Last night, as Judy and I were brainstorming an upcoming adventure, with the tragic events in Paris still fresh and news from Mali still unfolding, the subject of personal safety naturally came up. Travel can be risky, but it doesn’t need to be if you give a little thought to your trip and plan with care.
Let’s state the obvious up front…the world can be a dangerous place. Terrorism is very real. As long as there is hate, it won’t go away. Americans in particular, are targets for extremists. In recent years, it has been Islamic terrorism, but it hasn’t always been that group. Going back a few decades, there was the Red Brigade and the Bader-Meinhof Gang. There have been others along the way. In part, it’s because we often represent “the worst” of Western culture. You can certainly protect yourself by staying at home, but where’s the adventure in that? Besides, when you do that, the terrorists win. No! The answer is simple. Don’t be a target.
There are practical ways to do this. We lean towards camouflage. No, not the “camo” adorned by rednecks and now adored by fashionistas around the world. We’re talking about fitting in. Too many Americans, in their dress and actions, stick out like sore thumbs when abroad. “When in Rome…” applies here. Dress and act like a local, not like an American. Longtime readers will remember an early post where instead of packing clothes for a European adventure, we bought them along the way. In doing so, we acquired a sprezzatura look that, in Milan, resulted in us being asked for directions by a young Italian woman!
Avoid the tourist centers. Yes, there are “must see” places in this world, but as we’ve touted many times here, there are hidden gems just off the beaten path. It also pays to do your research and find the places locals go. In Vasto, Italy, the homeland of Greg’s grandparents, we found a fascinating city that offered many of the delights of other Italian cities, but very few Americans ever go there.
Speak the language, or at least try. While neither of us is fluent in another language, knowing a few simple phrases can prevent a simple request from turning into an internal incident. Which, incidentally, leads too…
Be respectful and courteous. Don’t be “that guy” they talk about behind your back…the one who was rude and oaffish. Remember you are a guest in someone else’s country.
Don’t be stupid. For one, put down your phone! It amazes us how many people are so absorbed by what’s on their phone that they walk into poles, into traffic, and into each other. Pay attention to your surroundings. One blog we love, The Art of Manliness, features a post about maintaining situational awareness that is both fascinating and practical. Give it a read.
Pay attention. The U.S. State Department posts travel alerts and warnings on its website; you can also find the location of U.S. Embassies near your destination. In an emergency, you’ll want this information at your fingertips. Consider enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (also known as STEP…you have to love U.S. federal agencies for their acronyms), which will help the State Department find YOU in an emergency and give you warnings about the locations where you are traveling.
You can certainly stay safe by staying home in bed, but where’s the adventure in that? Remember, the terrorists win if their actions affect your lifestyle. We win when we show them we will not be deterred. There’s a whole world out there, go see it.