Last Updated on August 13, 2018 by Audrey Scott
This is about fear and awareness and how recognizing a distinction between the two can improve your travels…and your life.
At the extremes, we have two choices in life: a) sit back and be afraid of absolutely everything and never leave the couch, or b) proceed recklessly and lean blindly into situations that will likely harm us.
Or, there’s a third way. In this way we can inform fear, build courage, find awareness and open ourselves to notable experiences.
But first, a little about that awful map that’s been circulating recently.
Update, November 2015: Although this article was written before the State Department Worldwide Travel Alert issued on November, 23 2015, the framework below of looking at fear vs. awareness and how to make informed decisions during uncertain times still is ever relevant.
The Danger Map of the World: Really?
If we didn’t know better, we might take a look at this map and decide to never leave the house. Or at least, never to venture outside of Europe, Australia, Botswana, the United States and New Zealand. Fine destinations indeed, but what a globe of missed travel opportunities. You mean to tell us that we should have never visited Bolivia, Iran, or Myanmar?
Source: Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs
We've traveled to plenty of places under the cloud of travel warnings (published by various institutions, so we’re not singling out any one governmental agency or international body) and found an on-the-ground reality that ranges from nuanced at best to a complete refutation of the principle of those color-coded travel warnings at worst.
The problem with these sorts of maps is that they are perfect media for our times: they are infographic, they are reductive and they can be slapped with a little bit of link- and title-bait to draw a nice argument. But informative? Hardly. Real information does not come in the form of color codes, and rarely can it be comprehended in the blink of an eye.
Poking around this latest map, we noticed the vast majority of countries we’ve visited the last six years are troubling shades of yellow, orange, blue and even red. Have we really been living and traveling on danger’s edge all these years? We wish we could say yes so we could write a book about how courageous we are and how we dodged bullets and kidnappers all along the way. Challenges, for sure. But alas.
Instead, we meet people, we face the ogre of hospitality and invitations into people’s homes for tea and food. Even in places with a bright red, “Avoid all travel” label like Iran. We didn’t venture into these countries blindly. We made informed decisions based on multiple sources, then mustered a little bit of courage to go and find out for ourselves.
The upshot? Consider stepping back from the government travel warnings, take them with a pinch of salt, then do a little bit of research that puts you in touch directly with someone who can provide firsthand time-relevant impressions – all with the goal of reducing your degrees of separation from the on-the-ground reality.
But before we dole out tips on how to easily do that, a break to chat about psychology.
Fear vs. Awareness
First a working definition of fear: a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined.
Are we humans naturally primed for fear? Our human macro-history roughly tells a story of continued attempted survival and struggle – avoiding dangerous animals, warring groups, physical harm. All joking aside, cultural evolution has essentially brought us to a place where we’re no longer regularly stalked by wild animals; where although sadly many on the planet are malnourished, the pervasive fear of going hungry does not plague each and every one of us; and where the near-constant threats of illness and physical harm are no longer the norm they once were.
So our visceral fear, it’s a vestige. But now we have to do something with it. In the absence of daily threats, we manufacture things to fear. Fear like water, it will find a way. Fear is so natural, it’s comfortable. Think about it. Fear requires little of us. Nowadays, we can sit back, consume someone else’s story or impression, be frightened and simply project our second-hand anxiety.
And when we do this — when we fear — we place limits and constraints on ourselves.
A show of hands please for the joy of limiting and constraining oneself.
OK, OK. Dan and Audrey, enough of the cheerleading. Sometimes our fears are substantiated.
Agreed. Let’s go there.
How is awareness different from fear?
Now a working definition of awareness: having knowledge; cognizant; informed of current developments.
In contrast to fear, awareness requires something more of us. Awareness requires effort – to step through the data barrage from multiple sources, turn it into information, synthesize it so that we begin to understand after consuming it all with a critical eye. And in doing so, perhaps we can seek out our own experiences in order to develop our own impressions.
And when we're all done, maybe the fear remains, maybe it doesn’t. At the very least, it’s now better informed – and from there, we can make a deliberate decision instead of accepting someone else’s information as proxy.
Trust us, we’re definitely not immune from fear. Before we began this journey, Audrey worked in a news agency covering Central Asia. All the news from the region painted a grim picture of corruption, political strife, and human rights violations. In fact, Audrey was hesitant to travel to some destinations (e.g., Turkmenistan) fearing that we’d be harassed and clawing our way out of a prison by the end.
