Is It Safe to Travel?

1 07 2009

This is somewhat of an off-topic post, but it addresses something that I have thought about numerous times over the last 6 months.

Whenever you consider a decision to travel to any country, be it Tajikistan, India, Nepal or anyplace else, you obviously take a lot of factors into consideration on whether it’s a safe place to travel to or not.

There is only so much info that you can get from your friends and acquintances, as I noticed that people views on countries are often shaped by very random things. I still remember a guy I met in Turkey who said his dad was worried about safety there because of a movie he saw 15 years ago!.

I also remember many of the pre-conceived notions that people had about Tajikistan before I went there – whereas the bulk of them proved to be inaccurate or exagerated. Hopefully, I proved some of them wrong during my time there.

So, naturally, you turn to the web to find out more. But even there, a lot of information can turn out to be misleading.

For example, check out a nifty site called IsItSafeToTravel.com, which aggregates information from American, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand (weird choice!) government travel advisories and combines it together to produce a rating on whether it’s safe to visit a country.

Interesting concept. But let’s take a look at how it pans out in practice:

Starting with Russia – the “motherland”. IsItSafeToTravel’s verdict? Really High Risk! Hmm.

Tajikistan? Really High Risk.

India? Really High Risk.

Wow – it looks like I’ve been in some pretty high risk areas! Let’s try something else:

Canada? Some Risk! (From what exactly? Eating too much maple syrup or getting hit by a hockey puck, eh? Sorry, Frances – those are the only 2 stereotypes of Canadians I know of :)).

And the list goes on. It’s actually quite amazing how many places are rated as High Risk. If you base your judgement solely on these ratings, your best bet is to move to Finland and stay there, as evidently that’s the safest place in this world.

The problem, I think, is what these ratings are based on. Granted, in a lot of these places, there have been some events that preceeded that were  dangerous (civil wars, terrorist attacks, etc.). However, oftentimes, they may be outdated, have nothing to do with foreigners and tourists, and the statistical risk they pose is misrepresented.

When I was in India, my biggest risk was crossing the road and avoiding being hit by a rickshaw driver. In Nepal, it was riding on the bus on the bad roads. In Tajikistan, it was bursting from drinking too much tea and eating.

In most other places, the risk typically comes from every day activities, such as walking at night in bad neighborhoods or being a victim of a pickpocketer in a crowded place. But we are certainly not immune from these things in the U.S., especially in New York. So why don’t we worry about them every time we step out of the house there?

I think that one of the eye-opening experiences on this trip has been exactly this. Many of the places with the perceived risk has turned out to be some nicest places I’ve ever visited with warm, hospitable and friendly people.

So, take all these ratings and warnings with a grain of salt and think about them rationally.

Your thoughts?


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4 responses

1 07 2009
Anuta

Finland is pretty dangerous too… you can get hit by a raindeer! =)

2 07 2009
Frances

It’s the bears (polar bears, grizzly bears, black bears, brown bears, mama bears, baby bears, Sasquatch, circus bears – we got em all) going after the maple syrup and salmon. Oh, and the moose and wolves. Actually, I think Canada gets the “some risk” rating from its shared border with the US🙂

14 07 2009
Ella

Boren’ka, you’re absolutely right, but we want to see you already home! (xotya ya polychau ogromnoe ydovol’stvie ot kajdoi stranichki dnevnika pyteshestvennika)!!!

23 07 2009
Six Months Later: 10 Lessons Learned About Life, Microfinance and the Universe « Kiva Stories from the Field

[…] had about Tajikistan or Central Asia in general before I went there. As I wrote previously in Is It Safe to Travel post, many places I’ve visited have a poor reputation in the Western media, but turn out to […]

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