Discerning Fact from Fiction in “Dangerous” Destinations

As I design custom itineraries for travelers to destinations all over the world, it is often very amusing to hear the ideas people have about different destinations before arriving at the destination. I remember one time I was in Rio de Janeiro, spending a relaxing, fun-filled day on Ipanema beach, and when I got to my phone, I discovered that it was flooded with texts and emails from people asking if I was OK. I stood in my hotel room, in my swimsuit, still dripping from ocean water, and instantly began surfing the web to see what was going on, what I was missing.

Friends told me that a tour bus was hijacked in Rio, and several passengers had been killed. In reality, there is Rio the city which is inside Rio the state, and this bus had indeed been hijacked, but it was in Rio the state, much more than an hour from where I was, and it wasn’t a tourist bus, nor in an area any tourist would ever visit. Someone had indeed died: one of the highjackers, due to police fire. Upon hearing the facts, still friends said, “well, there was still a highjacking. Rio isn’t safe”.

Ironically, the next day, a disgruntled former employee shot three people to death in a law office in Chicago, and I never heard anyone suddenly declare that Chicago was unsafe. My point is that news sources about what goes on locally and especially abroad are not always accurate, and natural disasters and acts of violence happen everywhere: we just seem to forget or minimize the ones that happen on our home turf.

Does this mean we should just be cavalier about visiting any destination in the world, without concern for safety? No, just the opposite. You should exercise extra caution in any destination that isn’t familiar to you, whether at home or abroad, but do NOT let this limit the places you are willing to visit.

Something I have noticed is that many people have a tendency to turn off their brains while traveling, and they take chances they would never take if they were back home.
Think of this example: a lot of people buckle up every time they get into their car, but few buckle up when they get into a taxi cab. Are cabs immune from accidents? I have had several taxi rides that would suggest otherwise. On vacation, I see a lot of travelers leave valuables on a beach unattended and then run into the ocean, returning an hour later to find that their items are gone. “Oh, it is so dangerous here,” they say. It’s not fair to the destination. You may be on vacation, but pickpocketers and petty thieves are not.

So, before you write off a destination because your hair-dresser’s brother’s friend went there and had his phone stolen, do your research. Consult a trusted travel expert and people who have been to the destination multiple times. Get the whole story. Travel wisely and with an open heart and mind.

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