How Travel Beats the Media Fear Machine

A Little Newspaper Reading on the Dead Sea, Jordan
Newspaper Reading on the Dead Sea, Jordan

Do you ever question what popular news media have to say about what’s going on in other parts of the world?

Our travels have taken us through places perceived – often inappropriately — as dangerous: Central Asia, the Caucasus, Burma (Myanmar), Jordan, Bangladesh. Add to that our recent travels to Iran, and to Egypt and Greece amidst protests. And now we’re in Mexico for a few months, another place high on the perceived danger meter.

Do we proceed blindly? No.

Are we adrenaline junkies, danger seekers? Not really.

We do our research, connect with locals and expats on the ground, and read reports from recent travelers. Then we go and enjoy ourselves.

We also know to take what we see on the news with a generous pinch of salt.

Why? Because our experiences on the ground have made us aware of a few reporting techniques that spice up the story of the moment while dropping a bit of the larger reality along the way.

Here are just a few.

Media Fear Techniques

Broad Brush (Egypt)

When there are protests or a natural disaster strikes, events are often portrayed in a way that implies that an entire region has been consumed, even if the impact is limited.

To recognize this is not to take away from the severity of the issue at hand. However, other facts – like the relative peace and safety of unaffected areas – gets lost along the way. This not only harms the image of the country and its people, but it can affect the economy, particularly when that economy depends on tourism and investment.

To look at it another way: If an earthquake or demonstration happened in San Francisco, does it make sense not to travel to New York?

Next time you consume news, be sure to have a map handy to understand the true scope and effect of the event.

Our experience: When we visited Cairo, Egypt in December 2011 during the country’s second wave of demonstrations of the year, news reports seemed to imply that the entire city was engulfed in chaos.

Cairo City View from Al-Azhar Park
Visiting Al-Azhar Park in Cairo last December.

Yes, there was violence on Tahrir Square. But the affected area was tiny in comparison to a sprawling city of over 15 million people, a country of over 80 million. As we made our way in Cairo (including around Tahrir Square) and around northern Egypt, we witnessed much of life carrying on as normal – people going to work, kids going to school, roads full of traffic.

This is the bit that’s conveniently missed in a typical news cycle.

Not All Protests Are Created Equal (Greece)

Not all protests are violent. Violence just sells better.

Our experience: Our visit to the Greek island of Crete in the fall of 2011 happened amidst a wave of demonstrations and protests against austerity measures in Greece. The images coming out of Athens at the time were flame-ridden, smoke-filled and ominous. We witnessed another set of protests in Heraklion, Crete’s largest city.

Dan and University Demonstrators - Crete, Greece
Dan gets into the action during the demonstrations in Heraklion, Crete in October 2011.

Protests were lively and featured thousands of protesters who, as a rule, were hardly violent or dangerous. There may have been a few incidents, but when the protests were over, most participants retired to local cafes to hang out with friends and enjoy a frappé.

Focus on the Fringe (Iran)

Events you see here may be staged or represent a small portion of the population.” A disclaimer we’ll never see.

To understand the real story of a country, you need to understand its ordinary people. But let’s face it — ordinary people and their viewpoints don’t sell, they aren’t flush with juicy sound bites, and they don’t make for good theater. But if you speak to them, you’re likely to realize that the issues of the day are more complex than the prevailing narrative.

And when you do that, your fear – of other people and other countries – can come into perspective.

Our experience: Our visit to Iran happened to coincide with the anniversary of the hostage taking at the American embassy in 1979. On the day of the anniversary, we wandered through the streets and markets of the town of Shiraz. We were besieged — by friendly locals offering invitations to go to the movies and for ice cream, tea and dinner.

Iranian Boys in Esfahan, Iran
This was the style of besieging we received when traveling as Americans in Iran.

