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Dangerous Places

One of the questions I’m repeatedly asked in interviews is, “Aren’t you afraid of all the dangerous countries?” It’s usually followed by questions like “What’s the worst thing that has happened to you?”

Despite 100 interviews over the past three months on book tour, I’m still not very good at the soundbyte. I have countries that try to deport me upon arrival and countries that write an official government response to my frustration at their bureaucracy. In a decade full of active traveling, I’ve also had a few more serious problems as well.

But the list of truly dangerous places in the world is quite short—maybe 5-10 countries. Meanwhile, there are 180+ other countries that are not dangerous at all, at least no more than the country I live in.

That’s why I think it just becomes a choice of what to focus on. Why focus on the negatives, which are often exaggerated, in lieu of the positives?

Well, there are actually two reasons. Firstly, we tend to focus on the sensational and the dangerous, rare as it might be. A few sensational anecdotes outweigh hundreds of “I went to this place and it was about what I expected.” And secondly, choosing to focus on the negatives gives everyone else an excuse not to pursue a big dream. “Look what happened to him… better to stick to the world I already know.”

Remember, if you’re looking for an excuse not to do something, you won’t have to look far. Playing it safe is rarely a choice that is mocked—everyone understands. Everyone gets it.

So when people ask about dangerous places, I always try to shift the conversation and say, well, sure, in more than ten years of travel to 151 countries, there have been some low points. That’s how adventure works.

But more importantly, good things come from adventure far more often than bad things. As mentioned here, there are plenty of people who will feed into your fears and worries by talking about danger and why you should stay in your perceived safety net. Over here, you get the opposite message: TAKE THE LEAP!

To where are you leaping?

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57 Comments

  • Masa says:

    I believe that we can learn *something* from everything. So, this post resonates with me.

    Finding the positives is one of the great life skills we can learn, I believe. Not from a travel context, but I made a big shift in thinking last year about my resources in general. I used to be worried about (not always, but in many cases) my lack of resources. But since last year, I started thinking that I actually have enough and even a lot of resources, and appreciating that fact.

    If you focus on the negatives, it’s so easy to find them for anything. But, in fact, it’s almost as easy to find the positives if you train yourself to see them as well. I’d rather choose to see the positives than the negatives – because that’s how I want to live my life.

    I want to live my life as my art and seeing the positives in everything is how I do it.

  • TourAbsurd says:

    “Remember, if you’re looking for an excuse not to do something, you won’t have to look far.” LOVE it!

    I’m getting ready for a quick solo trip to Morocco. Despite the fact that people — including single women — who actually live there repeat that everything is fine, I keep hearing second- and third-hand stories from people designed to strike fear into my heart. I keep telling folks that what you believe is what you create. Also that every time I’ve traveled somewhere, I expect to meet fabulous, friendly people and have a great time . This has worked time and again.

    I think it’s quite possible that evolution may have designed the brain to remember fear and danger more acutely than things that went as expected. If that is the case, I think it’s time we evolved beyond that. Time to remember that fun, adventure, faith in people, and smiles are what make the world go ’round!

  • Miles says:

    You need to be street smart. Don’t carry huge cameras around your neck, keep the rolex at home. Don’t go to places you would not go, back in your own country. If you stick to street smart you have more chances to have something happen to you in your own city, then in that foreign country you have been too scared to go visit.

  • Audrey says:

    We get this question a lot, especially when people find out we spent three months in Central Asia in countries that end in “stan.” As you said, sensational news steals the spotlight so many people think of so many countries as “hot spots” instead of places where millions and millions of people lead very similar lives to us – working to make a better place for themselves and/or their children.

    I have to admit that before we went Central Asia I had my apprehensions. I had previously worked with a media organization involved in this region. Several of my projects involved trying to get journalists out of jail and providing resources to get others across the border to get UNHCR refugee status. Let’s just say there wasn’t a lot of positive news. However, this region ended up as one of the favorite places we have visited in the world; we felt very safe there and were pleasantly surprised by the hospitality and kindness of locals.

  • We get the question a lot – what’s it like to move your family (i.e. your two precious kids) to a Muslim country. My response: Great, actually.