Colleagues from the region (and living locally) assured us that the situation on the ground was different. Travelers on bulletin boards and forums reinforced this. We trusted our research and decided to go and see for ourselves. To this day, our travels in Central Asia remain some of our most resonant memories.
Look, we’re not advocating taking a trip to Syria at the moment. Outside the absolutely war-ravaged and pirate infested, there’s truly a great deal of engaging open space to investigate in this world.
Informed Travel Decisions 101
OK, Dan and Audrey, I get that those maps don’t tell the whole story. I buy, perhaps reluctantly that fear and awareness are different. How do I proceed? How do I, the average ordinary traveler, go deep in my research and make local contacts without devoting a lifetime?
1. Look around you and ask.
Especially if you live in a diverse city (more and more places qualify by the day), there is likely someone in your personal or work circle who knows someone from the country you are considering visiting or someone who has been there recently. You could always pose the question first on your Facebook page and go from there. You might be surprised by who comes out of the woodwork if you just ask. And don’t give up after the first inquiry yields silence. This happens sometimes.
2. Contact a blogger.
Do a search and find a blog post or two about the country/region in question and send the blogger a quick email with your concerns or questions. Even better, find a local or expat blogger with lots of recent experience there. We get loads of emails on all sorts of topics and we are always happy to respond to people who have safety or travel concerns. We know how reassuring it is to talk with someone who has been there and how that perspective goes a long way to assuaging fears and informing decisions.
3. Find locals or expats on Twitter.
Go to Twitter and do a search for a specific city or location under the people search. You’ll likely get a long list of people living there. See who perhaps has a blog or who is actively tweeting about that place and send them a quick note publicly via Twitter (you’ll have to set up an account if you don’t already have one) asking about safety or other issues. Avoid travel or tour companies at first, as they clearly have an economic incentive in your visit. Here’s the bonus when you go personal: you’ll likely get good local insider information for when you do go, and you might even gain a new friend.
4. Ask in forums.
Post a question to an online forum asking for advice on whether a destination is safe or if there are certain areas to avoid as a visitor. In addition to travel forums (e.g., Lonely Planet Thorntree, etc.), many cities have expat forums where English and other foreign languages are understood.
5. Check other government travel warnings.
We know we've been bashing government travel warnings, but sometimes it's reassuring to get a second (or third) opinion. If you're from the United States, consider checking out the UK or Australian government travel warnings. Be sure to check the date when the last warning was posted to be certain that it's still current.
6. Ask about areas to avoid.
While the majority of a country might be safe for travelers, there may still be certain areas that are best avoided because of environmental disasters or violence. This does not mean, however, that the entire country should be avoided. Mexico is a perfect example of how a few areas addled with drugs and violence manage to tarnish the reputation of the whole country in the eyes of many. Our long walks across the town of Oaxaca well after midnight serve as proof that the entire country of Mexico is not under siege.
We Can Do Better: Travel
As we travel, people ask what we’ve learned. Everything above is part of it, but beyond that, we’ve learned that we can simply do better. Fear, color codes, news reports. A shift in any can move travel plans of masses in the blink of an eye.
Sometimes, these bits are spot on. Unfortunately, they can also be misinformed, lazy, and incomplete. These ultimately rob us of perspective, opportunity and experience. Everyone loses, travelers and host country nationals included.
We Can Do Better: Life
Whenever there's a lesson in travel, there's a lesson in life.
Let’s face it — fear sucks. It has a place, however limited, to prevent us from running off the cliff like lemmings. But it’s not a place from which good things like joy or confidence flow freely.
How to beat it? Aim to be informed and understand that the process of doing so requires a little effort. (After all, what in life that’s worth it doesn’t require some work?)
You’ll be surprised by the overwhelmingly positive unintended consequences of your effort. The conversations and connections alone will shift your thinking. And when you decide to act, you’ll find that informed experiential travel is one of the best ways to combat fear. But that means you have to get in it, amongst it, and occasionally press the edges of your apprehension first.
Don’t allow others to simply tell you about the way the world is when they haven't been there. Demand better information. Go and find out for yourself. And when you do, come back and tell us all about what you've experienced. Keep the cycle going, keep the pump primed.
You will find all that was once unknown silently undergoing a transformation from ‘other’ and frightening to ‘us’ and simply human.
And over time, you’ll be amazed by the results. We guarantee it.
71 thoughts on “The Danger Map of the World: Fear vs. Awareness”
Such a great post! I keep telling my son (and husband, especially) the same thing. For example, I told them about your visit to Iran and Egypt: Iran is red in that map but all you had was a great time. I completely agree with this.