When we turned on the TV at our hotel that night both local and international coverage focused on the anti-American demonstrations. While we wouldn’t expect media coverage of our ice cream dates in the market, a little coverage of life on the streets outside of those protests might have told a broader, more accurate story – one that made viewers think, rather than one that cemented their beliefs and fears.

When we asked a few Iranians about the demonstrations, they explained that they’re more a function of government orchestration, stacked with government employees who are required to participate for fear of losing their jobs. Sure, some people do participate voluntarily, but the government stages the rest to demonstrate “support.”

The Zoom Lens (Jordan)

With every zoom, give me the wide angle.”

You’ve seen the images of protestors on the streets, zoomed in to illustrate anger and volume. But sometimes if the lens were to taken to a wide-angle view, you might see that only a handful of people are there. At least, you would see the context. Instead, the zoom lens makes great theater – the crowd is compressed, the protest is heating up.

Our experience: When we visited Jordan last February, the international press had covered Friday demonstrations as if they constituted the next Arab Spring uprising. For friends of ours living near the square, the protests were as they always were — not much more, not much less.

Good News Is No News (Bangladesh)

Woe the developing world. It seems as though we only hear about it when natural disaster strikes, when political upheaval is at hand.

The prevailing image of these places is that the countries are permanently suspended in calamity, in struggle. Sure those stories are relevant, but what happens in these countries before and after? What is the wider view?

Our experience: We wanted to visit Bangladesh because we suspected there was more to the country and its story than the famine, floods, and natural disasters we usually heard about. During our visit, we found a country with a youthful spirit and 150 million very curious people.

Always a Crowd Around Us in Old Dhaka, Bangladesh
We always attracted a friendly crowd in Bangladesh.

Yes, Bangladesh is a very densely populated country facing many challenges, particularly of the environmental and political varieties. But it still manages to implement initiatives like a plastic bag ban (imagine accomplishing that in your hometown, much less a country the size of Bangladesh), electric rickshaws, and all buses and trucks using CNG (compressed natural gas). These stories rarely ever make it out and they certainly aren’t theatrical enough to control the prevailing narrative. It’s a shame since stories like this could serve as inspiration and instruction for those willing to listen.

—–
Perhaps you’re thinking, “OK, Dan and Audrey. So what?

The upshot is that the world for the most part is not a scary place – at least not for the reasons you see on TV.

Next time you consume a news story, sit back for a moment and ask yourself: Is this the whole story? What‘s the bigger context? What are the truths, half-truths and full-on fibs?

And most importantly, “What might I be missing?

Your answer just might influence what you think about the rest of the world. And perhaps it will make you want to travel to find out for yourself.

Have your travels ever turned the news on its head?

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Comments

  1. says

    This is so true. I live in South Korea usually, but I’ve returned to the UK for a two month break before I start my next job. The day after I arrived, Kim Jong-Il died. Now, whenever I mention that I’m going back to South Korea, people freak out and tell me that it’s too dangerous.

    The media here (in the UK) is painting a picture that the region has become unstable and that war is about to break out…nope. The reality is that a war would flatten North Korea in about two days. The country’s annual GDP is roughly the same as South Korea’s annual military budget alone. The ordinary Korean citizen is more worried about REUNIFICATION than war (!) as reunification would be an absolutely massive strain on the South Korean economy and cause financial upheaval to the population.

    If if I was worried that war was about to break out, or more importantly if my Korean friends were genuinely worried, there’s no way I’d have let my boyfriend hop on a plane back to Seoul last week!

    Similarly when the London riots took place, people only focused on the negative – everything was portrayed as negative, but what wasn’t focused on were the efforts that ordinary citizens made to clean up their communities.

    Like you said, fear and chaos sell, and it usually comes with a whole lot of bias or disproportion. Travellers and tourists should keep an eye on the news, but also utilise travel forums to make informed decisions that aren’t influenced by media-inflicted fear-mongering.

  2. says

    Great post! I’m a news junkie myself but I try to take it with a grain of salt. But I know plenty of people who realize that news can (and will always be) sensationalized in a lot of respects so they completely avoid it. That, I think, is missing the point.

