My second big thought from all of my travels is on safety. [If you missed my first big thought, click here].
How do you define safe? How do you define unsafe? Does it depend? Is it relative? Is it subjective? Is whether somewhere is safe or not possible to determine? What about bad luck and stupid people?
Travel bloggers go to some places I would categorize as unsafe. I say they’re unsafe because they historically do not like Americans, are known to have a terrorist base, are on the US State Department travel advisory list, and systematically and culturally disrespect women. But what if you’re a white male? Or a male who’s non-American? Are these places safer now? Or are they just safe for you, but overall are still unsafe?
Who am I to say somewhere else is unsafe? In fact, I gawked at a woman on a plane who proceeded to tell me I should absolutely go to Brussels, that it’s “super safe.” Is she blissfully unaware of the underground ISIS base there? Is she just truly that ignorant? Or did she just “feel” safe? Or does she not view terrorism as a reason a country could be unsafe? Or did she literally just want to go for waffles and didn’t care about anything else (sorry, I’ll stop)? Any or all of those are valid, but it’s still one person’s perspective.
If you have an unlimited pot of money for your travel, are you then safe? That is to say, if I just stay in the nicest hotels and ride in nice cars around the city, am I safe? Maybe, but am I experiencing anything at all? Am I living in a false reality? And in some countries, having wealth is a bigger threat than not having it. What about then?
When am I overreacting and when am I actually reading up on the gross injustices in other countries and weighing whether I should, to use the word I was using before, plop myself into that?
When am I being overly cautious and when am I being stupid? And does it depend on each person? Or can we actually systematically measure the safety of countries against other countries? If so, how?
If you “feel” safe, but know that down the street people are being tortured and attacked for simply trying to have freedom of speech, are you still safe?
If you watch your back, don’t go anywhere alone, and “act smart,” are you safe no matter where you are?
I just don’t think I buy any of it. I felt incredibly unsafe in Budapest, when all the books I read talked about how safe I should feel. I felt super safe in Thailand, when regularly I read articles, looked at state department public files and read blogs about very unjust and unsafe situations in the country. Switzerland, rumored to be the safest country in the world and where I lived for three months, didn’t necessarily feel safer than I felt in Australia or in Santorini or other islands.
There are sketchy people everywhere. There are bad people everywhere. There is terrorism in a lot of places. There is corruption in most places. There are human rights violations in most places. There are poor rights and political unrest in many places. These are factors of a lack of safety, in my singular, white, educated, female, economically secure opinion. But these factors exist everywhere. And I’m just one type of person with my own privileges that many others don’t have. So my own safety is already higher than someone with less privileges, but also less than someone with more… yes? Or no? Is it a scale? It starts to break down at the extremes of each factor, though.
How do other people approach this? Do you look at many people’s opinions? Ignore all opinions? Go the “be smart” route and hope it works out? Or educate yourself and tactfully avoid certain countries or certain areas of countries? Or, easiest of all, use a YOLO mentality and not think about it at all? And, most importantly of all, how should we talk about safety?