It’s important to recognize that the media and the related governments are sloppy about their reporting of violence in foreign countries. When something happens in Juarez, Mexico, it doesn’t just happen in Juarez. The reports will say that the violence occurred in Mexico – as if all of Mexico is lumped together. There is no distinction between the north and south or the tourist towns and local towns.
The truth is that while protests, civil uprisings, terrorist attacks, and any number of violence or danger may be occurring in one portion of a country and not all over the country. What goes on in one place is not usually representative of what’s going on elsewhere, so travelers can be perfectly safe, even in a country that’s all over the news for a particular reason.
The following are 5 tips to prepare for travel to a ‘dangerous’ country.
1. Isolate the risks
First and foremost, it’s important to determine exactly what is the danger you’re likely to be facing. After all, you’re just as likely to be mugged in nearly any city in the U.S. as you are on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Plane accidents, car crashes, rapes, terrorist attacks, and murders – it’s all possible anywhere you go.
So, how do you know what are the specific risks you’re facing when headed to this particular dangerous country?
You’ll want to spend some time on reliable sites on the Internet and ask yourself:
Am I traveling to or very close to an area that is currently experiencing trouble? Many countries are quite large and lumping all the regions of a country together makes no sense when you’re looking at the risks. Get some specifics on the area in which you will be traveling and get the news at the country or even local level, if you can.
Are tourists in that area being targeted? In many situations, if the problems are internal to the country, a tourist doesn’t have too much to worry about as long as they stay away from the action and don’t try to play photojournalist by taking photos of events.
Checking sites like the U.S. State Department’s country-specific traveler’s info is a great way to start, but remember that the government has an incentive to be conservative in their travel warnings. So, don’t let your research stop there if you really want to visit a country.
For more information, see the 3 Places for the Best Travel Health and Safety Information.
2. Manage the danger
Now that you have some perspective on the particular risks you’ll be facing you can better manage the danger. Specifically, this means getting the necessary vaccinations and visas, having a plan, and leaving a trail.
Before you go, you’ll want to know the following:
The nearest embassy and whether they’re currently operating or not (you can use this website to find updated embassy info).
Alternative routes to the airport or to another (ideally, safer) country where you could wait for things to blow over.
You’ll also want to have a personal travel medical portfolio just in case you need medical care and are unable to speak for yourself. This is a particularly necessary step for those with pre-existing medical conditions or those who have disabilities.
3. Share the itinerary details
In addition to sharing a complete itinerary with someone you trust, you’ll also want to include details like the key concerns and your worst-case plans for getting out of trouble. It can be a great help if you also give your itinerary partner the numbers of the embassy, any local guides and drivers, and your host where you’ll be staying.
Give them as much as you can to help them get in touch with you should something go horribly wrong. This will ease their fears and certainly give you significant peace of mind if something happens.
4. Stay in touch with these 3 steps
More than one traveler has gotten busy with their trip and forgotten to watch the news or check in with those back home. When your family and friends know you’re traveling somewhere dangerous, they’re more apt to pay attention when that location pops up on their news browsers and online tools. If you can’t be contacted, they may unnecessarily start sounding the alarm.
This very thing happened recently when a woman from Washington traveling alone in South America went off grid for six days sending her family and friends into panic mode.
To prevent these problems, try to stay in touch by:
Letting people back home know where you’re going and how to get in touch with you (see #3 above).
If you’re going off-grid for a portion of your trip, let them know the timing of that too so they don’t sound the alarm unnecessarily.
When you go off-grid, don’t forget to check back in when you come back on.
So, check in once in a while by sending a text or making a call, updating your social media status – anything you can do to let those back home know all is well, you’re just busy having fun.
5. Have an escape plan
Give some thought to your escape plan should the violence in one area spread to where you are. The steps in #2 above will give you the keys you need, but it’s essential to know the following:
Where you’re going
How you’ll get there
Who you can trust along the way
When violence breaks out, it’s not always necessary to flee. Sometimes the best plan of action is to lie low and wait for things to blow over. Of course this depends on the situation and the reasons behind the violence, so this is why you do your homework.
Remember that the most common cause of death for tourists anywhere in the world is car accidents and most of the serious injuries that occur to tourists are sustained in bicycle and motorcycle accidents. Those are the real dangers and they’re not likely to be heard about on national news sites – they’re too common and simply happen every day.
After all the planning is done, check out our tips on how to tell the people you love you’re traveling somewhere dangerous.