    There are often a million different stories from every event and people can miss a lot if they focus only on the worst bits. Thanks for writing this so eloquently!

  3. says

    @Tom: Terrific example, the Korean peninsula. Am really glad you shared it and shared it so thoroughly.

    “The ordinary Korean citizen is more worried about REUNIFICATION than war…” — now that I really love.

    Danger, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder.

  4. says

    @Adam: Glad you enjoyed the piece. It went through the editorial meat-grinder a few times, so I’m glad to hear that it still read eloquently :)

    I completely agree that there’s no point in sticking your head in the sand, avoiding news altogether. In fact, as I worked on this piece I wondered, “Are we going too far.” In the end, I don’t think so. One thing travel has taught us is that a healthy dose of skepticism and fear is in fact healthy. Awareness is the key word (or would that be keyword?) here.

  5. Bo Wixted says

    Great post, guys! Concise and right on the mark. As an American living in Saudi Arabia for 20 years and recently building a home in South Africa, I’ve had to try to explain this “zoom/wide angle” affect to friends and family countless times. You nailed it. BTW, South Africa…when?

  6. Jeremy says

    Thanks you two for this article. I’m going to send this to my family because I’m in Mexico City the last 2 days and plan on travelling throughout Mexico and Central America over several months. I might want to link to this article on my new travel blog if that would be alright with you. I’m not really sure of the ettiquette, so just let me know…Thanks again, Jeremy. p.s. I’ll probably be going to Oaxaca next!

  7. says

    Ah, thanks for sharing your experiences in these places. Mexico is one of my top 5 places in the world, partly for the culture, but mainly for the abundance of kindness I’ve encountered there which is so contrary to what the media reports would lead you to believe. For awhile, I was one of those people who gave up on the news because I felt that it was getting to be over the top. I didn’t like the way it made me more fearful of the world than I felt I should be based on my actual experiences in the world. Now I’ve started to read the news again (but never watch it) while taking into consideration where specific issues are actually located within a country and how the stories chosen don’t necessarily represent what the whole country or even a city is about.

  8. says

    Dan/Audrey – we speak the same language. People constantly ask me the risks in solo travel, often referring to sensationalized news stories.. I don’t think good journalism is dead, but certainly on major news channels it’s about capturing an audience and keeping them there. I tell people time and again, meet ordinary people and you’ll see a bigger picture of a country. The saddest part of portraying developing countries in calamity or crisis are the assumptions that arise. Did you know in Bangladesh there are engineers who have successfully built a model to deal with sustainability of water supply and sanitation? Making strides that North America has yet to? Neither did I. And that’s what I’m talking about. :)

  9. says

    This is such an important point. There have been so many times when we’ve been in a country and not noticed any problems until someone back home tells us about something they’ve seen in the media. It’s always blown out of proportion or in a completely different part of the country. So many people asked us how the flooding was in Chiang Mai when there was none at all!

  10. says

    DnA,

    I too have been to many hotspots before, during and after bad stuff has happened. In fact I’ve lived in Thailand through two protests and the floods and the only real impact most people witnessed was that on the businesses that STILL suffer because of the media hype.

    In India I was stopped for questioning with my Muslim guide and my camera was confiscated while filming on the streets of near the Taj months after those terrorist attacks (the camera was released for a bribe, naturally).

    I still think Yemen is one of the most fascinating, historical and beautiful places I’ve been too… but who would want to go there now because of the media hype?

    I could go on talk about scary experiences Russia, the Caucasus, Venezuela, the Balkans, France… and the list goes on but..

    I’ve spent the past few weeks here in the relative safety of a living room in America and can say, without question, I’ve never been more terrified in my life as when watching the DOOMSAYERS who would be President campaign… or the SUPER PACS that support them…. or the Pharmaceuticals commercials that promise me internal bleeding, nausea and confusion with my erections that last longer than 8 hours…

    Point is, less “mainstream” media would definitely be more.

