The Big Scary World

Exactly two weeks before Pete and I were scheduled to get on our flight to Honduras, news segments all over Canada were broadcasting that a Canadian man had been killed in a violent robbery off the coast of Honduras. At the end of one particular newscast we watched, the announcer blatantly stated: It is not safe for Canadians to travel to Honduras.

I prepared for what I knew was coming after the news broadcast – comments from my Mom and others about if we really thought it was a good idea to be moving there. I answered several of the same questions repeatedly:  No, we are not going to that particular area.  Yes, of course, we will be careful.

We have had these conversations enough times to know that this onslaught of concern was coming. During our year around South America, if any news came out about any incident somewhere south of the United States border, we were sure to at least get one comment out of someone. When the catastrophic earthquake hit Haiti, I had to explain to a friend that seeing as we were then in southern Argentina, that he was actually closer to the devastation then we were.  Did he feel the earth tremor in Alberta?  No, I didn’t think so.

With all due sympathy to the family involved in the horrific attack in Honduras, I couldn’t help but scoff as the local news again applied it’s big blanket theme of “the world is a scary place” to any location beyond it’s own borders. After every attack against a Canadian when not in Canada, the unfortunate country where the incident takes place suddenly rises to the top of everyone’s “do not travel” list. People retreat back to their cozy cocoons, continue to watch the news, and shake their heads in wonder of what this world is coming to.

Sensationalist news wins again, and you can’t help but wonder – is there an ulterior motive at play?  Could it be that rather then have people spend their holiday dollars elsewhere, that they are encouraging residents to stay home and watch TV?  In turn, this will boost the ratings of their specific news channel, as well as contribute to the local economy by buying the products advertised in their commercials.

And perhaps it’s not just a TV channel with these motives, but is this fear-mongering propagated by our own government as well?

Consider government issued travel advisories. Has anyone checked their country’s advisories lately?  I have, and was shocked by what I saw on the Canadian government’s website:

Of the 206 countries/regions they rated, 67% of them were labeled as requiring visitors to “exercise a high degree of caution” while visiting, or worse.  And of the 33% that were given only a “normal caution” rating, there were sometimes extreme advisories against specific regions within these countries.

For the majority of would-be vacationers, who wants to travel to a part of the world where you must at least be “highly cautious of safety” at all times?  Doesn’t sound like much fun.  And it will, realistically, scare people away from traveling at all. Goal achieved! People will continue to sit at home, watch TV, boost the ratings of news channels, and contribute to the local economy by buying the products advertised in the commercials.

Now, I can’t discredit the government’s rating system for all 206 regions/countries as I have yet to make it all the way around the globe, but I can look specifically at the countries I traveled to in the last year. Three of them (Peru, Ecuador and Colombia) have regions that, according to the government, should have been avoided entirely. Oops!

Yes, we had been warned about these particular areas by locals and exercised some extra caution – we traveled only by day and kept one hand on our valuables at all times. We probably exercised a “high degree of caution” but did not for one minute consider “avoiding all travel“.  And we live to tell, as do the large majority of foreigners who travel in those areas. (This is not to say that all such rated countries should be considered for travel – there are definitely certain places that are on my “no-go” list. But after doing considerable research and talking to others who had been through the area, we knew it was easily doable).

Calgary Crime Map

In the last month, in my home city of Calgary, Alberta, there has been: 1 homicide, 1 attempted murder, 41 sex offenses, and too many assaults and robberies to count. Canadians hurting Canadians. I realize that this is not a fair comparison as I’m not considering several important facts, but this is just to point out that scary crimes happen everywhere.   And yes, you can choose to stay at home, watch TV, boost ratings, etc., and you will increase your chances of avoiding these crimes in your own neighborhood and beyond.

Or you can get off the couch, experience the world outside your borders, and make an educated decision for yourself. And I will bet my travel money that it will not be as big, bad and scary as you are told it is.

43 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • I love this post! We’ve been thinking about writing about the reactions most people give when we told them we’re going to Colombia: a mixture of disbelief, concern, and doubt… Why Colombia? Isn’t it dangerous? Etc, etc…

    The idea of labeling the whole country as ‘dangerous’ due to an isolated specific event that happened in specific place (like the robbery against the Canadian in your post) is just silly.
    jill- Jack and Jill Travel The World recently posted..Akila and Patrick from The Road Forks — Meet A Traveling Couple

    • Peter
      March 2 2011

      Thanks Jill. So true. I don’t know how many times we heard the exact same thing about Colombia and South America from people. Media has done its job I guess…

  • March 2 2011

    Great post! So true! Controlled by fear!

    http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/WeirdNews/2011/02/17/17319941.html <— crime!!!

    • Peter
      March 2 2011

      Thanks Brian. Now that is a true Canadian crime, lol.

  • Sharon
    March 2 2011

    You should read “Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear” by Dan Gardner. It reiterates what you have written about in your post and gets you thinking about a lot of other “fear mongering” techniques out there in this “scary” world!

    • Dalene
      March 2 2011

      OooH! Yes, I want to! Is that one of your book club reads??

  • March 2 2011

    Michael Moore focused on this idea in Bowling for Columbine (although he stole his ideas from a book called “The Culture of Fear”).

    I would even add the rising childhood obesity rate to this as well. IF kids are to go outside and play, they must have x amount of “padding”, and to “play at their own risk’. There may be needles in that sandbox! You may fall off your swing a break your arm! Some parents are probably like, “You know what? It’s just easier and safer to stay home.”

    • Dalene
      March 3 2011

      Oh yeah! I watched a documentary on CBC this summer about that…and how kids don’t know how to “play” anymore because parents are constantly hovering over them.

      This “fear” concept applies to SO MANY things in our lives these days….

  • Jon
    March 3 2011

    I love couch

    • Dalene
      March 3 2011

      That’s nice. But does couch love you Jon?

  • March 3 2011

    Amen Dalene! After 3-1/2 years of living on Roatan, I still get people telling me I should return to Ontario, Canada, because it is to dangerous here??? I’ve never been robbed, assaulted or anything else. I use the same common sense practices as I did in Canada.

    It is different for sure, but so is the food I eat and the lifestyle I live… the best information anyone will get when travelling to a new location will come from the people who live there NOT… CBC, CNN, BBC, etc.

    PS Come on out to Infinity Bay on Sunday afternoon, 2CANDU and the Polish Guy are playing 🙂
    Genevieve recently posted..Only on Roatan

    • Peter
      March 3 2011

      Yes! The people who actually experience and live it are ones that should be listened to. Sure there is bad shit that happens in these places, but bad shit happens everywhere. We choose to live and travel. Not be trapped at home in a cage because of some “advisory” or media sensation.

      I have no idea what 2CANDU or the Polish Guy is, assuming bands, but as of now we have no plans and think we will make an appearance. See you then!

  • March 3 2011

    Amen! I was trying to talk about this with some friends last night who were negative about the idea of traveling to Mexico. Yes, there are some scary things happening there, but usually it’s drug-related. And I wished I’d had some stats at my fingertips about all the murders that have taken place in the US in the same time period. US murders don’t get quite as much play in the media, do they?
    Gray recently posted..The World is Her Classroom

    • Peter
      March 3 2011

      I agree Gray. The murders in the US or Canada for that matter don’t get a much play in the media. People think they have this security blanket in their own home country and these warnings and advisories just reinforce not leaving (especially Mexico lately). It’s really a shame.

  • March 3 2011

    I agree, great article. 16 months before our RTW, we broke the news that we wanted to travel to my parents. The next morning I had a phone message from my mom explaining how dangerous Mexico was, and why I couldn’t go there.
    Mike Lenzen recently posted..One Year Since We Decided to Travel the World

    • Dalene
      March 3 2011

      Crazy, right? A friend on facebook was debating going to Mexico the other day (in her status), and one of her friends responded saying “Why? You’re just going to get drugged, raped or killed…” C’mon people!!

      • March 3 2011

        The worst part, though, is when you, as a generally more adventurous traveller, admit that there’s a bit of a danger in going to a particular place (like Mexico, where there’s essentially a small-scale civil war happening, resulting in nearly 36,000 casualties in less than five years). Those conversations end up spiralling downwards pretty quickly into one of those “the world is dangerous, don’t leave the safe confines of North America/Western Europe” chats.

