Is it safe to travel now?

Emergency shelter sign in Beijing, China.

Emergency shelter sign in Beijing, China. Photo: Ivan Walsh / Flickr

There’s always trouble going on somewhere in the world, but 2011 has been a particularly wrenching period.  Revolution has swept the Middle East; Japan has endured disaster after disaster; America is carrying out military operations in three countries. One has to ask, “Is it safe to travel now?”

The answer is “Yes,” according to travel writer Paul Theroux. He made a moving call to action in this essay that appeared in The New York Times: An Argument for Travel During Turbulent Times.

Now this doesn’t mean you should buy a plane ticket to a war zone. Theroux’s piece encourages us to regain a proper perspective on safety.  Similar to what our Rolf Potts said in his book Vagabonding, the trouble is often confined to one spot in a country. However, the mass media often paints an entire country as being a risk.

In some cases, the possibility of disaster can be a strong reason to travel now, to see that place you’ve always wanted to see before something happens to it. I faced this dilemma in 2010, when I had to decide whether to do my long-awaited trip around Japan. I worried about not having enough time, money, and the usual suspects.  In the end, I went.  The resulting stories and photos are up at my blog, Marcus Goes Global.  Now I’m glad I went, because my family would be too concerned for my health if I went there now.

Speaking of family, they can be the most opposed to your travels.  You can alleviate their fears by doing your homework. Go deeper than the sound bites to find the real story.  Is all the trouble in just one city or one region of that country?  Is infrastructure intact everywhere else?  These are the things we should check up on anyway.

Your government’s foreign ministry can be biased against travel, as well as having a political agenda to push.  A good resource for objective information is Hotspots, a newsletter published by ASI Group, which does global risk management.  You can get up-to-date news on how crises are unfolding all over the world.

Travel insurance is a must, regardless if you’re going a tourist area free of bad news.  Make sure it covers “emergency evacuation” and “emergency repatriation.”  The first is if you have to be flown to the nearest country with a developed hospital.  The second is if you have to be flown back to your home country.  These services can easily cost over US$10,000, so it’s worth it to buy insurance in advance.

International SOS is my favorite choice.  The main reason is that they’re more than an insurance company.  They’re a medical service provider that operates the hospitals, flies the planes, and sends in the doctors.  The advantage of this is that you can be served immediately, without waiting for an insurance company to approve of surgery, evacuation, or whatever.  I’ve also heard good things about Medex Assist.

Safety is definitely a priority when going abroad.  Just don’t wait to travel until the whole world is safe.

Have you ever traveled to a place before it was touched by disaster?  Share your stories in the comments.

Posted by | Comments (5)  | April 15, 2011
Category: Backpacking, Notes from the collective travel mind, Travel News

5 Responses to “Is it safe to travel now?”

  1. David William Says:

    Gaaah no one is safe! We already know that.

    For me personally, I prefer to ignore these warnings. I’ve seen more excitement and beauty by doing so.

  2. Joel Carillet Says:

    Thanks so much for alerting me to the Theroux article, Marcus. Great read.

  3. Serena Prammanasudh Says:

    Thanks for the great links. I certainly think that the fear for your own safety should not deter one’s travels! Of course, this doesn’t mean flying into war zones, but I’d like to think that most people can judge when involving themselves in certain situations can be dangerous.
    I was studying in Guadalajara a few years ago and someone assassinated the police chief of the neighboring state of Michuacan right in front of the Applebee’s in front of my university. The truth is that any travel situation can turn into a risky one. In this case, the assassination (mostly likely drug-related) was targeted and did no harm to civilians.

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