  • Cynthia says:

    Heading to India this week with a group of aussies, americans and indians. Highlights? Doing InterPlay in a Jesuit retreat center, hanging out in a Gujarati village, going on pilgrimage to the ganges.

  • Mikeachim says:

    Lots of ways to define dangerous. As you say, there’s the danger of a place being such a challenge that you never go. But also there’s something I’m much warier of – a place so comfortable that I lapse into lazy, unadventurous ways of thinking. Not a fault of the place, of course, it’s always an internal thing – but feeling over-safe, over-comfortable is a great way to doze off for years at a time.

    Always leap, yes.

    And make sure that leap is just a little bit scary.

  • Karen Divine says:

    Yes it’s extremely important to “hazard” yourself in the world as David Whyte the poet speaks of in his work. This requires the ability to allow yourself to become vulnerable and willing to take risks. As in my previous piece “Pondering the Leap” the chickens on on the ledge looking down and wondering if it was solid ground or water upon which they will land. Having “pondered” that thought for months, I took the leap and the chicken landed in a “Cocoon”, a safe holding tank where I could regroup, get my barrings and plan the next move. You have nothing to loose by jumping in and you have everything to gain. Confronting your fears head-on is the only way through them, just read Krishnamurti….

  • Courage comes in many forms. Sometimes the leaps we take are not as exciting as traveling to foreign countries, but are just as rewarding personally in the long run. It can be scary to be open or more friendly to a new person at work, or to share something of who you really are to your family – especially if it surprises them. It can be scary to give a hug to someone you care about, if you’re not sure it will be welcome. Or to say something to the child at the supermarket who has just been yelled at by their parent. Even telling a joke can be scary to some of us. These might seem like small risks to those who are extroverted or extremely confident in their own skins, but for a shy or timid person, they can be just as scary as taking that leap of faith off of a cliff. We may fall and crash – or we may fly. Courage comes in many forms.

  • Nando says:

    This, right here, is why I subscribe to your newsletter. Thanks for the reminder to focus on the positives and take a leap.

  • Kelsey says:

    I’ve been to 40+ countries and the worst thing that ever happened to me was that my socks were stolen….in Hawaii. I get the “isn’t it dangerous” question a lot too. So often folks in your position play-up what little dangerous situations they’ve had, exploiting them for attention. Thanks for not doing that.

  • Hannah says:

    Hi Chris – great article, completely summed up with your line ‘good things come from adventure far more often than bad things’.

    Some countries are dangerous due to their political situation – being it a fragile state where the government has no legitimacy or if it does have some, it’s often delegitimised by another group in the country. Yes, getting into the country and in general your movement may be restricted due to various reasons and your personal safety is in danger. But after taking in consideration your personal safety and security, there’s so much more to gain from actually getting to know the ordinary citizens of these countries, who may themselves never be able to experience or hear from people in other countries. Travel should be all about that connection you make with others, and it’s ever more crucial not only for yourself but those in these countries.

    Keep on rockin’ Chris, and if you need help with getting to Afghanistan, let me know, it’s a great country!

  • Tom Meitner says:

    No kidding, Chris! When I was visiting a friend in Taiwan, I found myself at her apartment alone while she was gone. I decided I wanted to go to McDonald’s (not knowing a lick of Mandarin). I figured the worst thing that could happen is I would get there, not be able to order, and have to walk back. So I walked several blocks by myself in Taichung. And you know what? I was able to order, and I sat by myself while people stared at me as I read a book and ate. There was something very liberating about walking through Taiwan by yourself with no safety net. Getting McDonald’s isn’t the riskiest thing in the world, but a lot of people who hear that story say, “Oh, I could NEVER do that!” Funny how many things we think are impossible are actually really easy to do if you just go for it.

  • Laura says:

    Certainly there are dangerous places and I have always found it helpful to trust my gut instincts as well as just trusting my ability to handle any situation that comes my way.

  • “…in more than ten years of travel to 151 countries, there have been some low points. That’s how adventure works.”

    Love it. Thanks Chris!

  • rob white says:

    Great tip, Chris. The ultimate insanity of humanity is placing ones attention on what one does NOT want, like ill health, financial debt… etc. Mentally staring at a disastrous result is the perfect excuse to stay exactly where we are. Conversely, we are free to experience our dreams when we take the time to imagine them vividly.