I would like my son to travel like you guys. And hoping he will eventually listen to me. He is young and most of his decisions are informed by his friends…
This is such an important topic for you guys, with the reach you have, to put out there to the world. You make some great points and it is so worrying that this fear-mongering may be ruining not only peoples potential travel plans but also those countries’ travel revenue…
As someone who found out, literally today, that I have got a job teaching in South Korea this coming August, this post really resonated with me.
Obviously I will be keeping up to date with the situation with North Korea, and if it is not safe by the time I have to leave, I will have to reconsider moving but I’m not quite ready to let go of this dream yet…
Great post. In my experience, most places are safe and most people are good people. You only have to be aware and ready to make the right decisions. Fear is certainly a major reason why most people never set foot outside their own country.
There’s probably way more crime that goes on in the United States than plenty of red countries on that list. And it’s a little weird that they picked Iran…I can’t imagine they’re going on crime statistics for this chart.
You’re right of course, but I think if you sort of read between the lines, the map did a good job in separating the obvious hotspots from those that are basically in the category of “avoid some areas”. I”m sure you don’t disagree that one should avoid some areas in Mexico. And having just come from there (my 6th trip), I can say I genuinely like that country. The same can be said of the U.S. Avoid some areas. But it is different in Mexico. Law and order have completely broken down in some areas, where in the U.S. you can at least get help from the police if you have a problem, say in Miami or L.A. I visited Africa recently. South Africa felt a little weird, but really only in the Jo’burg area. That country deserves the rating it’s got. The rest of the countries I visited (Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe & Malawi) felt perfectly safe. If they would have just simplified their color codes, I think it would be more useful. For e.g., the “exercise high degree of caution should be combined with “avoid some areas”. Some of the red countries could easily be put in the “avoid non-essential travel”. There are actually very few countries, as you point out and also as shown on their map, that merit an “avoid altogether”. But I totally agree with many of the ratings, for e.g. avoiding nonessential travel to DRC and Pakistan is pretty darn good advice. If you take the green, blue and yellow as being okay, that’s most of the world. Some of the others you can evaluate on a case by case basis. I don’t understand fear of this type. I only fear being disabled by illness or injury.
Great post. Personally, I do prefer travelling to those “unsafe” places – they have less tourists, people are friendlier and generally – I feel safer in many of them.
My absolute hotspot is Zimbabwe – although it rates as dangerous I’ve never experienced anything you’d rate as fear there. China, Belarus, South Africa are all amazingly beautiful. People are friendly. And I have travelled by myself, as a single 18-21 year old. Obviously recklessness never pays – I won’t wonder the streets by myself at night – but neither would I in UK, USA or Europe. There are customs I will adhere to – but again, would you walk into a church wearing a bikini in Europe? From my experience, if you respect other people and are friendly as well as take some safety precautions – go ahead and travel.
@Sutapa: Â All depends on who his friends are 🙂 Â Seriously, I’m hoping we can help. Â All it takes is a few bits of influence, from various sources, to shift perspective. I didn’t really figure out that I wanted to dive into the world like this until sometime in my early 20s. Â You know what they sayâ€¦boys emotionally mature a little later.
@Jade: Funny you mention South Korea. Was talking to another writer friend. Â The news sort of motivates me to head to the Korean peninsula now.
Keep attuned to the news, stay in touch with people on the ground whose opinions you can trust. Â Don’t let go of the dream, in particular because of a few rattled sabers.
@Dean: Â Good people, good places — in general, that’s our experience.
@Eytan: Not at all on crime statistics. Â Who knows what’s in the black box that yields the color codes.
@Michael: Â Fair enough, broadly, the map can be complimented that’s it’s not too far off. Â But in some cases, it is. Â And it’s not always clear what the criteria are. Â On one level, you can argue that the map isn’t totally wrong. Â But is that the standard by which we’re judging information nowadays, particularly as it relates to our safety and people are making decisions based on this.
Agreed, some areas of Mexico ought to be avoided as we mentioned above. Â For example, the town of Jaurez is probably not high on our list. Â
@Martyna: Agreed. It’s surprising how friendly people often are in “unfriendly” places.
Fair and humorous point about walking into a church wearing a bikini. I know some travelers who just might.
@Leigh: Â That’s our problem with it. Â Too broadstroke. It needs a primer and bunch of caveats attached to it that read: “Please compare and contrast with other sources to make your travel decisions.”