    Unfortunately we live in a media-driven world where news stations are revered like sports teams… and those that can’t compete in the right-wing, left-wing, christian vs. muslim battlefield seek to turn gusts into twisters and flurries into blizzards. Heros into villains into heros again. Nothing better than an epic downfall, except perhaps an epic comeback.

    The more I watch with frustation and angst, the more I realize how victimized the viewers are. But then again, who would watch if they turned the camera on people sitting around doing nothing?

    I’m glad people like you guys are taking snapshots of the world that people can turn to, if only during the commercial breaks.

  11. Sutapa says

    Loved the post, Dan and Audrey, as well as some of the comments above (for example, from Tony and Waigook Tom). You not only have a great website, you also have erudite followers. :)

    You know, about Iran, or Bangladesh or Myanmar, my personal feeling is that the “mainstream media” simply does not have enough boots on the ground in Iran and places like that.

    There are several reasons that. The mainstream media is only interested in something when there is an audience for it. Instead of creating an audience for something or educating an audience, they just feed the masses what the masses want.

    Another reason is, it is costly, let’s face it, for there to be an NBC news bureau in Iran. And then there are diplomatic hurdles. I am not sure an American news channel would be allowed inside Iran.

    For whatever reason, though, they do a great disservice to everyone by portraying a country like that.

  12. says

    Yet another great post–you guys just keep them coming! And I have to agree too, based on my experience in Chile. Love the zoom vs wide angle analogy. Looking at the broader picture doesn’t deny the problem, just allows the viewer to see what else is (or isn’t) going on.

  13. Heather Caliri says

    I’d also say that thoughtfully experiencing some turmoil or upheaval can do us all good. Demonstrations, strikes, or natural disasters _happen_. Even Americans can’t control everything or make everything safe. Travelling abroad to countries where there isn’t an expectation that life should go smoothly 24/7 can free us from fears that keep us locked in suburbia.

  14. says

    Thanks everyone for such thoughtful comments.

    @Bo: Thanks!

    We’ve heard some dark things about Saudi Arabia, perhaps not about safety per se (though one traveler said his tour group in Saudi Arabia had an armed escort).

    As for South Africa, we have a short list and it’s on it. Would like to try and get there this year, or early next.

    @Jeremy: By all means, please link to us and this article. Linking is good for both of us!

    Give us a shout if you’re in Oaxaca!

    @Ekua: Our experience in Mexico so far squares with yours. People in Oaxaca, as a rule, have been very kind, very friendly. A lot of what you experience (positively) is likely a result of your attitude towards other people as well.

    As for turning off news, sometimes that’s what we need (rather counterintuitively) to get perspective.

    @Nomadic Chick: Yes indeed, keeping the audience. Nothing about truth, honesty, reality, perspective.

    Thanks for the tip on Bangladesh. No, we weren’t aware of the water and sanitation project, even though we were there for 5 weeks. I suspect there are more projects like that — just ones we didn’t happen to see.

    And that’s the point. You and we have learned that travel has something to teach everyone in all directions.

    @Erin: In Thailand there were floods. Chiang Mai is in Thailand. Ergo…

    It’s pretty incredible how different things look from a distance.

    @Tony: Am laughing my *ss off at your comment, when in fact it should probably bring me to tears. Those pharmaceutical commercials are quite possibly the worst attempt at truth I’ve ever seen.

    Your news station-sport team metaphor is apt. I’ve never looked at it that way, but having just been back in the U.S., I’d say it’s right on. And similarly scary.

    Fair point: “Who would tune in if the camera were focused on people doing nothing?” Nobody, for good reason. But there’s a way to engage the people doing nothing and ask them questions that exposes something other than the fact that they look like they’re doing nothing.

    But, the main fare on TV is hyper-activity. There’s going to come a point when scenes of war bore us. Or maybe we’re already there.