  • Robyn says:

    This is the reason I go to countries that people think are dangerous to prove if your savvy there are not. I recently got back from a solo trip to Syria and for the so called terrorist hot spot as a single white female I got more help and less harassment than in most countries. I am going to Bulgaria next which to me isn’t dangerous but one work mate said “omg you can’t go there you will be kidnapped and put into to a life of crime!” note I just got back from Syria, I have worked in Afghanistan and been half way around the world but Bulgaria!! I know I’ll be just fine!

  • Alanna says:

    I have been reading your blog for a few months, and even bought your latest book during your book tour in Ann Arbor, MI. Reading your works and others like you have been very inspirational to me, those who came before me who were willing to take the plunge and follow their dreams, has been so refreshing. I myself have finally decided to take the plunge and quit my job to pursue photography full time after considering the decision these last few months. As a matter of fact, I put my two weeks notice in this morning, and am scared and excited at the same time. I figured a new year means a new path, and what better time to do it than now?

  • Pamela says:

    It never ceases to amaze me how much people love to share fears. My kids and I are planning to visit all 50 states in the next few years, and are currently preparing for the first leg- halfway cross country with 2 kids and a tent. Some people are excited for us, but others can’t seem to tell me enough how dangerous it is. You would think we were heading off in a canoe down an uncharted river full of poisonous snakes. They say we could be mugged, murdered, abducted- the fact that we walk the streets downtown in our own city all the time and theoretically any of those things could happen at home is something they don’t seem to acknowledge.
    I suppose sometimes it is genuine concern, but other times I wonder. I teach childbirth classes and my clients are often bombarded by horror stories of everything that could possibly go wrong. For goodness sakes- the world is overpopulated because the whole birth / baby thing works. Why do people love to be so freaked out about everything?

  • Thanks for this Chris. I’ve been following you the last 18 months as I’ve begun to make my own life transition. My husband and I are maknig a switch from Corporate drones to entrepreneurs later this year as we embark on a 3-year round-the-world road trip late in 2011. We constantly come up against well-meaning folks who ask us about our safety and security and I have a hard time explaining to them that we live in danger every day, even in happy suburban US of A. Its always nice to hear your reassuring inspiration when i start to doubt even my own convictions.

  • camila says:

    OMG, this happens to me a lot. I get home for Christmas, right? The first question I get from people I haven’t seen in years is “Do you a boyfriend yet?”. I’ve started a business, I’ve traveled all over Europe, I created a brand that sold internationally. And all I get is “Do you have a boyfriend yet”. WTF?

  • Nine says:

    It’s not booked yet, so I’m hesitant to discuss it much until it’s definite, but since you asked! It’s about 90% likely that I’m going to Iraqi Kurdistan in the next few weeks. Given that Istanbul is the closest I’ve ever gotten to the Middle East, this is a bit of a leap. But I’m excited, I’ve read up on it, I’ve spoken to other people who’ve been there and live there, and I’ve weighed up the pros and cons in terms of what will make me feel safe. I have the feeling this trip will lead me to many new experiences.

  • Irene says:

    I recently realized that I have been focusing on problems, and what is wrong with me and my life , much too much. Made a new years decision to look for all the good things instead.

    Your post was both inspiring and very supportive of my new intention. Will be making a copy to read and keep me on track.

    Thanks so much for the wisdom and valuable insights you have been sharing with us. Have an amazing 2011

  • Ryan says:

    So true. The media blows things out of proportion as well. After traveling all of 2010, there were a few times I got the frantic email from family asking if I was ok. Never once was I in harms way. Apparently they hear in the news things about bomb threats at Oktoberfest or riots in Bangkok. Although they were very real incidents that did happen, they were small and isolated that few people noticed. (Ok Bangkok was big, but only in a certain part of the city. Once out of that area, life was normal) You’re right, it’s not so scary out there except for those who watch the news I guess.

  • Melanie says:

    It is even worse if you are a female traveling alone. I went to Argentina and Brazil and all my friends and family thought I was crazy. When I booked the trip to Brazil my mom actually offered to PAY ME NOT TO GO. I said, “NO WAY”. She was so nervous because a coworker went to Rio and had a bad experience. Just because it happens to someone, doesn’t mean it happens to everyone.