Your point about danger following tourists is absolutely spot on. Â Our experiences tell us thieves know where to go: Â where people, particularly vulnerable people with money like tourists, are heavily concentrated.
@cosmoHallitan: Crossing the street. Â Lots of countries join the danger zone on that account. Where this map can be misleading is that often people don’t look beyond the green countries. And yet, we’ve heard of more cases of pickpockets and muggings in European cities than in most of our travels through Asia.
I’m going to disagree on Iran. Although visiting Iran might not be for everyone, our experiences as Americans there told us a different story. True, our governments are not on friendly grounds right now. But, around the world we’ve learned that people often differentiate between the actions of a government from those of its people. We were so thankful of this perspective when we lived and traveled abroad during the Bush years.
@Melvin: Â Ha! Â Canada is ground zero! Â More seriously, the Canadian Dept of Foreign Affairs authored the map. Â Rather than assuming they were “green”, they did the right thing and made themselves color-free. Â I like that.
This map is so broadstroke that it’s misleading to the point of wrong. The bottom line, too, is a lot of what is safe and not safe comes down to timing and luck.
I’m not really sure how this map defines safe or dangerous. Argentina, for example, yes, perhaps you do need to be more cautious when in Buenos Aires or Mendoza. The rest of the country? No problem. Then again, how many people visit beyond Mendoza and Buenos Aires when they travel to Argentina?
Perhaps there’s a chicken and egg element here. Are these places more dangerous for tourists bc they are just dangerous, or are crimes more prevalent because that’s where the tourists go?
Whatever the case, I’m not a big fan of fear or any stereotype of a place. I’ve rarely found that what I hear from other people matches my personal experience. When you say to go and make your own decision, that hits home for me.
I’ve lived in China for the past year and a half and have never once felt unsafe, well except for trying to cross the street. That can be truly dangerous and you do have to exercise a high degree of caution. While the language is a little strong, I think the color coding is basically correct. Some of the yellow are questionable, like Japan (which I’m guessing has something to do with the Tsunami ravaged areas.) As for the countries in red and orange, I have to agree with Michael – they received that designation for a reason and avoiding them is a probably a good idea. I have zero interest in going to Pakistan or the DRC. And as an American, I certainly wouldn’t try to go to Iran or any of the other red countries who view us as enemies. Bill Clinton might not be able to rescue me.
What’s wrong with Canada on that map??? It’s blank! 😉
I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said. But I think there’s way too much overreaction in the travel blog sphere to this map. Obviously, if you do your due diligence, you can travel anywhere in the world. Even Iraq, as Aaron of WW adventures proved last year.
But chances are that Sally the Random Tourist from Winnipeg isn’t going to do that. She’s the target audience for this map; not informed travelers like yourselves who do lengthy research. For her, I imagine this map is quite helpful. Personally, I prefer to compliment the Canadian government’s good intentions rather than get offended that a few countries I like might have been assigned an unflattering color.
Scott… I don’t think there are just a few countries that have been misrepresented. I think most have been misrepresented. And it’s not that I’m offended, it’s more that I feel like this map is more likely to create fear in Sally the Random Tourist — a term, btw, that I love and hope you don’t mind if I begin usuing it liberally — than it is to encourage exploration.
I also don’t think extensive research is necessary for the random tourist to just check to see exactly what it means when this map says exercise a high degree of caution.
My son is 26 but I am hoping he will get out of his comfort zone soon and travel like you guys. His friends are all the urban, just-started-working millennials who are enjoying life in NYC. I am hoping that even NYC will lose some of it’s charm…he does travel and has travelled some but is always counting on someone to go with him – which isn’t bad, until the friends have reservations about going to Tulum, Mexico. So I don’t know.. 🙁
Travel is the best education one can get.
Someone mentioned Zimababwe in an earlier comment. I was fortunate to have been born and raised in the old Rhodesia. I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful country and people to be raised in. Sad what has happened there but â€¦. the result is I now live in beautiful New Zealand.
Around every corner (almost) is a stunning view.
Danger map source: Canadian dept. of foreign affairs
@Scott: I think we’re both advocating the same thing here – do your due diligence to go beyond the map or travel warnings. We are both experienced travelers and know to take these maps with a grain of salt and know how to research, but I agree with Leigh in that Sally the Random Tourist often won’t. It would be better in my opinion not to have a map as it’s too “easy” to consume – if Sally had to actually search down the list of countries to read further it probably would be deeper research. One of the reasons we wrote this was because of a conversation we had with a friend (non-blogger) visiting last week from the States who talks about the reaction of his co-workers each time he leaves the US, even if it’s just to Cozumel, Mexico.
