For every travel destination, there is always someone with an opinion about why you shouldn’t go there. One person will say “I would travel pretty much anywhere, but never India.” while another person says, “I could go pretty much anywhere but never Mexico.” For a long time Colombia was the place I figured I’d never go.
I’m writing this article from Cali, Colombia, feeling perfectly fine about being here, though practicing a bit more caution than I might normally.
The reason I never wanted to go to Colombia, and the reason many people have “no-go” countries on their list, is because dangerous things do happen and we read or hear about it on the news.
This brings up the issue I’d like to think about today. There seems to be a fine line between staying informed and getting intimidated. My trip to Thailand at the very start of the military coup this spring made me acutely aware of the power of news media. Many readers emailed to ask whether or not they should cancel trips they’d planned to Thailand, concerned that it wasn’t safe for tourism. I don’t watch news at all, but it made me wonder how the media was portraying the unrest. The feeling I got from readers was that the media painted a dangerous and frightening picture.
In an article I gave my account of traveling through Thailand during martial law, a fairly uneventful tale of streets quieting down earlier than usual. It did not feel dangerous or frightening. It’s not to say that Thailand was without issue during that time, but as a tourist I never once felt unsafe.
However, I know that my husband and I tend to err on the side of under-cautious, and occasionally that does get us in sticky situations. We’ve stumbled upon riots before, for instance. I often wonder how many bad situations we’ve narrowly missed. For this reason, I certainly don’t want to be the only voice weighing in on this question.
So I asked a few other travel bloggers or frequent-travelers their thoughts. Are other travelers watching or reading news media, and if so, which news sources do they access regularly?
Various responses I got included BBC’s website, CNN Kids, NatGeo Traveler, The Atlantic, The Economist, and of course some replied that for the most part they don’t check news resources regularly. Other, less mainstream options included StuckinCustoms.com and BatteredLuggage.com. (I found it interesting and worth noting that no one news resource came out ahead as the most frequently accessed. Granted, I asked a small pool of travelers.)
As to whether or not these media resources effect each traveler’s approach to travel or not, LeAnna of EconomicalExcursionists.com had the following take:
“The truth is, I am not going to choose to go to a place that is in civil dis-rest. Not because the media tells me not to, but because I personally would like to live a few more years. However, there are several places that I have traveled to that some may consider “unsafe” (Russia, Czech Republic, Africa) but I feel that the people who consider them unsafe are uneducated about those areas.”
LeaAnna highlights the benefit in striving for an informed, realistic opinion of a place.
Where might that informed opinion come from? Many of the travelers I interviewed commented that regardless of what media resource they’re tapping into, they’re going look into the media’s claims further and do their own research too. In other words, even when news media is involved in their attempts to stay informed, it’s not the last stop before their opinions are made.
Why take these precautions to go beyond what the media is saying? Heather of jfdioverland.com offers this:
“I try not to let the media influence my travel plans; the media often over exaggerates the issue and most of the time issues are in small areas, rarely the whole country.”
Jason, another frequent-traveling friend said that rather than the news influencing his approach to travel, something quite the opposite is true. His travel influences his reaction to the news:
“I don’t think the news media influences how I travel or how I approach a new place. It’s actually more of the opposite- the more I travel and the more places I visit the more I am able to separate what’s happening in the news versus what’s happening on the ground. People generally just want the same things in life no matter where they live, a home to live in, security, food, education and a better life for their children. So the things that make them unique in the news are not really what make them unique at all. Generally the stuff that you read in the news is in the realm of government, and has very little to do with what the average person’s life is like…I’m no longer scared to go to places that everyone else is scared to go to because I know those places have human beings that are just trying to get by in life, just like we are in [the] United States.”
Over all, while not everyone is so extreme as to avoid the news entirely, there does seem to be a general skepticism of news media- that it is not, on its own, enough. Or even that it is not, on its own, helpful.
Now I’d like to know what you think.
Do you trust news media to inform you realistically about a place? Does it effect your worldview, your willingness to travel? If not, why not? How do you approach news media to keep this from happening?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!