    I’ve been to Amsterdam, Rio and Buenos Aires by myself and nothing terrible happened. I try to be thoughtful of the increased dangers of being female, but overall have never felt unsafe. I promise you I feel more unsafe in the subway here in NYC!

  • Heidi Stockman says:

    Before we left on an epic family road trip through Mexico last fall, many people expressed how crazy we were to be heading into the “DRUG WAR”. After thousands of miles, what we found was great food, beautiful people and landscapes; and the adventure of a lifetime so far. The worst time we had ironically, was on a rancho owned by a loco U.S. expat. Our taste of the drug war was various creams and sprays to protect our tender white skin from pesky insects in the jungle.

  • TLDOTYMusic says:

    I often get asked if I am scared when traveling to India, or to Egypt. The answer is Not Really. I guess there are scary moment, and probably dangerous people, definitely annoying people depending on where we are. But I think most of the annoying/dangerous comes form the fact that many people in third world countries have little money and just want to feed themselves and their families. Just remember not to do something stupid, treat others with respect even when they are not treating you with respect, and if you feel endangered be sure to make your way to a highly populated area where something bad is less likely to happen. Caution and knowledge will get you where you want to go safely, most of the time.

  • Well said. I think this post goes well with my favorite quote by Amelia Earhart, “Who wants to live a life imprisoned in safety?” There is danger everywhere, but for the most part I’m usually pleasantly surprised with the generosity and kindness that I encounter while traveling, and rarely encounter the danger. I would rather live my life than hide in my house because I think it’s safe.

  • Peggy says:

    Thanks Chris, for all of your newsletters. I am new to your work.

    Just wanted to mention in response to this newsletter – last year I applied to the Peace Corps and have a nomination to go to Eastern Europe in March. They recently requested more medical information that may derail the plan, but I still have hopes that I will get to go for 27 months. I took a voluntary retirement buyout last July from a state job that I hated. I have not been able to find other work in the meantime and am facing losing my house. I have not even told that part to anyone, and yet I have been so surprised at people’s responses when I tell them I have joined the Peace Corps. Very few are positive, but I think it will be a great adventure. I have been confused by the negative reactions because people don’t want to explain them, but they don’t affect me at all. Maybe they are worried because I am 59. Quitting the depression of facing that job everyday showed me that I still have hope.

  • connie b says:

    I get tired of that question also. I’m from Los Angeles which I believe averages 5 shootings per day and yet family members say they worry about me when I am over there–lived and worked in the mideast for several years. However, there’s a another way to look at danger. Frankly the dangerous places are often the most exciting. I’m currently living under one of the most active volacanos in the world here in Ecuador and it does affect daily life and I love it here. I don’t jump out of airplanes or do extreme sports, but one of my most favorite travel books is The World’s Most Dangerous Places–fascinating. Peggy, go for it! The peace corps is great!

  • Nine says:

    Actually, you know what else? I’m from Northern Ireland. I grew up during the Troubles. I was used to it. But when I was eighteen I went to the States, and I distinctly remember wandering around Cambridge, Massachusetts and feeling slightly cautious in case there’d be a driveby shooting – because the media implied that that was what the USA was all about.

    And Peggy, if you read this: good luck. I think your plans are inspiring. I know people who have volunteered with the Peace Corps and all have reported positive experiences – even if sometimes it was hard to adjust at first. It sounds like a very exciting change for you. All the best!

  • Jeremy says:

    I’m leaping to Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Cyprus and more in 6 days!

    I have been facing my own arsenal of friends and loved ones that are concerned for my safety. Their fears of danger in foreign places lead us into this exact scenario. So thank you Chris for reaffirming my decisions.

  • Vince says:

    “Without the bad times how can we ever know what the good times are??”

    That is a quote that I try to remember. It helps me when I feel the fear of doing something that might not fit what other people see as normal. That’s ok. It’s just the cost of adventures.

  • Leah says:

    I love this part: “Remember, if you’re looking for an excuse not to do something, you won’t have to look far. Playing it safe is rarely a choice that is mocked — everyone understands. Everyone gets it.”

    I think this applies to playing it safe in your choices around how you live your life and how far you extend yourself outside of your comfort zone, as well as where you are willing to travel.

