According to some people, I’m putting the lives of my family at risk on our vacations. Why? Because we travel to some dangerous places. It’s clear to me that people have widely varied opinions on the definition of dangerous travel.
Are These Places Too Dangerous?
Well-meaning family, friends and people on travel forums tell me why my past and future trips are too dangerous. Here are some examples of what I have heard and read:
St. Maarten—Too run down and dangerous. Don’t get off the cruise ship!
Jamaica—Don’t go past the locked gates at the port. The country is full of drugs and crime.
Nassau, The Bahamas—Dangerous market, aggressive sales people, drugs.
Mexico—The entire country is too dangerous! Drug cartels, corrupt police, beggars, etc.
Russia—It’s not safe as long as Putin is in power.
Paris and London—Too many terrorist attacks.
Hawaii—It’s too close to North Korea and will be the first U.S. location bombed.
The Olympics—It’s too big of a target for terrorists.
Atlanta—Drug dealers, gang members.
I can’t help but wonder if people think a place is more dangerous if the people don’t look like them, speak the same language or come from the same socioeconomic background. But to be fair, those differences can be intimidating.
A few weeks ago, my family went to a local Russian restaurant in another suburb of Dallas. We read on some of the reviews that the restaurant was located in a dangerous part of town, so when we went we were a little nervous about what to expect.
However, after our time there we were very surprised that people described the location as dangerous. Sure, the restaurant was in an older strip mall and doesn’t look as spiffy as the brand-new construction in our part of town. But, we felt totally safe and comfortable in the location.
Researching the Safety of Travel Destinations
Obviously, everyone has a different comfort level for visiting certain destinations. Asking someone if a place is safe for travel is kind of like asking if a food is healthy. It reminds me of the mom who was told that raisins are not a healthy snack for school.
The purpose of this post is not to shame anyone for believing any particular place is too dangerous. If you’re not comfortable traveling somewhere due to real or perceived danger, I’m not going to try to talk you into it. It’s your vacation, do what you want! But before you completely eliminate a destination, I do recommend you research the facts first.
If you just Google the area + travel safety, you’re likely to find stories of crime and danger for nearly every location. It’s kind of like Googling your symptoms when you are sick. You are bound to find the worst case scenarios.
I believe that almost any location can turn dangerous if you don’t practice common sense. People are safer in groups. Keep your money hidden. Nothing good happens after midnight, especially if you’re drunk.
My Risk Tolerance
For me, dangerous travel could mean the location, but more often it means the type of activity in any given location.
I won’t travel to any country that is coded red by the U.S. Department of State, which means “Do not travel.” There aren’t that many countries with this extreme travel warning, but North Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq and a few others make the list.
Many countries have a “reconsider travel” label, but that alone wouldn’t deter me. For example, Russia is labeled as “reconsider travel—contains areas with higher security risk”. However, when I read the detailed warning, I realize the warnings don’t apply to the specific cities in Russia we plan to visit.
I worry more about risky activities in any destination. When I traveled to Guatemala in my early 20s, I went hiking up a volcano with a group of fellow students and teachers. Our group didn’t stay together, a storm came out of nowhere, and one of our group members died that day. It’s an experience that still haunts me, and now I both respect and fear nature.
With my kids, I will avoid hiking in areas I think are too steep where they could fall down a cliff. I make sure we use extreme caution near all bodies of water, especially at an unfamiliar beach. Did you know that one tourist dies every week in Hawaii? The deaths are mostly due to hiking and swimming accidents.
Personally, I am afraid of heights. So, I avoid activities that involve my feet dangling in the air, like ski lifts. I’m sure they are not really dangerous, but if they make my palms sweat and my heart beat too fast, it’s just not worth it to me. I’ll happily watch others partake in those activities from the sidelines.
Dangerous travel means something different to everyone. I guess to some people it may appear that my family is living on the edge, but I don’t feel like we’re engaging in overly risky behavior.
What places or activities do you consider too dangerous for travel? Does your definition of dangerous change as you get older? What factors do you consider?
Nancy is a contributing writer for Miles For Family. She enjoys traveling to the beach and is a big fan of Disney. Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids.