What Constitutes a Dangerous Destination?

by Beth Whitman (May 10th, 2010)

Police Ice CreamWhat constitutes a dangerous destination? Depending on your ethnicity and accent, these days it might be Arizona. But that’s a can of worms best not opened here.

Seriously. Two “dangerous” destinations on many travelers’ radars right now are Bangkok and Mexico (yeah, the whole country if you ask most people). Really, though, just how much consideration should you give to avoiding these (or other) destinations where drug-related violence and protests have become the norm? These two destinations rarely make the front page in U.S. newspapers, yet their buried stories have a way of permeating our subconscious causing us to think, without knowing all of the details, that these places should be avoided completely.

Barbara from Hole in the Donut recently traveled throughout Mexico on her own and felt quite safe. As a matter of fact, she writes about how over-the-top friendly Mexicans were to her and goes so far as to advocate that people travel there to see for themselves. In contrast, however, Daniel, a commenter on her Mexico post, says he wants nothing more than to be away from Mexico due to the violence and law enforcement’s ineptitude. He’s a Mexican currently studying in the U.S and says that Mexicans are leaving the country for safety reasons. He warns… “Visit Mexico At Your Own Risk.”

But don’t we do everything at our own risk?

So, who’s right?

I suppose they both are. Barbara and Daniel are relying on their own personal experiences when they voice their opinion. Barbara’s travels were safe in Mexico while Daniel’s experience as a resident have been tenuous, causing him to fear for his family.

So whaddya gonna do? While your personal safety should always be a priority when choosing a destination, do your due diligence when Bangkok Protestsmaking that final decision. Many people allow themselves to be too influenced by the State Department’s travel warnings or the media’s “the sky is falling” reports. In reality, you should take these with a grain of salt. The State Department is overly cautious and the media is overly dire. Really, there are few places in the world that would cause me to raise an eyebrow if someone told me they were going there. Mexico is not one of them. Neither is Bangkok.

Gary from Everything Everywhere wrote about his recent time in Bangkok just after the bullets started flying. He urged caution and suggested that one find out the whole story before you cancel a trip. Even so, he was nearly roasted for even suggesting that one might be safe while traveling to Thailand and Bangkok specifically.

One commenter wrote that he choose another country because of the incidents in the city (which, for the most part, have been isolated to specific areas). Really? Given that logic, foreign tourists should avoid the whole of the U.S. because of a failed terrorist attack on Times Square. But then, I didn’t notice any State Department travel warning about NYC either…

The bottom line is don’t rely on overblown reports which are generally focused on the bad and the ugly. There’s often more good than terrible in the world. Caving to the naysayers and negative types will only cause you to want to stay home and watch another repeat of Law & Order.

The State Department’s travel warning about Mexico is filled with warnings about specific areas of the country that should be avoided. While it all sounds dire, in reality, the violence is quite isolated and targeted. Search around for other accounts, like Barbara’s and Gary’s, to find people on the ground who have their own (good or bad) experiences to share.

And, while those who believe the sky is falling are sitting at home, know that you can take advantage of low cost hotels and cheaper flights to the destinations that others believe are oh-so-dangerous.

Travel Well!


Related links:
Getting Over Reverse Culture Shock
A Monk Walks onto a Plane
One Way Ticket to Ride
American Travel Ethos

Police with Ice Cream: Azttlan

On May 10th, 2010 at 1:22 pm, Amy @ The Q Family said:

Well said, Beth! I’m less than 2 weeks away from our vacation in Thailand. :) Granted my family lives there so I have no problem going there. Plus after talking to my family and friends, life goes on as normal there. The impact area in Bangkok is very small comparing to the whole country.

But as you mentioned, we have to decide for ourselves what is our comfort zone. But don’t let media and travel alert scares you to hide in your house forever. :) Totally agree about Arizona! 😉

On May 10th, 2010 at 1:45 pm, Mary Gallagher said:

Well I have to disagree and agree with this dangerous destination discussion. As someone who has been seriously injured in Paris, Grenada and other places the difference is when something happens whether it is caused by civil unrest or your own carelessness what happens next? Tourists accidentially injured in Burma riots have serious permanent disabilities, I have a lot of metal parts from the Grenada situation with more injuries due to brutalizing by locals and no problems from my time in Paris emergency rooms and hospitals. How fast can you get out? Your family find you and can you afford the $50,000 or so of an airlift. Most of Mexico can be safe but what if it isn’t and you do get shot or beaten. It’s not the original injury it’s the care or lack of that one needs to be concerned about.
Americans are not loved everywhere and don’t ever forget that.
Mary Gallagher

On May 11th, 2010 at 5:56 am, Beth said:

Good points, Mary.

I always recommend evacuation insurance, especially if you’re going someplace where the healthcare is iffy (it’s awesome in Bangkok, by the way).

I’m curious as to how close you were to the action in both Grenada and Paris? I’m not suggesting that people put themselves in the middle of danger but perhaps you were working on a story that required you get close to the front lines of a situation?

On May 11th, 2010 at 7:28 am, Mary Gallagher said:

Well Beth there was nothing exciting about the circumstances of those two incidents and each could have happened in Seattle but it was the level of care and concern that made the difference in the outcome. In Grenada the ambulance was a panel truck with not even padding on the floor, the hospital bed was a dirty mattress on cement blocks, in the days it took to get me airlifted out, other patients gave me water and some fruit not the staff. Regarding the staff let’s leave it at I left the hospital with more serious injuries than when I arrived. Back in the US the prognosis was I would never walk un-assisted again…well a lot of metal, therapy and time and I walk oddly but without assistance.
I was at the Hotel Louvre in Paris and the shower leaked water all over the marble floors and I fell. The hotel, the ambulance, the emergency room (not the American Hospital) all worked beyond belief to get me back to the states with the utmost comfort and care. I had compression fractures of four vertebrae.

By the way in Grenada without the concern of the manager of the Spice Islands Resort I wouldn’t have made it period.

Political unrest and other circumstances or just ordinary cuts, falls, bruises and dehydration can create a different set of problems when we’re not “home”.

On May 11th, 2010 at 7:44 am, Beth said:

Understood, Mary, and I think we’re on the same page.

You do bring up a great point about being prepared in case something does happen, whether it’s a slip in the bathroom or it’s because there is civil unrest.

Evacuation insurance!

On May 11th, 2010 at 7:20 pm, Angela Rehm said:

We are currently driving through Mexico on our way to Argentina. It’s been 4 months in Mexico without a problem. On the contrary, actually, people have been wonderful.

First, there is definitely violence and a drug war in Mexico. It’s primarily concentrated in the northern states/borders and most notably around Juarez. It’s also exclusively between the government and the drug lords. Unfortunately, innocent civilians are sometimes caught in the cross fire and sometimes the brutality is horrific.

Having said that, take a look at your evening news. We lived near Oakland and the occasional drive-by shooting and gang violence was just white-noise.

People fear the unknown. Other than a few resort cities, Mexico is unknown to most Americans. It’s great fodder for the evening news because it’s a distraction from America’s own problems.

I would say that I have felt safer here in Mexico than anywhere on our trip. I also would say that we have met more generous and kind people in Mexico that anywhere on our trip so far as well. We are traveling with a child and the people have been more accomodating that anywhere we’ve been in North America.

I don’t know everything and I’m not trying to be pious, but that’s my take on things. If we get robbed or have a problem somewhere along the way, I could change my mind. But the reality is that 99.9% of the people in the world are great people. You can find that other 0.1% anywhere.

Check in our our adventures at http://www.bodeswell.com


On May 11th, 2010 at 7:48 pm, Beth said:

Thank you, Angela! Great to hear your first-hand experiences!

On May 15th, 2010 at 4:54 am, ayngelina said:

It’s so sad to see the misconception that Mexico is dangerous. I just spent 5 weeks there and as a solo traveler I never once felt unsafe.

Leave a Reply