Fear Factor

Asia, Health & Safety, India, Lost Girls RTW Adventure, Train — By on January 4, 2007 at 3:38 pm

Sure, travel involves risk: Robbery, bombings, bird flu. But we’ve already addressed the fact that taking a trip is no more dangerous than driving your car (you’re much more likely to die in an accident only a few miles from your home). Yet with the government issuing travel advisories to Lost Girl locales such as Kenya and Indonesia, we’ve kept our pocketknives close and expected the worst.

So far, we’ve been pleasantly surprised (knock on wood): We’ve experienced 0 incidents of robbery, 0 bouts of avian flu and 47 unwanted sexual advances (which is roughly on par with what we’d get after five months in the New York bar scene). Cities hyped as dangerous, such as Rio and Nairobi, left us unscathed.

Still, the warnings persist. During a layover in a Mumbai airport, newscasts portraying mosque bombings in the Indian state left me more than a little nervous. And we recently opted to take the 17-hour train ride from Bangalore to Trivandrum rather than the hour-and-a-half flight not just because we’re cheap ($10 compared to $86 when pricing last-minute tickets), but also because CNN reported that all south Indian airports were being targeted by Al Queda during our time of travel.

Sure, shacking with cockroaches and sleeping on the third bunk of a coffin-like train car isn’t exactly my idea of traveling in comfort, but sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry. Besides, botched travel plans often evoke big epiphanies.

Case in point: I didn’t realize you had to pack your own food for the 17-hour ride with a coach class ticket. A mother of two toddlers wearing torn clothing saw that I didn’t have any lunch and offered to share hers-part of a banana. Feeling guilty, I tried to refuse. She adamantly insisted, then nodded in approval as I chowed down. This is just one of many moments I’ve experienced on the road that have shown me the world outside U.S. borders is far more friendly than it is hostile-even if many media images portray it differently.

Coincidentally, I read a Conde Nast Traveler article during the ride by Jeffrey Taylor that really hit home. Here’s a quote: “The greatest though often most elusive benefits of travel are, after all, friendship, romance and a first-hand understanding of the rest of the world. Our times are admittedly troubled, so we could do with a lot more of all of these, which might lead to something called wisdom, an attribute lacking in both government announcements and media reports. So browse the warnings before you go, but go.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts: Do you think Americans’ fear of travel is responsible or alarmist?

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  • Anonymous says:

    responsible or alarmist? Probably a combination of the two. When I began my brief solo tour in Western Europe a couple of months ago, I was paranoid. At first I had been excited for my mini-adventure but the attitude of close friends, family, sometimes near perfect strangers and especially my guide books quickly turned me paranoid. Was I naive to believe I’d be safe traveling alone? Would I really have been safer taking a guided tour? Now if I received all of these stern warnings before traveling to Western Europe (arguably one of the safest international travel destinations.), I can’t even imagine the kind of pressure you girls were under. 😉 In hind site, it was a good idea to be cautious since nothing bad happened to me while abroad but my shyness and paranoia did leave me lonely for a few days because I opted to stick by myself in crowded areas rather than going off to explore the cities with strangers I met in my hostels.

    Thankfully, I wizened up and started making a lot of fun new friends. And guess what? None of them robbed me or jumped me in a dark alley. Plus I think I got so much more out of it by exploring places with other people that I may not have ventured to if I were still on my own. Yes, it’s better to be safe than sorry but it’s also better to have loved and lost then to never have taken a chance on it at all, right? ;-)Sometimes even the most careful planning can’t save you from every hypothetical but if you do the proper research, keep your wits about you and use commone sense, chances are, you’ll most likely be just fine.

  • Dellie says:

    one must SURVIVE in order to actually SEE this fascinating world. A strong sense of SELF PRESERVATION would be important when exploring unfamiliar territory… but traveling with only traditional minimal old-fashioned precautions would sure be preferable to being ON GUARD all the time…. There have been travel warnings for 20-30 years but it’s THIS YEAR that we’re concerned about. HEED THE WARNINGS Keep your eyes open. Trust your first instincts. I hope you are right about there being more friendliness than hostility on your journey. It only takes one incident…

  • Anonymous says:

    I agree for the most part with the other comments. It is better to be prepared and forewarned. I also believe that changes don’t happen when we take the meek attitude.

    The pastor of our church is a gentle man from Uganda. Before he came here, he was warned that all Americans are materialistic and militaristic. He has been pleasantly surprised by the open arms greeting he has received and the genuinely compassionate and generous nature of his parishioners.

    I think if we all take warnings with the intent in which they are issued, then take the plunge and go forthwith into new adventures, then there is so much to be gained.

    Continue your magical journey optimistic, cautious, and open-minded, and continue to share this magic with all of us.

  • eddie says:

    It’s pretty responsible to fear the unknown, but it’s also illogical not to fear it. I try an embrace such unknowns in traveling while keeping a close eye on my surroundings and belongings.

    Nice to meet two of you in Koh Phangan. Hope your travels are prosperous and safe.

    Eddie Phanichkul