@Leigh: Agree with you that infographics and maps like this are meant to inform, but often limit exploration as it seems too difficult or dangerous. And the irony is that we’ve known more people who had safety issues in Europe and the United States than many other parts of the “exercise caution” world.
@Sutapa: Well, NYC is a bit like the whole world so there are worst places to be 🙂 Dan didn’t leave the United States until he was 26 and look what happened to him…travel bug bit pretty hard!
@Lawrence: Thanks, glad you enjoyed the article. I’ve had a few friends who grew up in old Rhodesia so I believe I understand a bit of the beauty and environment of where you grew up. But New Zealand is pretty darn stunning. We’re still going through photos from the South Island and can’t get over how beautiful and different each day was there.
@Brian: Yes, this particular map is from the Canadians (see source above). The same lessons apply to any government or other travel warning map. Understand the need for them, but wish the process of giving countries certain classifications was a bit more transparent.
WHat a brilliant post! I hope it helps some scared travelers less scared!
Thanks for this post.
Governments travel advices are always really hard to work around as far as I’m concern. Of course, there are places where it’s a definitively no go. Most of the time, I tend to avoid the red areas from the French government travel advices which tend to be less alarming (Iran except for the Pakistani border is orange). But the filtering among the orange one is not an easy job. Sometime, it’s orange but it seems that it’s only because there were some troubles in the area 10 years ago !! And some other time, you should be careful.
Local advices are not always meaningful too. I had local people telling me that this place or this place was dangerous but there thought that travelling alone was dangerous anyway so at the end I mix all that together and take a guess. Of course, if I’m dying to visit a certain place, I will probably lessen the warnings !!
Travelling is such a hard life 😉
Great, thought provoking post. I know plenty of people who allow fear to paralyze themselves, and most of the fear is based on ignorance, or a lack of understanding. Awareness is a great contrast to the concept of fear. There are certain places that I still will not travel to, but having just been to both Cuba and Myanmar, I will do my own research before relying on simple infographics to make decisions for me.
Good article chaps(and comments). Surprised no-one has mentioned travel insurance though.
If you’re from the UK, and travel to a country against FCO advice, then your insurance is almost certainly null and void. Folks should check it…
Also don’t know if you’ve seen the new FCO travel alerts website. Pretty good. Did a piece on Tnooz about it. Quite a lot of nuance there now…
Great post! We certainly have not traveled to as many areas that are listed as dangerous as the two of you; however, the ones that we have are ones we found the situation not to be at all what the news portrays. It’s frustrating that so many people never travel because of fear. Frustrating and sad. Travel opens your eyes to the world and is like an education in and of itself.
Such an inspiring post! Each time I plan to travel in potentially dangerous areas, my mom would often discourage me to push through with the plan in the hopes of keeping me safe at home. The only way to stop her from bringing up the topic is when she sees me happy and feeling refreshed after my trip. Fortunately, that is not the hardest thing to do.
@Andi: Thanks! That’s the goal for this piece.
@Laurent: The date on a travel warning is one of the most important pieces of information. If it hasn’t been updated in a long time, then it’s best to double check whether it’s still relevant. And yes, advice from locals can also be misleading. When we were in Guatemala, we got in the habit of asking “what kind of dangerous is it? Pickpockets or a gun?” Then we could make an educated decision on what we would do.
@Amber: That’s exactly it – to do your own research so you can make decisions that are right for you.
@Stuart: Thanks for bringing up travel insurance issues. I remember checking into this before we went to Iran as I was worried about this. Fortunately, our insurance was still valid, but not all would be that way.
And yes, the FCO site does have some great features. Like the map detail and clear descriptions of what each color means.
@Jennifer: Couldn’t agree more with what you wrote here, “Travel opens your eyes to the world and is like an education in and of itself.” So true.
@Ces: Glad that your mother comes around when she sees your experiences in a place and how happy you were there. Hopefully she doesn’t worry about you too much when you’re out traveling!
@Jonnathan: We haven’t been to Zambia yet ourselves but did have a friend who lived there for a few years and had great things to say about the place. Hope to visit one day!
@Michael: Glad to hear that so much of southern Africa would be considered as very safe places to visit. We’ve never been to that region yet, but hope to have an opportunity soon.
ZAMBIA is one of the safest places in Africa,i worked there and believe me it is safer than the USA, there is no place you need to avoid there, you can go to any place and you will be safe
I agree about southern Africa in general. South Africa should be blue and the rest green. If you color Botswana green, then Zambia, Namibia and Malawi should be green. No real difference between those countries in terms of safety.