    Of course, I’m preaching to the choir. You know that already from your travels and video work.

    @Sutapa: Regarding the expense of boots on the ground, you make a good point. We know many media organizations have cut back. But some media outlets still do have correspondents and offices in places like Tehran (we know some of them). But at the end of the day, news is about keeping attention and viewers. And excitement and conflict (of all varieties) seems to be what does it.

    @Margaret: “What else is (or isn’t) going on…” — That’s the key.

    @Heather: Wow. I’m sure that sentiment might find you some arguments, depending on who you choose to share it with. But not from here. We entirely agree, and we’re hearing that kind of sentiment more and more.

    When events strikes home soil, it’s tragic. But it represents an opportunity. However, there are numerous ways to respond like Pearl Harbor and 9/11 have shown.

    The analogy is like bacteria. If you try to keep your environment entirely free of it, the tiniest little bit of it can destroy you.

  15. Laurent says

    I couldn’t agree more on that but I always found that convincing people who think so that such or such place is not really as dangerous as they would think is rather hopeless. Whenever I talk about the incredible time I had in Iran, Pakistan or Burma, whatever I say and try to explain, at the best, people just stop arguing and kind of smile in a polite way but you can really feel that deep inside, they believe that I’m just a dumb dreamer or something like that. Maybe I’ve managed sometime to convince open minded people that indeed, one can go there and that it seems to be really worthwhile but not much more than that :-(

  16. says

    I found your website while doing the research for my website and have enjoyed following along while you are on your travels.
    You are so right about the media and all of the “thunder” they rein down upon us. I have been sending people to “uncorneredmarket” just so they get your insight from a wider angled lense and it has had an impact on some of my friends.
    Now, if we can just get more people to understand that the media is not feeding us the whole picture.

  17. says

    Dan & Audrey — Thanks so much for this post. This is exactly why I appreciate your content so much; it always challenges pre-conceived notions (usually negative) that people may have about a particular place, culture, or religion. My husband and I have a particular love for Egypt. I spent a month there in college doing volunteer work in the garbage cities, and he lived there for about five years of his childhood. We’ve spent time in some other places that are the constant focus of negative media attention, and to be honest, it just hurts. We travel to these places, fall in love with the people, the culture, and the landscape, and then we hear such negativity. It doesn’t mean that it is all entirely false (i.e. there are protests), but the lumping of everyone from a particular culture or background together is very disturbing and hurtful. I would say I do believe the media, to an extent, but I do not usually believe that the information is being portrayed in an accurate context. Sensationalism sells. That’s why we need more writers like you guys to provide that balance and a different perspective.

  18. says

    @Laurent: I hear you. I feel your pain and frustration. I can only imagine the grief and eye rolls you get, especially with Pakistan. (We haven’t been there, but I suspect the people you met are every bit as human as they are in the rest of the world.)

    It’s a long, hard slog. I learned this while sharing a few stories from Iran and Egypt at gatherings over the holidays. The initial reaction is “Oh, really?” Then, for many people, it’s back to the recording.

    Having said that, it’s all you and we can do — to share our experience. Share it over and over. And the more people we get to possibly re-share our story the better.

    @bill: “…the thunder they rain down upon us.” — Well said.

    Thank you for the comment and sharing the sentiment with your friends and audience.

    Like I said to Laurent above, it’s all we can do. We may be a few voices, however small. But if enough of us share our reality and motivate others to taste the same, we can have an effect.

    @Ellen: “It hurts.” That sends chills. I can only imagine how much it hurts when you spend years in a place and understand it deeply, only to hear something almost entirely opposed to what you’ve experienced.

    And it’s true that some of these (negative) impressions aren’t entirely false. The frustration for those of us fighting against the grain (I’ll count you in here, if I may) is that we are willing to grant the shades of gray. If only those zooming in, painting with a broad brush, quick to judge would do the same.