  • March 3 2011

    yea, as you know, I did a post a while back about risks and real risks. I agree that a ton of this stuff is totally overblown. Hell, if you go by Lonely Planet Guides, about every city in the world is really dangerous and you need to be on the look out constantly…. everywhere. Silly stuff.
    Michael Hodson recently posted..My Favorite Travel Books Part One

    • Dalene
      March 3 2011

      Ah, yes Michael, but after reading your article, I’m still not sure I want to go swimming with sharks – ha! So, maybe I can understand other people’s fears a bit, I guess? LP is the WORST for that – I guess they are writing it that way to cover their own asses, but, seriously! They go way overboard.

  • March 3 2011

    Excellent post!! I heard similar horror stories when I went to drive through Albania, Bosnia and Montenegro. Yet only one time did I feel afraid (surrounded and mobbed by about 50 gypsies will do that :-)). Even in that instance I was able to extricate myself and ended up having a marvelous time in three of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever seen. I do listen to the advisory warnings, but I am not controlled by them. I simply try to be sensible and wise, travel with people I trust, and have a plan if something does go wrong. I lived in fear for many years and I won’t do it anymore. 🙂

    • Dalene
      March 3 2011

      Krista – sorry to hear about your crazy experience, but glad that it all ended up as good as it did! This sentence: “I lived in fear for many years and I won’t do it anymore.” is not only key to enjoying travel, but enjoying LIFE! People miss out on so much if they give into their fears.

  • March 3 2011

    Fantastic, yet depressing, read. There’s so much literature in academic circles about this sort of thing: the “risk” society, and how attempts to mitigate risk end up putting us more “at risk” (whatever that means).

    I can say with pretty high confidence, though, that many of the areas of Kenya (one of Africa’s bright spots, according to the Canadian government’s outposts abroad!) are far safer than, say, Regina or Surrey. What terrifies me is that so many people accept the government travel advisories as indisputable facts about the situation on the ground. Sigh.

    At the end of the day, staying safe abroad isn’t something a government agency can really tell you how to do. It’s something you have to figure out on your own, and, once you do, you realise that the world is a much more sane and safe place than we’re generally led to believe.

    • Dalene
      March 3 2011

      Thanks for your comments Adam. And yes, I believe it is quite depressing as well. There are so many beautiful and enlightening parts to this world that people will miss out on, because of inflated fears propagated by any number of outlets (media, gov’t, etc.)

      You are so right – staying safe is our own responsibility – and that’s why I hope people will take the initiative to look BEYOND what the news and gov’t advisories say about certain places. Don’t dismiss a region just because they say so, but also don’t rely on them for having all of the current information about concerns either. Talk to people who have been there and engage the locals!

      But even wrt Mexico, sure, I personally wouldn’t be on the next plane to Juarez, but the whole blanketed statement of Don’t Go To Mexico bothers me too. There are still many places very worthy of a visit that can be done safely.

  • March 3 2011

    Great post Dalene! g-knows if I listened to all my (otherwise dear and trustworthy) friends and family regarding the dubious wisdom of traveling… (pretty much) wherever (save for possibly a cruise) – why I’d never even walk out my front door!

    (And SOLO? good lord – are you CRAZY???))

    That said though, I doubt that there’s any “conspiracy” at work by the Canadian (or any other) gov’t with regard to the dismal (and yes, seemingly excessively over-the-top) travel advisories. Rather, I believe it’s simply a CYA (CoverYourA…) thing, i.e. better to err on the (ultra) safe side.

    IOW, they pretty much HAVE to wax cautious in their official advisories, so as to place responsibility for whatever (g-knows WHAT) calamity might perchance occur abroad – squarely on the shoulders we (breathtakingly RECKLESS) travelers (not!) 😉
    Dyanne @TravelnLass recently posted..Random Photo Memory- Total Solar Eclipse in Costa Rica

    • Dalene
      March 3 2011

      Thanks Dyanne! I can only imagine the wonderful advice you have gotten from friends, especially as a solo traveler!

      And I do agree with you that a portion of the concern comes from a CYA perspective (same thing with the overly cautious reviews found in LP books), but I definitely also subscribe to the conspiracy theory. Fear is a common tactic used to gain political support as well as support for war – why should we assume that it’s not a part of a country’s economic strategy as well?

  • March 3 2011

    Hey Guys – This is an issue that has probably gotten worse over the last 10 years or so, and the Australian media (as most media outlets in the western world) sensationalize every little detail to a story. The governments also overstate the dangers of travelling to any particular destination, when by and large these destinations are often safer than any large city in Australia, US, Canada ect after 2.00am.