Thank you for the wonderful post! Unfortunately, many people live strictly by the advice of the government websites…which are typically blown out of proportion. We were in the Middle East during the revolution and were treated with nothing but respect from the locals, it was about them and their government, not about us. They actually tried to take care of us!
We’re off to Iran and Central Asia in the coming months and according to this map we should stay home!
Thanks for the post! Cheers from China.
We had the same experience in the Bajio region of central Mexico (north of Mexico City) and in Mexico City itself. The key to “awareness” is obviously knowledge and as you point out, the internet (properly used) has a wealth of information available from people on the ground where you want to go.
Of course, Woody Allen kind of had it right when he said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” Yesterday’s tragedy at the Boston Marathon probably had no warnings on any government website. So, sometimes, in truly dark moments, awareness is not enough. Lady Luck needs to step in.
“Donâ€™t allow others to simply tell you about the way the world is when they havenâ€™t been there.” and this is so true. I had been living in Egypt for the past 5 months through all the political unrest and it is certainly one of the safest places I have travelled, despite the travel warnings. I am not pinning every journalist here but a lot can, and do simply write anything about anywhere in the world and haven’t actually ever been there “on the the ground” to know what is happening. Or even still been there but blow a story out of proportion. This has killed Egypt’s tourism putting people on the streets and I could only imagine that this is the case for many other places in the world. The same with Mexico and many places I have visited where a lot of people ask me is it safe and I love this article for what it says. Sure do your research but hey. your never going to know unless you go. See the world everyone, its beautiful
I guess you are supposed to only travel to the green areas, find a modern and well protected hotel, and then stay in your room for your whole vacation.
Of course there are dangers everywhere so you should stay alert but realistically there is nowhere that is 100% safe. Following your travel tips should be enough to insure a safe trip, and let you enjoy the local ‘flavor’ of smaller towns and villages too.
@Dariece: You are welcome. Enjoy your time in Central Asia.
@Suzanne: Woody Allen, right on. Somehow, everything in this life is related, yet random as it unfolds.
@Aus: Egypt is an appropriate context for this discussion. The country knows its share of challenges, but the broad media brush probably isn’t quite fair and full to all that’s happening in the country right now — both good and bad.
@Virgil: Some take that approach, but as you point out, nowhere is 100% safe. There are no guarantees in this life.
Love this post. There is too much fear of the unknown, and it pains me when people assume the worst because of things like this map. You can’t make a sweeping vague statement about an entire country. Even the yellow ones where it says “avoid some areas” is just too unspecific. Cambodia is yellow on that map, and I can see that “some areas” probably refers to places where there might still be unexploded ordnance. But with no explanation, people might just decide not to travel there, and that is such a shame. You’re totally right, awareness is key, do some research and find out the real situation, and then make an informed decision.
Very interesting post. I have experienced much of the same when hitchhiking from Norway to China and From Norway to South Africa. Many places people would warn me of the next country without having visited it themselves.
When I walked across Lebanon the same thing happened where villagers would warn us about the next village, saying the people there are bad. They were all friendly to us…
@Ali: You described the problem we have with color-coded maps exactly. And although there is an explanation of what “some areas” means if a person digs deep, often a person doesn’t take the time to really research and sticks with the superficial. And this is such a shame as it’s a missed opportunity for everyone – the traveler and host country.
@Matias: Your comment goes to show that fearing the “other” is natural and happens everywhere, even from village to village. I can imagine so many people were worried about you, but you came back from these journeys with incredible stories of kindness.
Very useful and well writen article!
I believe this article must be read by many stereotyping travelers who depend too much on travel warnings and advisories. They do miss out a lot whenever they heed to those announcements because most often, they miss the opportunities to see unique things and experience distinct cultures. Thanks for sharing the tips on how to REALLY know whether a nation is safe or not. This is very informative and enlightening!
@Angel: Beware of missed opportunities because of fear of maps. Please share and pass it on.
I am fully agreed with beautiful informative article, In my feeling to before travel you have to aware about the place you are traveling, you have to about details location maps and try to know about people and its life style with behave then there will be no problem. Thank you very much for such nice article again to article writer and its team.
It should not be just government warnings that have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Other travel bloggers feature lists of dangerous places which are clearly based on sensationalized news from media.
I’ve also read through a blog of someone that has led me to conclude what a close-minded traveler the blogger is. And he calls himself a traveler. What a shame.