  19. says

    You said it beautifully. For my entire life, I had only heard bad things about Belarus. ‘It’s the only country in Europe you absolutely DONT go to’ was the common wisdom I had heard. That was until my friend went. She brought back incredible photos and more importantly, incredible stories and it was at that precise moment I realized I knew absolutely NOTHING about Belarus. It’s important that we don’t make all our distinctions of a place based on what we hear in the media. Thanks for sharing.

  20. says

    @John: Another excellent example. I love this discussion. When I considered a list of countries that would come up — either here in the comments, on Twitter or Facebook — Belarus didn’t come to mind. But it fits pretty nicely. Good people (we know more than a few Belarusians) and surely an interesting place to visit. Just don’t go as a campaign advisor for the opposition.

  21. Agne says

    That’s what we should be reading every day! The media is sooooo ful of shit these days! One of the best articles, Dan!

  22. says

    So true. The US media are fear-mongers and isolationist. The more I travel, the more I realize that not everyone is out to get the U.S. Certainly, check out what the State Dept. says about a destination, do some research and figure out your risk level. But, don’t just instantly remove any place from your travel wishlist.

  23. says

    @Agne: Thanks, Agne! Glad you liked it.

    @Ron: Thanks. Given our recent travels, we figured now was about the right time to address this issue. Looking forward to meeting you as well.

  24. says

    @Lane: Good point regarding checking out State Department travel warnings. The one thing I will say about those: the more specific they are, the more useful they can be. The blanket travel warnings are borne of the lack of specific information and are not particularly useful. However, the ones that outline specific incidents can be. For example, when we were in Guatemala, I remember being not only a little freaked out by what I read on State Dept. warnings (bus hijackings) but also more informed as to the types of threats local Guatemalans seemed to be talking about at the time.

    Here’s our “bandito” story from Guatemala that addresses this specifically:
    http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/2009/04/road-trip-banditos-dose-of-fear/

  25. says

    That’s the power of TV, I guess. Fingers crossed Central America is our next destination, but even my girlfriend turns to me with a questioning look everytime there’s a report on Mexico’s drug violence.

    She was safe in Egypt throughout the revolution, saw the same small protests you did in Jordan and has been to bad rep places like Beirut and Iraq, butI still have to do my ‘but that’s at the other end of the country, honey’ voice.

  26. says

    @Shane: I had to laugh while reading your comment and the “but that’s the other end of the country” voice. Just after posting this I also received an email with a news report about drug-related violence near Alcapulco “in the region next door” to where we are in Mexico. I went on Google Maps to show that “just next door” is actually 750 km away. Hopefully more examples like that will soothe your girlfriend’s fears, although it sounds like she’s already seen and experienced quite a lot.

    I’m not sure where you’re planning to travel in Central America, but we found that in Guatemala locals described everything as peligroso (dangerous). Same to a certain extent in other countries as well. Kind of freaked us out at first. After a while we learned to ask what peligroso meant exactly to that person. If it had to do with pickpockets, that’s something we could deal with. Gun/knife violence, not so much. The majority of the time it was the former and we didn’t have any trouble in the 4 months we were in the region.

  27. says

    I think a lot of travel bloggers miss an opportunity simply by writing about the top 10 beaches and best places to get pho in Vietnam, and while I think that kind of information has its time and place, sharing like information like you have in this post is what truly opens the world up to new travelers. Thank you for all that you both do. You make the world a better place.

  28. says

    @Lisa: Point taken. Don’t worry, I felt conflicted writing this. After all, we are part of the “media” that we speak of. By the way, I noticed you didn’t leave your media company’s URL ;)

    @JoAnna: Wow. We are both really humbled by your comment. You’ve manage to express our goals better than we could have: making the world a better place — even if marginally — and truly opening the world to other travelers. (Or, perhaps helping travelers and would-be travelers to open it up themselves). Thank you for your comment…and for making our day.

