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Are You Afraid?

Of this scary movie we watched last night? Yes.

Of traveling to most places? Definitely, no.

I read this article in the Sunday NY Times (no, I'm not a total snob but my Mom orders the Sunday issue and I couldn't resist the Travel section) about traveling in Tunisia after the Arab Spring revolution.  
Tunisia, from here
The author reported that locals, though energized by the success of the revolution, are now facing huge financial difficulties as tourists, nervous about safety in the region, have abandoned the hotels, resorts and historical sights of the country.

My Dad mentioned a similar thing the other day - he said he truly regretted not hoping on a plane to Egypt after the revolts there. Can you imagine being one of only a handful of tourists at the pyramids or the Sphinx at that time? Amazing.
These kids had the run of the place at Giza last May, here
I got the same question over and over again when I traveled to India: aren't you scared? No, not really - and for good reason. In most cases, places where things are a little less certain and a tad bit dicey are the places that appreciate tourists the most. None of that French disdain for les touristes - nu huh. Out in the more remote areas of India, Peru and Nepal, where foreign faces were few and far between, I found the best service and the most visible security. Just remember this - members of these community have too much to lose from a drop in tourism to be careless about safety. And wouldn't you like to think your tourist dollars could go to support fledgling democracies and developing economies? I would!

But that doesn't mean that there aren't places I wouldn't go, or that I don't take precautions in the places I do visit. Any place with widespread, unconfined violence is not a place on my list (Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, etc.) I would also avoid places that are extremely politically anti-US (North Korea, Iran). You have to flash your passport all the time - why do it in a place that will cause you uneasiness? Finally, I will always avoid traveling alone in countries where being a woman alone is not recommended. Adventurous Kate wrote a great post about travelling in Jordan as a solo female, but much of the Middle East and Africa is on my "not-alone" list.

There are plenty of ways to mediate danger in places on your "maybe" list.  Here are just a few:
  • Travel with a guide. In lots of developing countries, it's extremely affordable to hire a guide or driver. We did this in India, Peru, Nepal - and I joined a tour in China. It's a great way to have an added layer of protection and get a better insight into the culture by getting to know a local!
  • Invest in products that help keep your belongings safe - you'll feel a lot more secure if you aren't constantly checking your pockets or carrying your backpack in front of you like a dork. See my favorite travel product post, to come ;)
  • Learn a bit of the local language. When vendors or beggars got a little too aggressive in India, it was surprisingly helpful to tell them to "Stop! Go Away" in Hindi. Mostly, they laughed but it broke the tension and made them realize I knew (somewhat) what I was doing.
    The guys at my favorite neighborhood restaurant in Bangalore helped me out when I was followed by a creeper... lesson learned - know the neighbors!
  • Trust your instincts. If something feels wrong - that guy has been walking behind you for too long or the taxi driver is taking a route you don't recognize - take action. Stop into a cafe and ask for help, or get out of the cab and hail another. You might feel silly, but that's a whole lot better than getting hurt.
On my list of "iffy" places I'd like to go? Definitely Tunisia after reading all about the Art Deco architecture of Ribat and the Lezard Rouge luxury train. Cambodia and the Philippines are also places with travel warnings that I'd still visit, if I could!

Remember to check out the US State Dept and the UK's Foreign Secretary pages for all warnings. Many mention only a small part of the country and not the whole place - so read carefully!

Where would you go that's thought of as "scary"?

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