On Traveling In ‘High-Risk’ Areas

Serious thoughts, for a change

Time To Read: 6 mins | July 10, 2017

If you ever decide to wander around the world, you’ll inevitably want to visit places that scare the bejeezus out of your friends and family. This is especially true if their favorite shows are Homeland and whatever’s on Fox News.

I won’t do my mother the injustice of quoting the ten-foot long email she wrote when I told her I was travelling to Africa for three months, nor the novella she sent over text, or the repeated concerned phone calls I received once she realized my desire to see Morocco and Egypt wasn’t a passing fancy. It’s understandable, and sweet in its own way. Never take for granted the people that wring their hands and lose sleep over your adventures, but – here comes a thesis statement – don’t let it change your plans, either.

The cheapest way to reach Marrakech from LA is via connection in London. In my case, this required an overnight layover. I’d never been to England and was initially thrilled at the idea of having 17 hours to explore, but this was on the heels of my sleepless cruise, and as such I went straight from the airport to my Airbnb and back again the next morning.

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That exhaustion-inspired decision turned out to be fortunate, because the only night I’ve ever spent in the city saw a terror attack on the London Bridge which left 7 dead.

I was half-asleep on a shitty Airbnb futon watching Blackadder reruns when my phone started vibrating, repeatedly, during hours it should otherwise be silent. The stabbings immediately made international news, and the texts were from my concerned parents. I wasn’t yet comatose, and so responded that I was completely fine and nowhere near the attack site.

In the past, I’d not been so Johnny on the spot. A few months previous I was nursing a hangover in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, sleeping on an even shittier mattress just blocks away from the main tourist drag. The night before, while I’d been sleeping, there was a gunfight outside a nightclub that left 5 dead. I’d never been to the establishment in question for the simple reason that it was, in fact, a nightclub, and I’m a cranky old curmudgeon who doesn’t do fist-bumpy music — but I had walked down that street just two hours before the incident.

On this occasion, I had ignored the incessant ringing of my phone. What could possibly be more important than sleeping off a tequila headache? That selfishness cost my parents and concerned friends several hours of worry.

I’ve been abroad for 9 months. Twice during that time, I’ve been worryingly close to violent acts that made international news. And on both occasions, I was in the most first world & touristy locations imaginable.

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The rub is, those safe locations aren’t my norm.

I once rode shotgun with a complete stranger in Mexico City to his garage brewery in the absolute worst part of town. I spent two weeks in a Costa Rican port town trying to snap photos of illegal shark fishermen. Yet truthfully, the closest I’ve yet come to death was on a snorkel tour in Belize.

All this is to say, every one of my close calls with danger have occurred in the places the first world considers relatively safe. But I was never worried in Colombia, which until a few years ago was virtually off-limits to Americans. In Morocco, which looks exactly like the set of Team America, the scariest thing I witnessed was when three hash salesmen all started pitching me at once. In the places that give your parent’s nightmares, I haven’t once been afraid.

Someone is reading this right now and thinking through the odds. They’re ready to drop a comment like, “But the chances of something bad happening to you are so much higher…” I could get cliché and point out the odds of dying in a car wreck just 5 minutes from your house, or how many people drown in their own bathwater every year, but you’ve heard those defenses before. And besides, if someone’s looking for a reason not to go, they’ll always find one. Those aren’t the people this anecdote’s for.

This is for the ones who want to see a country that you’ve been taught is high-risk. I’m not prompting you to buy a one-way ticket to North Korea or parachute into a warzone, just pointing out that terrible things can happen anywhere, so fear of a place based on stigma is irrational.

If there’s risk everywhere, why not go anywhere?

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photos: i was yelled at about .2 seconds after this for not paying the driver for the photo. seville, spain

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Malcolm Freberg
Malcolm Freberg
American writer living permanently on the road. Believes rye whiskey is superior to bourbon, Belle is the best Disney princess, and that selfie sticks should be snapped in half on sight. Hosted a travel documentary for AOL & played Survivor a few times.
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