“You’re going where?! Wow, that’s brave.”
How many times have you gotten this response after mentioning an upcoming trip? For some people, any trip abroad sounds scary, but certain places might be labeled “extreme travel,” even by the people who choose to go there.
Why would anyone travel to a war zone they’ve been warned not to visit or to an impoverished city known to be ridden with crime?
Reasons might range from the adrenaline rush to the need to be at the epicenter of the latest headline in the news. But most people traveling to these “dangerous” places are going for the same reasons people choose to go anywhere—to encounter a new culture, view a stunning landscape or just have an adventure.
Whether you’re traveling to a developing country for the first time or aiming to make your next trip an extreme one, here are 7 tips for what NOT to do when traveling through dangerous places:
1) Assume you’ll get by with English alone
It’s always a good idea to learn a few words of the language at your destination before leaving home, but doing this is crucial when your safety may be at risk. Phrasebooks usually have sections devoted to health, safety and emergency situations.
Knowing the local language (or appearing to know more than you actually do) can mean the difference between being targeted as a helpless victim or throwing off would-be perpetrators. Find out which phrases are most useful in the country you’re visiting.
Quick, how do you say “gummy worm” in Arabic?
2) Carry your important documents around without making copies
In many places, it’s a good idea to have identification with you at all times, but unless you’re advised otherwise, bring a photocopy of your passport when you go out and leave the original in a safe place.
These days, there’s no excuse for not backing up your documents. It’s as easy as scanning or taking a photo of each item and emailing the digital image to yourself and to a trustworthy person at home.
Don’t forget to make copies! Photo by Craig James.
3) Expect things to work just like they do at home
Traveling to a volatile area means being flexible and adjusting your assumptions.
How would you react if a police officer turned out to be more corrupt than helpful? What would you do if everyone around you was doing something you know to be risky (driving a motorbike without a helmet, participating in a riot?) These are things to consider before you go.
Would you be willing to join them for a ride? Photo by Roger_Greenhalgh.
4) Make yourself stand out more than you already do
You’ve probably heard not to flash expensive cameras or jewelry in cities known for petty crime and to dress conservatively in places where the locals do the same. While you’re probably not going to pass as anything but a foreigner, you can take steps not to draw unnecessary attention to yourself and how out of touch you may be with your surroundings.
Read up on local norms and taboos to ensure you don’t make a cultural-specific faux pas.
Wild guess—they aren’t locals. Photo by Ed Yourdon.
5) Plan to party hard
For some, drinking and traveling go hand in hand. A couple drinks can’t hurt when you’re trying to meet locals and fellow travelers, right? But if you don’t know your limit, you could be putting yourself at risk of losing control in a potentially hostile environment.
It’s probably not a coincidence that a student in my Russian program who was mugged and beaten in the alleys of St. Petersburg had been drinking heavily the night before.
It may be tempting, but don’t overdo it. Photo by Joits.
6) Fail to check the news or use common sense after you get there
No matter how much you’ve read up on your destination in advance, in all but literal battle zones, you will probably feel a lot safer once you arrive and see the locals going about their daily lives.
This is when you should make sure not to let your guard down just because the place “feels safe” to you.
Keep an eye on the news for breaking events that might affect the region. If locals advise you not to go to a certain area, listen to them! Be careful not to switch from a traveler taking conscientious risks to one being reckless for the sake of an adventure.
7) Forget to have fun
While you should never let your guard down completely, you also shouldn’t let it get in the way of your travel experience! Don’t waste time stressing about the fact that you accidentally brought your camera into the heart of Rio when everyone told you to leave it at the hotel.
Stay alert, be smart and the rest will follow suit.
What’s the most dangerous travel situation you’ve ever found yourself in? Let me know in the comments below.
If you liked this, you might also like: Do You Make these 7 Body Language Mistakes When Traveling?
Main photo: A visit to a favela in Rio can be fascinating, but is it worth the risk? by Fulminating.
Image 2: Author’s own.