Why Travel to Dangerous Places?
Some people travel to dangerous places just for the thrill of it. They get a rush out of courting risk in Afghanistan or flirting with danger in Somalia.
Other people travel to dangerous places because a ‘dangerous country’ lies smack dab on their route. If you want to bike from Cairo to Cape Town there’s no side stepping Sudan. If you dream of cycling the length of the America’s, you’ll be hard pressed to find a way around Honduras.
Once you make public your intention to bike through a developing country, friends and family will be lining up to give you unsolicited advice. Even a plan to bike though seemingly safe countries like Thailand, Tanzania or Turkey , will get the fear mongers swarming around you like mosquitoes to fresh flesh in the Amazon.
Concerned souls will attempt to dissuade you with a tale of their third cousin twice removed who got his wallet swiped in Bangkok. Further questioning will reveal that the incident occurred while cousin Bob was on R & R back in 1973. But, according to the Fear Monger, Thailand is full of crooks, con artists and all sorts of sleaze-balls that prey on unwary tourists. A defenseless guy on a bike would be especially easy prey.
Fear Mongers know ‘for a fact’ that Turks ‘hate all foreigners.’ Fear Mongers will tell you with a straight face that Tanzania (in fact the whole African continent) is a poverty infested place where the locals will rob you blind.
The best way to deal with Fear Mongers is to call their bluff. A simple, “So, tell me more about your trip to Turkey,” will usually put a damper on a Fear Monger’s rant. For if there’s one thing all fear mongers share in common, it’s their fear of the unknown. Fear Mongers are a tribe of stay at home, don’t rock the boat, let me live my life in a box fraidy-cats. Don’t listen to them.
Resources for Sizing up the Security Situation
Don’t be fooled by the Fear Mongers. Make informed decisions about where to travel. There are many ways to size up the security situation in a country you’re considering for a bicycle tour.
- The Mainstream Media is fine for getting a broad view of the security situation. When we were thinking about biking through Liberia in 2006, a report on the BBC made me think twice. According to their foreign correspondent, Lebanese traders had yet to return to Liberia due to concerns about political instability. If savvy Lebanese businessmen weren’t ready to return, I wasn’t ready to risk a ride to Monrovia. Just remember that the mainstream media is in the business of selling news, and coup attempts, terrorist attacks and street demonstrations get hyped beyond belief.
- The US State Department Travel Warnings are a good source of safety information, but keep in mind that advice from the US government is highly conservative in nature. Travel Warnings are issued to describe long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable. Of the 30 countries currently on the travel warning list, we’ve visited 14 without problem. Travel warnings are a starting point, not a reason to scratch a country off your travel list.
- The Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum is an excellent place to get safety advice from travelers who know what they’re talking about. We’ve gotten up-to-date, accurate and surprisingly detailed information from fellow forum posters. Forum posts are especially helpful for planning cycling routes and getting detailed information about places few traditional travelers ever visit.
- In country regional experts are your best source for information regarding hot spots. Talk with ex-pats, missionaries and foreign aid workers to find out what’s really happening on the ground. These people have connections and know which places to steer clear of.
Questionable Sources of Security Information
While biking through Africa, we often found ex-pats to be more reliable sources of information than many locals. That’s because locals often don’t have the opportunity to travel far from home. And sometimes locals may be aware of dangers, but hesitate to warn foreigners because they believe it will reflect badly on their country.
Local travel agents and others who work in the tourist industry are dodgy sources of safety information. They have a vested interested in keeping tourists coming and will most likely underplay security concerns. Or they might use the old ploy of insisting you’ll be safe only if you hire a local guide.
We’ve found local police to be one of the worst sources of security information. In Northern Kenya the local security forces tried to extract an exorbitant fee from us (‘just to cover petrol costs’) for an escort service they claimed we needed. When traveling in the developing world, most men in uniforms are best avoided.
Travel with Confidence
If you want to travel in places with questionable security, spend time searching for reliable information. Then set off on your adventure with confidence, not qualms.
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