Consider that the news is not a good representative of daily life. Daily life in Thailand doesn’t make the news. But if you were to judge a country this way, you would be absolutely terrified of bombers and shooters in the USA. Remember that the news promotes fear and clicks. The news doesn’t represent daily life.
I don’t want to perpetuate fear. I want to propose reason and logic over the emotion of fear in all walks of life, including travel.
For me, fear of the unknown is itself perpetuating fear. Everything around you promotes fear of the unknown, but not knowing something is an absence of a reason for emotions. It’s ignorance. Given the powerful effects of fear, let’s not take any actions based on ignorance.
Are your fears reasonable?
- The news is a terrible way to judge safety, or else you wouldn’t go to the US.
- Ignorance is a terrible reason to spread a negative emotion with a negative impact.
- Your own perceptions are biased.
Basically, don’t fear. Just be smart.
I’m not saying there aren’t really dangerous places, but most the places that are too dangerous to go, you’re not considering going. It’s hard to even buy flights to places like Afghanistan and Somalia. Major deadly conflicts do exist, but don’t assume that because a person died, or there is a coup that you’re are in danger. Do your own research.
Don’t not go somewhere because of illogical fear. The world is a beautiful place and chances are the places you are going are less dangerous than many places in your home state.
Life is short, don’t waste it on fear.