@Monnette: Absolutely fair point. Those lists are often re-compiled from other sources (news media, other blogs), are not always firsthand, and are sometimes compiled as linkbait for the purposes of generating traffic. Big distinction between traveler and travel blogger for sure.
@Deepak: Doing research about a country’s culture and customs is very important, not only to fit in but also to not offend local people.
@Monnette: Unfortunately, travel bloggers are not immune from sensational news or being close-minded. That’s why it’s important to get your information from a variety of sources and find the bloggers that you trust and who have a similar travel approach as you.
The fear map reflects what’s in people’s minds. In reality, it’s not representative.
There are dangerous places within “safe” countries and safe “islands” within “dangerous” countries.
Exactly what we were aiming for readers to come away with after reading this piece.
What a great post I was just looking for this… many thanks!
Thanks, Wesley. Were you looking for the map…or a little perspective on it?
I was looking for it on google…I want to travel in Africa next year…
Terrific. Glad we could help you sort through your Africa travel plans. Enjoy!
What a thought-provoking article! Having worked for a prominent TV station and being in the media sector, I am very skeptical when newspapers or governmental agencies deem a certain place unsafe. I think travel bloggers and international expats often prove this to be the case – there are but a few places that are TRULY to be avoided.
I also worked for a media organization before starting this journey and I joke that if I only paid attention to the news coming out of it, I would have never set foot in Central Asia. And yet, we found that region one of the most welcoming and interesting places to travel through. This is why it’s so important to read first-hand reports from travelers, expats or locals who are on the ground. And I completely agree that there are a few places that really do need to be avoided because of war, famine, disease and more. It’s not only for your safety, but also to not take precious resources away from the locals who need it. Thanks for commenting!
I completely agree with this post. I think you really have to do research and not go by, “oh, but I heard it’s not safe there”. I recently went to Croatia, however one of the people who had booked to go with me pulled out because of worry about Ebola! My grandmother also worried about my safety there because of the war in the 1990s. If I had been just as worried, I would have missed out on visiting one of the most beautiful (and safest) countries I’ve been to.
At the same time, I think for some countries it depends on who you are travelling with. So for some places I really wouldn’t feel comfortable travelling on my own as a young female, even if there is a 90% chance nothing would happen. However, if I was with a few others I would feel fine.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Ashleigh. Agreed. If we went by the broad brush anecdotal, “it’s not safe”, we’d never leave the house. I remember traveling to the Baltics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) to visit Audrey when she was in the Peace Corps in the late 1990s. Of course, geographic confusion with the Balkans resulted in questions of “Wasn’t there a war there?”
So yes, our fears unnecessarily deny us some of our potentially best and most transformative experiences. Glad you went with your instinct and visited Croatia.
Your point regarding context and with whom you are traveling definitely makes sense as a consideration.
The idea: get the full story before heading out the door.
Alright, we’ll I am taking your advice and asking about a certain area that I would LOVE to see but people are warning me against it. As they have never been there before, I am not taking everything they say seriously but I would be silly to not research it further. I am a younger, solo female traveler and would love to spend some time in Myanmar. Is there any safety concerns, beyond the obvious tourist traps and general sketchy situations that you could find in other Southeast Asian countries to be aware of as a solo traveler? Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated! Thanks:)
Thanks so much for your question and doing more research on Myanmar to alleviate your fears, and those of your friends/family who might be concerned for your safety there. During our visit to Myanmar we felt that it was an incredibly safe place for solo female travelers – quite respectful and also other women would sort of adopt female travelers to take care of them. We have had other solo female traveler friends have a great time in Myanmar in recent year (e.g., Jodi from Legal Nomads or Shannon from A Little Adrift). But, as both of their visits were a couple of years ago I reached out to another traveler friend who is traveling through Myanmar right now who confirmed that the safety situation is still good for all travelers, but that he’s met quite a few solo female travelers on his trip who are enjoying their time there. According to him, he thinks Myanmar right now is the safest place in Southeast Asia for solo female travelers. Hope this information helps with you decision process!
I notice that the Philippines wasn’t on your list of countries. Have you ever considered that as one of your destinations? I haven’t been there recently but, in the past, have traveled from Luzon down to Jolo Island in the Sulu Archipelago. There are problems in the southern part of the country but the central and northern parts should be okay. The people there are very outgoing and friendly.
@Bill Lucky for you, you’ve reached Jolo. I only got as far as Basilan. And I agree that the Philippines is generally safe despite the sensationalized news you get about the Philippines. Even the northern and eastern part of Mindanao, which is in the south, is safe.