    It is so easy to settle for an uninspiring and unsatisfying life rather than risk taking a leap of faith and going for dreams.

    I say leap out into all of your big dreams. Don’t be afraid to take some risks…and don’t listen to all the folks who tell you that you can’t create the life of your dreams.

    I’m leaping out into my own version of a Kick-Ass Life and delighting in every juicy minute of it.

  • Kathleen Blanc says:

    How about adventure including all of what it is and not labeling an experience as a “good” or a “bad” one. Danger is a reality in our world and while I understand the not wanting to play to the drama of it, I also think that including it as an important part of the experience of learning about the world as it is, is essential.

    Kathleen

  • I’ve been living in Europe for 7 years, and some of my friends don’t want to come here because they’re afraid it’s too dangerous! I can’t believe that, with the rate of violence in the states.

    People’s fears tend to be irrational – we naturally fear what’s foreign to us, even if the place we live is actually much more dangerous.

    Children play in the streets until late at night here and don’t have to worry. I was nervous at first about moving here, but now I feel much more safe than I ever did in the states.

  • s.b.Lyngo says:

    Give thanks for the post and for the wonderful work you do here on this blog. When I tell folks I live in Jamaica usually get one of the two responses: “Jeez, is that safe”? or “Wow! That must be awesome, you are so lucky”!. Actually, neither of these fits for me or the complex dichotomies so abundant on the rock. When I first came here with my new born son, so many folks told me I couldn’t do it! Good thing I didn’t listen. I would have missed out on some of the best experiences and awakenings I’ve lived! Looks like my family may be taking another big leap this year. Across the Caribbean. Here’s to all the best transformations in 2011!

  • marianney says:

    haha, we got this from people after returning from mexico this fall. in fact, i didn’t experience anything scary at all. like someone said above, you have to use your street smarts. be aware of your surroundings and be careful, but don’t be scared. it’s unnecessary. someone told me there are more murders of US citizens in Baltimore, MD than there are in the entire country of Mexico. Perspective….

    i love reading your adventures and i am looking forward to some of my own here very soon.

  • Abbie says:

    My parents think every country outside of the U.S. is dangerous, so I hear you!

  • Gipsy says:

    “Just Do It” ~ be brave and reap the rewards!

  • Sheila says:

    The first time I experienced this first hand I was living in Jamaica in the 70s.

    TheCastro backed incumbent, Manly, was running for re-election against Sieaga. All of the news magazines that I had previously thought only printed an accurate and balanced view (US News & World Report, Newsweek, Time) were screaming about how very dangerous it was for any American to be in Jamaica. That if you were planning to go to Jamaica, you were taking your life in your hands.

    It was complete bullshit. Castro’s man lost and even then, nothing happened.

    I think we are perceived as cowards for the most part by the wider world. I personally think that every US citizen should be required to live outside the US for a minimum of a year so they can realize just how much the media hypes things. And so they can see for themselves that people in other countries are pretty much the same as they are here–that is to say, human.

  • Faith comes first.

    Then a leap begins.

    Growth happens next.

    Thanks for this important reminder.

    alex

  • Amelia says:

    in all the time I’ve traveled (2.5 years straight), ways i’ve traveled (just about every way possible, except horse and motorcycle), and things I’ve done, the most dangerous thing that ever happened to me was being picked up hitching, in North America, by a drunk driver. Scariest thing EVER!
    However, it didn’t stop me traveling, and I look back now and think that maybe I was a bit crazy to travel after almost dying, but I kept going and my traveling years are some super special memories.
    Now, I mother a tot full-time and our lives are more harmonious without travel, for now.
    Certainly, on the list of things to do in life, traveling, despite the fear, is one of them.

  • Roy says:

    I think the most dangerous place is one’s couch!

  • I’ve lived in Austria, England, and Australia, and visited around seventeen other countries, and never run into major issues—with the exception of that time my best friend forgot his Eurail pass and passport after we’d crossed the border into Hungary and was taken off the train by sour-looking men with rifles.

    Concerning my travels, my mom once said, “Things just seem to work out for you,” and I thought, “They can’t work out if you don’t go.” I’ve never been mugged, and I’ve never had anything stolen, even when I stayed at hostels that cost less than $1US a night.

