The headlines are alarming. Stories of robberies, rapes and even murders in popular tourism destinations like India and Mexico are sending would-be travelers to make other travel arrangements. In India alone, after a highly publicized attack on a woman riding the bus in late 2012, tourism dropped by nearly 25 percent — and the number of female visitors dropped by 35 percent. Although officials report declines in violence over the past two years, Mexico is in danger of falling off of the list of top tourism destinations, thanks to reported cases of vicious attacks on visitors and the threat of violence in many areas.
However, many travel experts dismiss claims certain countries are not safe for visitors. While some areas are certainly more dangerous than others, much of the world is safe to visit, if you take proper precautions. No matter if you’re planning to stay in Istanbul hostels while you visit the Grand Bazaar or your travels take you elsewhere, you can be safe.
If you’re thinking of visiting an area deemed dangerous — whether by the news media, the government or another source — keep these precautions in mind.
The truth is most cities around the world are no more dangerous than some of the larger cities in the U.S. However, before you plan to travel anywhere, do your homework. The U.S. Department of State website details the potentially dangerous spots around the world, and offers information for travelers. Look beyond the government reports, and read information from local new sources and other unbiased reports. It’s rare an entire country is dangerous for travel; there may be pockets of increased crime or danger zones that can be easily avoided.
Stay in Touch
Regardless of where you plan to travel, let others know where you’re going. The State Department recommends you register your travel plans with their traveler service, so in the unlikely event of an emergency that requires all foreigners to leave the country (such as during recent events in Syria and Libya) the local embassy can contact you and help you make appropriate arrangements.
In addition to officials, let your friends and family know where you’ll be and when. Should something go awry and you aren’t where you’re supposed to be, when someone knows you planned to head to the market at nine before going to the beach, authorities have a good idea of where to begin their search.
Do as the Locals Do
When you’re in a foreign land, pay close attention to how the locals dress and behave. If they aren’t wearing designer clothing and flashy jewelry, keep your own look low-key and casual. Avoid flashing large amounts of cash (in fact, only carry what you’ll need for the day) or electronics. Your smartphone’s apps might be useful for navigating the city or translating common phrases, but in some parts of the world it will also be a target.
In some areas, locals’ behavior can indicate trouble is brewing. Keep an eye on people on the street; if they seem to be moving out of the area or you hear whispers of trouble, find safety as well.
Stay Sober and in Control
In some places, the temptation to overindulge in alcohol is hard to resist. Those fruity umbrella drinks taste great going down, but they can also pack a punch — and leave you vulnerable to attacks. Avoid drinking too much alcohol and never leave your drinks unattended. Always monitor your surroundings and what’s happening around you, and follow your instincts. If something feels sketchy, leave and find a more comfortable place to hang out.
Have a Plan
While it’s still possible to head to Europe with nothing more than a backpack and a Eurail pass to see where the wind takes you, if you’re traveling to a place with a reputation for being on the dangerous side, traveling without a plan is not the smartest decision. Have accommodations and transportation lined up ahead of time; in some countries, it’s best to hire a car service or have the number of a reputable taxi service on hand, so as to avoid the need to hail random taxis on the street.
While there are some parts of the world that are less welcoming to travelers than others, there’s no reason to give up on the dream of a particular destination because of unsubstantiated rumors or isolated incidents. Planning, common sense and going in with your eyes open will allow you to enjoy an exotic land and still come home in one piece.
About the Author: As a travel writer and photographer, Ellie Maddox has visited some of the most volatile regions of the world — and lived to tell about it.