As someone who is passionate about travel, there is virtually no destination that escapes my radar or which I do not have an interest in travelling to. I suppose that the places that typically draw my attention are the more non-conventional travel destinations. I have an inquisitive nature and I like to learn more about the cities and countries of which either little is known about, or which I feel are portrayed in an unfair way in the western media. For me, one of the aspects that I love the most about travelling is not lulling on the beach with a glass of vino in one hand and an ice cream cone in the other, but actually being given the opportunity to humanise a destination, to look at it from a new perspective and to learn about the country and its culture from the local people as opposed to taking everything that I hear on the news as an indisputable fact.
At the time of writing this, I am planning a trip to Israel and Palestine in a few weeks time, much to the horror of the people that surround me in the UK. Granted the two nations have a history of conflict, but thousands of adventurous travellers visit these countries every year and come back unharmed. Similar words were had with me when I previously took trips to North Korea, Egypt, Turkey and Morocco and each time I came back unscathed. Now I am in no way suggesting that you ought to launch yourself into a conflict laden war-torn state and risk life and limb on your quest for an exhilarating travel tale, but simply that if you want to do something, not to let fear and uncertainty get in the way. Certain countries across the globe require you to be more vigilant, and to take more precautions than are necessary in others, however if you use common sense, and follow basic safety principles, you will return home just fine and who knows, the destinations may even just surprise you! More often than not, I find the actual situation on the ground to be a far cry from the picture that we have painted in our minds before travelling. Below, I have broken down ten pieces of advice for preparing to travel in a non-conventional or “dangerous” country.
Put Things in Perspective
Do your research and read the up-to-date information on the political situation at your destination at the time of booking your trip and again prior to your departure. The UK government travel advice site is an extremely valuable resource and details the current political situation, recent problematic events, and crime and security considerations for the place that you are travelling to. Keep the scale of any currently occurring or potential issues in mind also. For example, people may exclaim “Palestine is dangerous!” and write off the whole zone, but there is only a small portion of the territory which you must avoid.
Plan Your Trip Thoroughly
As much as I had a wonderful time travelling in countries like Egypt and Morocco, I also made damn certain to never find myself in a position where I was openly confused or vulnerable and thus a potential target for whatever opportunists – thieves or otherwise may have been around. You need to plan every detail of your trip thoroughly before departure. That means everything from your itinerary, to understanding the local transport networks, making sure you have enough to fund your adventure, and keeping in mind a backup plan just in case some part of your trip falls through.
Be Mindful of Terrorism but Don’t Be Paralysed by it
We must remember that despite the heightened tensions between the West and some extremist groups at the moment, terrorist attacks are still rare. The majority of travellers enjoy overseas trips that are memorable to them in only the good ways. Just as you could be at the wrong place at the wrong time and get caught up in an attack overseas, you could find yourself involved in a traffic accident tomorrow. If you don’t do the things you want to do because you’re scared of the “maybes” then you won’t do anything.
Let People Know Your Agenda
Share your itinerary with family members or close friends so that they at least know what city you are going to be in at any given time. If possible, also provide hotel and accommodation information so that they know where to go to if they struggle to get into contact with you at any point.
Express Confidence, Not Fear
When I travel overseas, people cannot immediately place where I am from and I actually get a lot less attention than you might assume as a solo woman traveller because I walk confidently, I do my research thoroughly before I arrive somewhere, and I always keep calm and level-headed even if I find myself in somewhat stressful situations.
Remember that you are a guest in the country that you are visiting and while in their territory, you need to play by their rules. Research the local customs and cultural etiquette before your departure and do your best to be as mindful of a traveller as possible. Of course, there is always going to be the occasional extremist or nutter wherever you are in the World, but a lot of foreigners who find themselves in trouble overseas wind up in these situations because of the way that they have acted. Watch your alcohol intake, dress modestly and conservatively in developing and highly religious regions, and accept that although you may not agree to all aspects and beliefs of the local culture, having to adhere to them is temporary and should be seen as a valuable learning experience and insight as to how other cultures live.
If You’ve Got it, Don’t Flaunt it
That fancy camera you use for taking all of your travel photos may not seem like such a big deal to you, but to the local people, it may cost more than what they earn in a month. Appearing as a wealthy traveller, particularly a wealthy solo traveller will no doubt make you more susceptible to thieves and scammers. I also like to think that this one falls into the area of respectfulness too. Do your best to blend in with those around you.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
You will be able to gauge how comfortable you feel in the country upon arrival. Of course, the basic safety precautions which ring true anywhere should always be followed (no walking alone at night, be wary of over-friendly strangers, etc) but if you are in a country which you know is susceptible to political unrest, ensure that you are always aware of what is going on around you. Take a mental note of the exits whenever you go into a crowded place, avoid large protests and demonstrations which, even if they seem peaceful initially, can quickly turn violent.
Use Registered Taxi Companies
Find out who are the preferred brands ahead of setting off for your destination. Unlicensed taxi companies can be rife in developing nations and are conducted as an illegal business. At best, you may be subject to extortionate pricing or have to row with your driver as he drops you off at his brother’s bazaar on route. At worst, you may find yourself in danger. If you find a taxi driver that you are happy and comfortable with, consider asking for his card and using him as your “go-to” guy for the rest of your trip. More than likely they’ll be extremely appreciative of the business too.
Share Your Positive Experience
Many people have always been afraid to venture outside of their comfort zone, but this is even more so the case in light of the current state of affairs with international relations. We so often hear about the bad aspects of different countries, and not the kind local people, the fabulous sites, and the mouthwatering delicacies that also exist there. If you’ve had a positive experience while travelling to a non-conventional or “dangerous” place then share it with the world! Your positive memories and advice will help others to plan a trip of their own, and tourists visiting these places will help the local economies.
The important thing to remember is to never let fear of the unknown or the “what ifs” deter you from doing something that you’ve always wanted to do. Most excursions and vacations around the globe are trouble free. I’m not encouraging you to believe that everywhere in the World is safe and cheery like a Disney movie because it isn’t, only to persuade that you gain some perspective on a location before you deem it as “too dangerous” to travel to.