    I believe no matter where you are (home towns included) you need to use some common sense as well as being vigalent. There are few places in the world where it is truly unsafe for the traveler, but there are many people who do silly things and get them selves into trouble.

    Walking home late at night in a foreign city, sometimes drunk is not going to help your chances anywhere. Displaying wealth in the form of expensive jewlery (or even jewlery or watches that look expensive). I spent 2 months living in Rio in the early nineties and would catch the local busses home on my own from a freinds place at 2 and 3am many nights of the week. I would only be wearing shorts, t-shirt and thongs and carry enough money for that day.

    I was glanced up and down by a few of the young gangs that hang out on the backs of the buses, but never once ran into trouble. Maybe I was lucky (this is a fact of life) but I feel it was because I had nothing to loose and kept to myself, while there were tourists during this time getting robbed, sometimes volently during the day on Copacabana beach.

    • Dalene
      March 3 2011

      Hey Jason – 100% agree with everything you said….and I debated getting into the tips on how to travel safely in this article but decided to leave it for another time. (All I wanted to do here was just encourage people to look beyond the news and the gov’t websites).

      We have met several travelers who have been robbed and there is usually a ridiculous story to go with it (like you said) – walking through dark alleys at 5am carrying big purses, leaving bags unattended, wearing flashy (and obviously expensive) jewelry and sunglasses – these people are just ASKING to have their stuff taken. It is very possible to travel in most corners of the world safely, if done smartly!

      I just hope a few more get off the couch and actually GET THERE first! 🙂

  • March 3 2011

    “There have been five jewellery store heists all told. For the time being, the jewellery store attacks seem to have quieted down but we are not so foolish as to think it’s all over. Still, we all walk on eggshells and every day when I go to work, I pray I will also make it home safe at the end of the day.
    Guns, axes and pepper spray were never a big part of my day-to-day life growing up so you can appreciate that it makes me (all of us!) more than a little tense. In our store we now only put out a couple of Rolex and Breitling watches and our diamonds and other precious jewels over a half carat remain in the safes. It’s hard to do business with only half the stock out but it gives us some shred of calm feeling like the robbers maybe won’t bother us if they check us out beforehand and see there’s really nothing much to steal.
    The new store surveillance system helps us to feel a bit better too, but for all of that, nothing can prepare you for an attack. They come out of nowhere and they always have that element of surprise on their side.”

    … by the way, this is an email I received from a friend in my (relatively small) hometown in Ontario, Canada… I wonder if the government will post a Travel Advisory?
    Genevieve recently posted..Only on Roatan

    • Dalene
      March 3 2011

      WOW. Genny – thanks so much for posting this. (At first I thought you were copying down something off of one of the Roatan yahoo groups…) 🙂

  • March 3 2011

    Love it. You are so right, I don’t know either if it’s just media propaganda or government agenda, but it’s so funny how they actually manage to scare people. When I told a friend of mine from France I was moving to China, he replied: “Oh my God! BE CAREFUL!” Wow, Shanghai is one of the safest cities I’ve ever been to…
    You’re right, people should get out more and make their own decisions by themselves.
    Angela recently posted..A Photo per Day – Underground Istanbul

    • Dalene
      March 4 2011

      China! OMG!! Be careful! 🙂

      Thanks Angela! I can’t say for sure that my conspiracy theory is the answer, but it’s pretty hard not to believe that something is going on in the background….

  • March 4 2011

    It bugs me that Canada goes overboard on travel warnings, but events here seem to get brushed to the side. Such as the spree of gang shootings in Vancouver last year, where innocent people were getting hit in the streets. If this had happened in any other country there would be major travel advisories issued warning us to avoid all travel there.

    We personally experienced over exaggerated fears when planning to travel to South Africa. Is there more crime there compared to Canada? Yes. Do you have to take some extra precautions? Yes. We were told we would be stabbed, shot, raped and left for dead! We did more research and decided to continue with our plans.

    Then during our travels in South Africa we were warned to avoid the entire Wild Coast. This was by South Africans who had never even been to the area, but live in fear created by media and hype. Thank goodness we spoke to more people that convinced us to go. It ended up being one of our favorite parts of South Africa and the most memorable part of our trip.

