A Dangerous World? The Fears Of Backpacking Finally Addressed

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So you want to go on an epic trekking adventure in South America or travel around the beaches and temples of Asia. Maybe you even want to go volunteer in some tiny vague African country that your mom has never heard of. Either way, fears and concerns from friends, relatives and your own mind begin to nip away at your conscience. Somebody points out a recent tabloid news story about a backpacker dying in a jungle in Columbia and you begin to worry about being kidnapped, killed or mugged the second you get out of the airport. But all these concerns and worries just? Are you right to worry? Should you really risk your life on the quest to adventure?


I think the first thing to acknowledge when discussing an issue like this is to recognise that such concerns and worries are perfectly natural and reflect thousands of years of human evolution that has allowed us to divide and multiply to the billions. It is the notions of treading water carefully, staying away from the edge and being primitive mammals looking for security and shelter that makes us the successful, flourishing species we are today. While it is natural for our consciousness to be cautious and tentative when going to unknown territory, I would argue that this side of us is stretched and abused by the culture and media in which we all live in today.

Such culture and media allows us to see a story about one backpacker being killed somewhere plastered over newspaper pages while not paying attention to the fact that hundreds of thousands of backpackers travel without any issues and that – shock, horror – people get killed or murdered in their own country every month of every year. It is not putting things into perspective and becoming too invested in the media that lead to the illogical fears that plague many when it comes to adventure and travel. Believe it or not, we actually live in the most peaceful time in human history with there being less wars, political stability, genocides and murders than ever before overall across the world. We also live in the information era where we have unprecedented access to research facts, statistics and info to help us make decisions and be informed about the ‘unknown territory’ than ever before.

The world really is setup well for you to have an amazing adventure – but of course it helps us to be mindful towards certain issues of security before taking flight into the unknown.

Deciding which country/city/area you are travelling to

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When I decided to go backpack around South America after I finished University, the arguments with the parents began straight away. They worried I was going to get murdered or kidnapped by a drug cartel and be mailed back pieces of me unless they paid some Colombian drug lord a six-figure ransom. Of course having travelled before and vastly researched the countries in which I intended to tread foot, I was pretty confident that their concerns were a bit overblown and built on stereotypes and media rather than experience and research. A simple visit to your own country’s government website will see the foreign travel section provide you with up-to-date information and advice about the relative dangers and political stability in specific countries. Please note even these are only useful to an extent – further research on backpacker forums and blogs will be thoroughly more useful to you as a guide to what level of safety you can expect. I would just like to add in five months in South America I had no issue at all with crime or danger besides hear a few stories from others about pick-pocketed phones and stolen valuables. This brings us nicely onto the next point…

Common Sense as the Best Safety Mechanism

Now if you want to be one of those backpackers who travels around without the ability to apply common sense in looking after yourself and belongings, then I would say fears of being a victim of crime in undeveloped foreign countries from yourself, friends and relatives are understandable. Those aforementioned backpackers I heard of who had their phones stolen were travelling on overnight buses sat next to strangers; they fell asleep with their iPhone in their outer pocket and found it missing when they awoke the next morning. Now while this could feasibly happen at home in your own country, the fact that you will be visibly foreign and western in many undeveloped countries popular for backpacking will make you a bigger target. This is a reality but does it need to be a major fear? My opinion is absolutely not. Just applying simple common sense about how you carry your valuables, how much you carry, where you store your belongings and which behaviour you chose to exhibit in a seemingly sketchy place will dictate the level of safety available to yourself. With a bit of common sense, this can be a vastly improved level against crime and danger.

Physical Injury or Sickness

Another fear that many people worry about is becoming sick or lying in a foreign hospital with a broken leg surrounded by people who don’t speak your language with friends and family a long way away. What could be worse than suffering from malaria, lying in an unclean hospital bed while a person next to you screams from a broken leg? This is a true situation for one person I met on a trip in Ghana a few years ago. Having used the best malaria tablets and only being bitten a handful of times, he managed to contract malaria whereas somehow me – with my 76 bites and cheap malaria tablets – somehow didn’t. I guess this goes to show that if something bad is going to happen, it is going to happen. However if injury or sickness is a big enough worry to put you off travelling or backpacking, I would implore you again to research the area you’re going, put it into perspective (that friend was one out of maybe fifty volunteers I knew that contracted Malaria during a summer in Ghana), and minimise the risks again by research and common sense. Find out the relative health dangers, get injections, exercise caution when doing adventurous sports, don’t drive a scooter in Thailand when you’re wasted at 3am, always make sure your bungee jump or shark cage-dive is with a certified and reputable company, and of course – have travel insurance; just in case you do break that leg, you know.

What Your Biggest Fear Should Really Be

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People could spend all day talking about the relative dangers of visiting each and every country and doing each specific activity or whatever it is people do in the world of adventure travel. The great reality is that the concerns from home when you go off to travel the world by yourself are completely misinformed and from an area of thinking that is crippled by stereotypes, mass media and a lack of real-world experience. When I hear the extent of people’s concerns about travelling to some areas, I can’t help but feel grateful I have learnt to have logical, analytical thought that allows me to assess and judge the relative dangers and risks involved in the pursuit of my dreams and adventures. I will always exercise caution and research when going to unknown territory and encourage everyone else to do so.

However I implore anyone who is willing to let fears and concerns prevent them from chasing their dreams of adventure, to look in the mirror and think again. Are your concerns relevant? Are they real? Are they logical? In my humble opinion it is letting illogical and unreasonable fears control your life which should be the greatest fear of all; imagine ending up on your deathbed having not travelled and lived your adventures all because you let a singular news story or relative’s uninformed opinion lead you astray. This is the greatest fear for myself I can tell you that. So just remember, exercise a degree of caution and common sense, do your research, get insurance, be brave and remember the positives that await and the possible dangers of staying at home, getting old whilst not chasing your dreams when you had the chance…

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