  29. says

    Thanks for a great reflective piece. My time in Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Palestine last year gave me a whole new perspective on the Middle East- and I always watch news of those places more avidly now- and with a wider lens as well. Amazing how easy it is to forget that these places are populated by real people just like our own neighbourhoods. Keep up the good work having the whole planet as your neighbourhood you two!

  30. Jay Kane says

    I’ve learned that travelers from all over come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. As a vacation homeowner, I’ve met a number of people from a number of places…some were great, others were “meh”. But each visitor from a new place has taught me a little more about people from other parts of the world.

  31. says

    I moved to Moscow after high school and everyone I told was against it. People told me that Russians were incredibly mean, it is so dangerous and the day before I was going to leave, my mom met with an ex-Israeli agent who worked in Russia.

    He freaked her out so much but thankfully, I didn’t listen to her and went to Moscow anyway :) People are so nice here and of course, it is different than the US but I adore it.

    Funny thing is, when I talk to my mom on skype and see some of her co-workers who made negative remarks about Russia. They hear how much I love it here and they just say, “Come home soon.”

    Thank you for sharing your experiences around the world. You actually humanize places whereas most other media outlets ignore it. I hope to visit Iran and a lot of Central Asia soon much to the dismay of my parents :)

  32. says

    @Sandy: Great to hear from you!

    Thank you for the compliment and your comment. So true that we become more aware of the world (and the news that circulates about those places — especially the “flashpoints” — that we’ve visited) as we travel.

    “It’s easy to forget that these places are populated by real people just like our own neighborhoods” — so true.

    Particularly since we’ve begun traveling, we have advocated the idea that we have a lot more in common with the rest of the world than we often admit.

    @Jay: Great that you’ve taken the opportunity to learn from all your guests. We’re in a similar situation, but usually on the other side of the transaction. It’s always interesting interacting with the people that we’ve stayed with and rented from. We are friends with many of them, but like the planet over, you get a variety.

    @Kate: Thank you for the kind words and thoughtful comment.

    Wow, a meeting with an ex-Israeli agent to vet a trip to Russia! Sounds like the makings of a good spy novel.

    The first draft of this article suggested that the only way to truly know what a place is like is to see it for yourself. You’ve seemed to experience that firsthand.

    “Come home soon.” — That has a very familiar ring to it.

    Enjoy Central Asia and Iran. And enjoy changing a few minds about those places when you return with your stories!

  33. Vince says

    My wife and me went to Hurghada (Egypt) last year. All our friends, family members and colleagues asked us if we were insane, because the “whole” country is sinking in clash and terror.
    My answer was almost the same like you used, but with german cities and places: I asked them if the also won’t go to visit the north sea if people are demonstrating in Munich (~800km away, for those who didn’t know).

    And our holiday was perfect! And of course we came back save. :-)

  34. says

    @Vince: Thank you for your comment. Your Munich vs. the North Sea is an excellent analogy. Am glad that you went to Egypt and had a good time and returned safely. I imagine you took advantage of some great travel deals to get there as well. Very smart!

  35. says

    @Craig: We alluded to Mexico at the beginning of the piece. Because we’d only been in country (here in Oaxaca) for a few days, we didn’t feel comfortable going into any depth or length. However, our experience in Mexico so far is as we’d expected. From where we are sitting and walking on streets day and night, it’s a whole lot safer than some of the hype back home might suggest. However, to give credit where it’s due, the Washington Post travel section featured a big spread on Mexico just before we left that attempted to shed light on areas of the country that might pose a safety risk, while highlighting areas that they felt were perfectly safe (and there were many):
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/travel/mexico-a-guide-to-which-parts-are-safe-to-travel-to-and-which-are-dangerous/2011/12/08/gIQAkQ2jyO_story_1.html

  36. says

    We do plan to visit Guatemala and I found your article helpful. I’ve found travel blogs in general to be the best way to research the real situation in places like Iraq and to coax reluctant travel partners there. I also used to say things like ‘but Mexico is more dangerous than so and so’. I hope she doesn’t remember this later this year.

