with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Know Before You Go: Is It Safe?

As part of our ongoing series on “Know Before You Go” in our Taking Your Camera on the Road category, we answer the question most travelers are asking today. Is it safe?

Kent looks at a bomb barrel, for safely exploding bombs, in Israel, photograph by Lorelle VanFossenLiving in Israel, we are faced with this question from outsiders almost daily. After four years living in Israel, we can say that it is as safe here as anywhere else.

Some people living outside the United States are scared to travel within the US. After all, there are all those drive-by shootings, drugs, riots, mass murders, snipers, tourist kidnappers, car-jackings, and other wackos trying to kill off everyone. America is a dangerous place to live, let alone travel in, right?

In Israel, every shop, restaurant, café, grocery store, mall, and public building has security outside checking bags for weapons or explosives. It is “normal” to wait in line to get into a restaurant or mall, holding open your purse or backpack for inspection. When we go into a mall in Europe or the United States, we get nervous when no one checks to see if we are potential terrorists. Instead we get smiles and welcomes.

I would hate to see the world become another Israel with its anti-terrorism controls in place, but this could be our future. For us, Israel feels very safe. Sure, things happen here, but they happen everywhere. So “safe” is a matter of perception. Part of determining if a place is safe is understanding that “perspective”.

Sign in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, says America we are with you to honor September 11 bombing, photograph by Lorelle VanFossenTo find out if a place is safe, begin by checking the US State Department’s travel warnings, even if you aren’t a citizen, at US State Department Travel Advisories and Warnings. Their travel resources are extensive and fairly accurate.

Pay attention to the words they use to describe the situation, from a minor “advisement” to a “warning” or “strongly recommended.” You have to determine for yourself how safe or dangerous the situation could be to you and those traveling with you.

The UK’s Travel Bureau also offers information and resources for the international traveler on safety concerns, as does Canada’s International Travel Information. These sites also list health concerns as well as terrorist and criminal activities.

For specific information about a particular place, check that country’s consular office or web site through http://www.embassyworld.com/ or http://www.embassy.org/. Be sure and check the dates of the postings, as some may not be current. Call to make sure the information is current.

We have even more resources and information on knowing if an area is currently under a terrorist warning or alert in our article on Travelers Tracking Terrorist Alerts and general things you need to know before you hit the road in our Know Before You Go Traveling Links and Resources.

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World Wide Caution Alert for Traveling US Citizens

FYI: As of September 26, 2003, the United States Government has issued a “Worldwide Caution” advising all US citizens to “remind U.S. citizens of the continuing threat that they may be a target of terrorist actions” anywhere in the world, including on US soil. Attacks against US citizens are not limited to the Middle East, and states that “U.S. citizens are cautioned to maintain a high level of vigilance, to remain alert and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness.” It also states what US embassies and consulates will do what they can to help citizens living and traveling abroad, but that at any time they may close for security reasons.

We recommend you read this alert and take the precautions you need to feel safe about your travels, and then GO! Most tourists are staying home so there will be fewer crowds. But go only if you feel comfortable with the situation at your destination.

On the Internet, there are many newsgroups and chats discussing the topics of countries and major cities from all over the world. You can find listings of some of these groups at Google’s Group listings, PackBack, GORP, Yahoo Groups, and Topica.

Consider exploring discussion groups featuring ex-patriots (expats), citizens of other countries living in foreign countries at Dmoz’s Expatriates Resources and The ExPat Forum. These people have usually spent a good deal of time in that country and are familiar with its inner workings, and very willing to share their expertise.

Also check the websites of the major travel guides for discussion groups and reports from recent travelers. Some of the most popular include Fodor Guides, Rough Guides, Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, and Lonely Planet.

Personal Safety Traveling Tips

When it comes to safety while traveling, use your common sense and don’t take risks. We cover this more thoroughly in our article about personal safety in the outdoors, but you know you can spot a “tourist” just about anywhere in the world. They are usually wearing “new” clothes and digital and video cameras swinging around their necks. Even their tennis shoes look new. The tourists have a dazzled sparkle about them, right down to their fanny packs and backpacks worn on their fronts instead of their backs.

Ramona carries her camera in a non-descript backback and dresses casual to blend in. photograph by Lorelle VanFossenBrent and I have learned to wear old clothes, dull colors, and things that fade into the background. Our shoes are scuffed from wear, and all logos and signs that say “I’m expensive” removed from our camera bags and packs. We wear our packs normally, relaxed and easy, keeping our camera gear packed away until we need it. Brent carries his wallet in a “sock” with a pocket, and I carry mine in my bra, out of sight. There are many ways of hiding your money and documents on your body that make them difficult to access, for you and for a thief. Keep only what you need immediately, or are willing to lose, in an easily accessible pocket. The less attention you attract, the less likely you are to be a target.

Women often fear traveling alone, but there are thousands of women who do travel alone and enjoy sharing their advice and tips. Journeywoman is a web site dedicated to these womenand Mountain Woman is an online shop for the adventurous woman featuring tools and gear designed for the female body.

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If you travel a lot, and especially if you enjoy traveling “light and free” rather than in the security of a group, consider taking some self defense courses. These are good for men and women, not just for the physical resistance training, but for the techniques you learn in dealing with confrontations, both verbally and physically. With a few weeks of defense training in verbal and physical resistance skills, you will feel more confident about your ability to travel alone on or off the beaten path.

One Comment

  • Posted February 22, 2008 at 5:33 | Permalink

    I have traveled alone in India twice and went with a friend to Europe. Must say the risk of being attacked was higher in “civilized” cities.
    There is no problem for a women to travel alone in India, most of the Indians are very polite and would go out of their way to help a female. The most important thing to remember is that it is a very conservative society so it is highly recommended to respect the dress code as women can be the target of teenagers trying to bump into them to feel their chest if they dress in a way that is considered too Western.

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