    Sometimes even local people have a warped sense of other areas within their own country.
    Audrey recently posted..Guanajuato- A Youthful And Lively City

    • Peter
      March 4 2011

      You are sooo right. Some of the more “overboard” warnings stated that there were (paraphrasing) protests in a certain region in 2006, and they might happen again, so exercise a HIGH degree of caution. And yet our own bad press gets swept aside. How is that logical?

      Glad you persevered in Africa, we are excited to get there someday. And we experienced the same thing with locals in certain areas of South America as well…some who had no clue what was going on nearby.

  • Andrea
    March 4 2011

    Couldn’t agree with you more! It can be difficult to keep these things in mind when you’re travelling if stuff is going on around you (we’ve just dodged floods, cyclones and a major earthquake so far this year, for example), but stats totally put fears in perspective. My father always says, “when your number’s up, your number’s up,” which sounds a little harsh but it is a good motto for worriers like me. You can’t control your life. You can be smart and take precautions but there will always be the little things you can’t predict or prevent. It’s no reason to lock yourself indoors!
    Andrea recently posted..New Zealand ps – Rotorua- Animals of NZ

    • Peter
      March 4 2011

      Yep, can’t say it better, when your number’s up, it’s up. No doubt about it, you have to be smart and understand your situation, but don’t let these warnings hold you back or prevent you from going places. Some of our greatest experiences were in places that we were “advised” to stay completely away from. I’m glad we didn’t let these deter us.

  • March 5 2011

    Anything can happen anywhere at any time. That’s why you need to travel to see what the world is really like and not just hear about it on CNN. So many people are brainwashed by the media it’s pathetic. I feel more safe in places that I travel to than I do in my home town which has had 12 homicides this year and counting.

    I always tell people to go enjoy life but keep your whits about you. If something doesn’t feel right then get the heck out of there. You never know what you will experience and learn through travel if you don’t get off the couch!

    • Dalene
      March 5 2011

      Cheers Tai – our thoughts exactly! Why believe exactly what the talking heads say? Get out and decide for yourself!! 🙂

  • I love the comparison to cities back home! We have the same problem with our families … oh no, you can’t go to Mexico, Guatemala, bla bla. But meanwhile an other kids get killed in a drive-by in the “safe” world!

    Check out an article from the Globetrottergirls – they just did a piece on safety in Honduras: http://globetrottergirls.com/2011/03/travel-in-honduras-safe-or-not/
    For 91 Days Travel Blog recently posted..The Face of Argentina

    • Dalene
      March 9 2011

      Oh yes, whenever someone now makes a comment to me about safety abroad, I always try to search for the latest bad news from home as retaliation. That usually changes the conversation… 🙂

  • March 29 2011

    A little late to the game here, but just wanted to chime in that you hit the nail on the head about why I do not watch the news.

    Recently, I just moved to upstate NY, about 80 miles from NYC. Every time it snows in the northeast, anywhere, I get comments, phone calls, emails, etc, telling me how stupid I was to move from Sunny CA. And to spare the rest of the examples, I think we are all on the same page.

    Get out there, live your damn lives and stop worrying about life. Worrying won’t accomplish anything.

    Thanks guys for a very prudent post.

  • July 23 2011

    I am 23 and from the US. I’m smart enough to realize local news hidden agendas. But I would like to be a cautious traveler. I have been on LP and I didn’t take it as a site that had hidden agendas too but should I ? I read one comment on here implying that the site fabricates. How does one learn more about the location if sites like LP arnt truthful. I’m set to travel to Europe on a 10 day trip, I’m nervous. I really do want to be aware but to be honest, I have to be aware in every city that I travel to in the US. Should it be any different??

    • July 24 2011

      I wouldn’t necessarily say that LP fabricates, but think of it this way….if they said that a place was “safe”, and then you went there and something bad happened to you, then you could go try to blame it on them for misguiding you. Hence, they will probably say that every place has an element of danger, just to cover their asses.

      And in a way they are right, you should be careful in every place you go because something can happen to you anywhere, whether it’s in Europe, or on your own street. BUT, the point is, don’t let it scare you out of going somewhere.

      There are parts of Europe that you would definitely have to be more aware, as there are parts in the US, and everywhere! My advice is this: keep an eye on your belongings at all times, don’t be “flashy” (i.e. leave the designer sunglasses at home!), don’t drink so much that you make bad decisions, and you WILL be fine! If you want more info on specific places, I would suggest talking to some people who have been there recently or finding blogs of people that have been there recently. I can help you with that if you like.

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