The Places We Should Not Go

Take a look at the State Department’s Information Sheets for each of the world’s countries, and you may want to never leave your home. Should you leave the friendly (?) confines of the United States, you will likely be robbed, raped, stabbed, shot, and then buried in an unmarked grave. You may also be the target of a terrorist event, particularly in Europe, where, I quote “open borders…allow the possibility for terrorist groups to enter/exit the country with anonymity.” Even in countries that seem relatively benign, the alarmist State Department can come up with something for you to worry about. For instance, did you know that when in Austria, you “should be particularly careful not to leave valuables at [your] table while serving [yourself] from the breakfast buffet”?

Sure, the State Department has a responsibility to alert U.S. citizens to the threats that may face when traveling, but shouldn’t the warnings come with a reality check? After all, the same exact things are just as likely (if not more likely) to happen to you while you’re in America. In case, you weren’t aware our crime rate is relatively high, particularly in our cities, and our rate of gun crime is, in fact, much higher than it is in many other countries. A few months ago, my friend Jessica met a British guy at a restaurant here in DC who was absolutely convinced he was going to be shot while here. I’ve lived here nearly four years now and never once thought that, nor really ever felt even remotely unsafe. But, hey, if you look at the DC murder numbers without any context, you might be fearful too. Too bad the State Department doesn’t do an information sheet for the U.S. That would certainly be interesting.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not a laugh-in-the-face of danger kind of girl. I have no wild desire to go anywhere where my life would be in real danger. But as I plan this trip, I’ve been confronted with the consternation of figuring out what places are actually “dangerous.”

I, for one, will immediately put any location in the middle of a war in the category of dangerous. But what about countries that aren’t at war, per se, but are led by men (yes, always men) who are more than a little unstable. Iran, for instance, or North Korea. Would I really be in danger if I went to either of these? Perhaps, I honestly don’t know. (Don’t worry, Mom, I don’t plan on finding out.)

And how about Venezuela, Columbia, or Bolivia? Columbia, interestingly enough considering all the bad press it gets, has a pro-American government, and I’ve heard nothing but raves about it from other travelers. The kidnapping/rebel thing is a little unnerving admittedly, but what are the actual facts on that? Venezuela and Bolivia both have socialist governments that aren’t exactly fond of America, but what have they actually done to cause us to be fearful of them? And come on, let’s be honest, they aren’t the only countries down on America right now.

With the exception of the most committed world politics junkies, most of us have fairly spotty knowledge of what is happening around the globe. Keeping up with our own lives can be trouble enough sometimes. And in the end, we’re forced to rely on the information we have at hand…newspapers, television news reports, the State Department website. At best, these sources are incomplete. At worst, they’re biased. So what’s a traveler to do? Best I can figure, you follow the news (but rely on more than American sources for a well-rounded perspective), talk to other travelers who have recently been to the area you’re interested in, trust your instincts, be smart, and for Pete’s sake don’t leave your belongings unattended while you gorge at the breakfast buffet.

So go ahead and tell me what you think. Where won’t you travel because of safety concerns and/or what causes you to deem a place unsafe?