    We could all live our lives trying to plan for every contingency, emergency, and potential train wreck, but we’d be trying to exercise control that we don’t have. And even if things do go wrong—like that time I realized my passport was expired the night before an important business meeting in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, the next day—those hassles and misadventures become our best stories. So I say Yes to leaping.

  • jeff cassity says:

    Guanajuato, Mexico

  • Mary Darling says:

    We left Corporate America, or rather pushed out, when my husband decided it would be ‘fun’ to go sailing rather than fight the good fight for a better severance package than his job. After a long, entertaining, and never dull story, we now call Bali home. We live and work in Asia through the last decade of dramas, including the Bali Bombings, SARS, Tsunamis, Bangkok’s on going political situation, etc. I frequently am asked about Bali being safe … to the point of being an extremely silly question. I was in Bangkok earlier in the year during the Red Shirt demonstrations. Sure terrible things happen and there are occasions when I have ‘fear and trepidation’ but generally that happens when parking my car in the shopping mall car parks when home in America ~

    Oh, one last thing, our home in America? is located in Arizona at the Mexico border ~ and no, I do not fear to live there.

    Chris, thank you for always reminding me and us there is another way to live your life other than fear.

  • Fear is more dangerous than the things we fear.

  • Ethiopia in 3 weeks. You have a water program there right Chris? I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet you during your LA visit a few weeks back, general malaise prevented it. Hope you swing through here again soon!

  • Richard Philipsen says:

    As a big, white dutch guy, going to Iran was scary at first… once there, the most dangerous thing I’ve encountered on my various trips (incl. Tehran and Shiraz) is Tehran traffic. Now that CAN kill you.

    Iranians on the other hand bend over backwards to try and prove they’re not the terrorists everybody makes them out to be… and I know the feeling of how liberating it can be to just go out into the streets by yourself and try and do the simplest things in life like get a lunch.

    My family is slowly getting used to me going to these places, but it will be a long time before they’ll join me there… I consider it their loss!

  • Stacy says:

    Focus is really important and I was reminded of this over the holidays. We were visiting a lot of family during that time and my newborn was unfamiliar with all of those places. When he was feeling unsure he kept his focus intently on me until he felt secure enough to look around at the new surroundings. Instead of allowing himself to get upset he chose instead to focus on what he knew was safe and trustworthy.

    I personally found that to be deep and rich with meaning, as well as precious and sweet. We can truly learn something from anyone!

  • Natalie Hill says:

    When I left the US to live and work (online) overseas, I got many worried looks and lots of warnings. Thankfully, there were also many supporters and lots of folks who felt inspired by my dreams and plans.

    I’ve known for a long time that the people we surround ourselves with can have a big impact on our beliefs, perceptions and actions. That was one of the major reasons I wanted to live overseas. I like the adventurous outlook of the travelers and expats I meet. And interacting with different cultures, getting a glimpse of the world from being in contact with the local folks helps me learn, grow and open my mind.

    Always easier to stay safe and small. But small is, well…small.

  • Suzanne says:

    My mom told me repeated not to go to Vietnam — how awful the people were, blah blah blah. She couldn’t be more wrong. It was fantastic and the people were so kind and warm. I will definitely go back.

  • Only time I’ve actually felt genuine fear while traveling as a woman alone (and that includes the time I realized I’d missed my connecting train in a little French town, at dusk, alone in a place I knew nothing about and had never planned to see–I wound up approaching another woman and asking her for help, and she not only helped me find a hotel but invited me to her family’s home for dinner, in what remains one of my greatest adventures and most precious memories in all my travels) was a couple of hours I spent walking around the suks of Jerusalem one afternoon; every inner alarm I had was going off at a rate I’d only ever experienced walking in deserted urban neighborhoods after dark. I don’t think it was as much a concrete fear that X would happen as the acute awareness that as unaccompanied Western women we were automatically at the center of practically every eye in the place, and it was just…really uncomfortable.

  • Barry says:

    I just spent two months in Thailand, by myself and covered most of the country. One of my favourite place was Bangkok and I was told to be scared. It was great. I

  • Barry says:

    can’t type , obviously! I have traveled a lot in Europe and North America but believe me Asia was so different, I loved it. My only regret, I waited till i WAS 56 years old to go, it won’t be long before I am back.

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