Are you scared of the world?
Of course you’ll say that you aren’t. But if I were to tell you that I was thinking about going to Israel this summer, would you tell me to be safe because I might get bombed?
This simple, yet rather outrageous statement is one that was actually said to me by a well-traveled friend recently. Though on the outside it shows concern, it also reeks of an irrational fear of the world.
And this friend isn’t alone in his words of caution. Prior to my departure to China last year, I had numerous people tell me that I needed to be careful. Because, you know, rural China is far more dangerous than certain parts of New York City… (not!)
What gets me most about these statements is that not a single one of these people offering words of warning had ever even been to any of the places in question! And how do they form these opinions? Because they are scared of the unknown.
“A Bombs” at the Zany “World War II Museum” at the Bridge on the River Kwai in Kanchanburi, Thailand
The Media Doesn’t Help
Watching the news, I can begin to understand where one would get impressions like these. But I learned a long time ago to take things that media says with a grain of salt. After all, news, particularly of the cable variety, is a business that makes money by attracting viewers. They attract viewers by making news entertaining and in the process, tend to stretch the truth a bit.
Take, for instance, the 2006 coup in Thailand, to which I awoke one morning in the Thai seaside resort of Hua Hin. CNN was reporting that there was “intense conflict” on the ground in Thailand and I can tell you from being there that couldn’t have been further from the truth!
“Travel as a Political Act”
I’m not alone in my thinking on this subject. Guidebook author and travel show host Rick Steves gives a series of talks on the topic, including one that I was fortunate enough to catch at the New York Times Travel Show last month. Named after his book “Travel as a Political Act,” Rick spends most of this fantastic lecture discussing all the ways in which Americans are irrationally scared of the world, particularly when it relates to Europe (his specialty).
A preview of Rick’s lecture. The whole thing can be seen on his YouTube channel.
Rick also talked briefly about visiting Iran and how he found the people to be so warm and welcoming, even for an American such as himself. He related a conversation he had with a man who explained that, with limited English skills, Iranians use the phrase “God Damn” to describe a variety of frustrating thing, like heavy traffic (as opposed to the curse they would appear to be placing on the U.S.) Not quite the view the media would lead you to believe, right?
Government Travel Warnings
In a similar token to all this, governments like to err on the side of (extreme) caution when it comes to the safety of their citizens. Take, for instance, the Travel Warnings that the U.S. State Department issues, including their recent one on Mexico that would seem to back the media’s story on the drug violence that has plagued the border region with the U.S.
On the surface, this sounds reasonable, right? Don’t go to Mexico! It’s dangerous!
I would be willing to bet that any number of travelers (and bloggers) who have been to Mexico recently would wholeheartedly refute this statement. (If you’re reading this now, please feel free too!) To say that an entire country is unsafe because of drug violence isolated to one geographic region is a bit much, don’t you think?
Photo Credit: Gioser_Chivas
While it’s certainly good to arm one self with information, please keep in mind that the warnings from many of these sources, be they media or government, should be taken with a grain of salt. Trust me, the world is a very safe place and if you keep your witts about you and use common sense, then you’ll do just fine!
What do you think about safety warnings like these?