  37. says

    @Shane: Guatemala is a great country, Guatemalans are terrific people. But I understand your concerns about safety. Having said all that, I’m certain you’ll have a great time.

    Travel blogs are certainly among the best sources of on-the-ground information, but it also depends on who’s traveling, his/her style of travel, and the depth of travel as well. It’s possible to travel to anywhere safely if you happen to have the right escort ;) When we consult blogs or personal friends on the ground, we tend to take into account their lifestyle and how embedded they happen to be in day-to-day life. Aside from some of the tourist spots, it’s in that everyday life that we’ll likely want to be and see.

    If our experience in Mexico (here in Oaxaca) is any measure — very safe — anything you might have said regarding the danger of traveling in Mexico will be ancient history. Buen viaje!

  38. Jenny says

    Thank you so much for painting a much more realistic picture with your experiences, we have seen similar in our limited travels. I feel frustrated that in the west we suffer propaganda in this way; people expecting that we are
    told the real story.

  39. says

    Wonderful post!I love when people see past the normal stereotypes and give us a true life view of places that most people in the world dont know! Thank you for taking the time to post!

  40. says

    @Jenny: Thank you for your comment. I’m glad we can help change the conversation, even a little bit. The prevailing stories often do a disservice to locals and to potential visitors hoping to broaden their travel horizons.

    @Josh: You are welcome. Seeing past the stereotypes, that’s definitely a focus of ours.

  41. says

    Thank you for this great post. I was wonderfully written and in enlightened a point of view I can relate to. I feel that the people that are most afraid of the world are the ones that have traveled the least. Really, I think people are just afraid of difference. When you travel and interact with people who may look or act differently than you do, you come to understand that they are just people living their lives the best they can, just like you. I hope more people make travel a priority and make our world a small place.

  42. says

    @Megan: We couldn’t agree more with the idea that people are just people living their lives, often with similar goals as us. But people are afraid of difference or other, which is why travel is such a great way to break down stereotypes and build bonds.

  43. says

    I completely agree. Now, if only my mother could get on the same page… she’s the one who worries the most when I travel to supposedly “dangerous” places!

  44. says

    @Simon: I think you are in good company. Mothers the world over are worried about their traveling children. Based on reader feedback (“I sent my mother your article on _____ and now she feels a lot better.”), balanced real-world personal experiences from people you can trust seem to help moms understand.

    @Ron: Glad you liked the piece and that it’s one of your favorites. It’s one of those pieces that best characterizes our travel ethos and philosophy. I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to connect in Oaxaca. We’ll just have to stay in touch and make sure we connect in person next time we get the chance.

  45. says

    Loved this post and couldn’t agree more! I’m headed to Egypt in August and while others think I’m crazy, your post made me feel…normal. Thank you!

    Enjoy Mexico!

  46. says

    YES. This is something that I have to keep explaining to people over and over and over because no one really gets it. The media launches on to our biggest fears and rarely show the full story or anything good that’s happening. When I traveled to Guatemala, I had at least 4 people say “But that’s so dangerous! There’s drug wars and cartels! Haven’t you seen all the news stories about Mexico?!” and honestly, I felt the need to bang my head off of a wall. I’ve been to Guatemala twice now and I’ve yet to run into ANY “bad” activity or get myself into a bad situation. I wish more people would think this way but more prefer to just live in a constant state of fear, I think.

  47. says

    BIG thanks from Egypt for this. I am still telling people that parts of New York (or anywhere in their home country) can be more dangerous than here, and it helps to have positive stories like this one to explain to them. We hope to see you back in Egypt some time.

  48. says

    @Susan: You’re very welcome! We often tell people that the times along our journey where we have felt must unsafe were in places like DC or New York instead of countries like Iran, Uzbekistan or Egypt. Not sure when we’ll be back in Egypt next, but we’ll be sure to let you know!

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