When I told my family and friends I was moving to Mexico for a year, there was an audible gasp. “Don’t get shot, ” one friend told me, only half-joking.
Time and time again I would take a deep breath and still my frayed nerves before answering. Then, I would calmly explain: Mexico is a large country; only certain parts (like the major border towns) are notably dangerous; with a bit of common sense and street smarts (necessary for ANY sort of travel) I would be fine.
I often would receive a dubious shrug in reply.
Unshaken, in 2007 I moved to Monterrey, Mexico for 11.5 months and you can probably guess the rest: I had the best time of my life travelling the country, fell in love with the people and culture, and was struck by the diversity (for northern Mexico is as different from southern Mexico as apples are from oranges). Never was my safety ever threatened, never was one hair on my head disturbed, even when travelling around the country on my own.
This is why I hate the media.
News outlets like CNN will tell you that the world is a scary place. They will make you think Latin America is riddled with senseless killings and drug crimes, Asia is a plague-ridden hole, that Africa is deep, dark, and desperate- a place no average (read: white) traveller with a healthy fear of HIV and cannibalism should ever venture. According to the news, all of Middle East is volatile and backward- the rampant insurgency will make your head spin (if you make it out of there alive). Russia is sordid and racist. But Eastern Europe is kind of okay, so long as you keep an iron grip on your purse (gypsies, you know).
But I’ll tell you what: maybe they’ve got it wrong. I’ve been to some of the most “dangerous” places in the world and I was fine. I’ve travelled solo in Chile and Guatemala and Mexico and didn’t get kidnapped. I’ve written loads on this blog about how Israel and Jordan and Turkey and Dubai and Kenya and Tanzania and Morocco aren’t backward or dangerous at all- they have been some of the safest and most interesting places I have been to. I lived in Hong Kong for two years and did the Southeast Asia thing. While it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, the only thing I had to worry about while there were the people constantly taking my picture or touching my hair without asking (it’s not every day they encounter such chocolatey goodness, you see).
Don’t believe me? Talk to some of my intrepid traveller friends, all girls (gasp!) who travel solo most of the time (double gasp!). Nailah from There’s So Much to See spent two months in Lebanon this summer and had a ball. Adventurous Kate just spent three weeks in South Africa and it has proved safer than she ever could have imagined. Brenna from This Battered Suitcase and Ariawen from Beyond Blighty are currently travelling South America solo, and two years ago Ayngelina, from Bacon is Magic, spent over a year in Latin America doing the same. A Lady in London has been to places like Kosovo and Senegal and Egypt and Tunisia.
I don’t think the world is as scary as the media would have you believe. Most countries are only dangerous in certain parts, at certain times, and in certain circumstances. People have been mugged in Minnesota, and stabbed in Saskatoon. My friend was pickpocketed in Rome and a number of people I know have had their phones stolen right from their hands in London. No matter the destination, being informed and using your common sense is the best way to be safe.
How much of a role does the news/media play in where you will and wont travel? Have you been anywhere that society considers dangerous?