Perhaps, what foreigners perceive, is that if trouble erupts in a village or town, several areas which are miles away from the area in question is also unsafe. The reality is: if conflict in a village or town erupts, it is usually contained in that area alone. Adjacent villages or towns may be on heightened alert, but that’s it. And one island or peninsula can take at least nine hours to travel, by bus, from end to end. That’s how distant one peaceful place can be from one that is experiencing conflict.
Yes, Philippines is definitely on the list. We’ve put it off just because of the amount of time we’d like to spend there.
Great to see you here (and on other posts), Bill. Thanks so much for the perspective, advice and suggestions. We really appreciate it!
Like you, I’ve also been bashing government travel warnings for some time now. They tend to be more of a ‘cover ones a##’ warning then anything useful.
That said, I never thought about checking other country’s sites. Great tip!
Thanks, Mike. Glad our tip was helpful.
By the way, we agree: many of those travel warnings are for insurance and liability purposes. Problem is: that fact ought to be written in big red letters at the top of the warning announcement.
I think the map is pretty accurate. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time is never a good idea but cannot be avoided. I point to the Bardo Museum massacre in Tunis a while back. North Korea is perfectly safe. You’ll be on a tour. Important to adhere to the company’s do’s and don’ts. One has to decide whether or not to go as you are in fact supporting the Kim regime. Whether you go or not will have no impact on when the place implodes.
Hope Yemen and its island, Socotra, will once again be available for travelers but right now Arabia Felix is not so ‘felix’!
Agree that being in the wrong place at the wrong time can never be entirely avoided, and there are no places that are 100% safe. Just take a look at my own country, the United States, that comes up as green on the map.
And yes, when visiting a country like North Korea one has to think about ethical issues. In other places where we’ve been required to take a tour (e.g., Turkmenistan and Iran) we were able to eat in local restaurants and hotels, but know that isn’t the case in North Korea.
Great post and great perspective. The tips are extremely helpful – sometimes all you need to combat fear is a couple of action steps to make you feel like you’ve done due diligence on safety.
Elizabeth, glad you enjoyed this piece. Yes, often just talking with someone living in a place or who has recently traveled through a country is all it takes to alleviate fears.
Thank you! A quick look at the ole’ Facebook feed and here lately it is filled with so much fear, uncertainty, and doubt, that it’s maddening! It makes me want to scream “when did we all become such cowards?!?”. Perhaps coward is a strong word there, but you get the point of what I’m saying… we’re not meant to live our lives in fear, but rather in curious discovery.
Thanks for this well thought out post. It was a breath of fresh air for the day!
Thanks, Dan. Glad you enjoyed the post, that it resonated with you.
As we indicated in a piece last week regarding the attacks in Paris, it’s natural to be frightened in the wake of such an event. The missed opportunity seems to be an examination and understanding of those fears in addition to responding to them:
woot i live in Canada we are so safe we don’t even have a color.
I would hope so, since the source of the map is cited as the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs 🙂
România is much safer than any country of eu. Change that please. To bad we have that status in strangers mind.but it’s not even close.
Benjamin, we did not create the map in this article or choose which countries were given certain colors. We intended to question the map and also the general public’s reaction to it. I hope that helps clarify.
I work for a worldwide tour operator and, since the Paris attacks, have received an influx of worried travelers who are canceling their trips. They cite their fear of traveling abroad due to terrorism and vow to only travel in the U.S. for awhile. After having the summer of my life backpacking across Europe, I find this absolutely rediculous. As you, and other commenters mention, there are much more dangerous places in the U.S. than in foreign places. Thank you for writing such an insightful post on a subject the media is continuing to blow out of proportion.
You’re welcome, Jake. Perhaps sharing the article with your clients might help them make different decisions in the future. For certain, it’s all an education process, especially when it comes to things like assessing danger, safety and risk — at home and abroad.
Great post. We just spent two months traveling all around Mexico and we never, ever, felt unsafe. The media portrays a very different version of the country. If you travel during the day, use common sense, take taxis at night, you are almost assured to be safe wherever you go.
Thanks, Jeff. Glad to hear these ideas were reinforced by your experience. We even occasionally found ourselves walking the streets of Oaxaca late sometimes (1AM-3AM) and felt totally safe from the center of town to the neighborhood where we lived. I really think it all depends on using some common sense (as you suggest) in combination with some awareness and an assessment of circumstances on the ground.