Which is Safer — Known or Unknown?

I’ve said a dozen times in my writings and interviews that you are often safer walking the streets of a country you’ve barely heard of than you are walking around at night in your own home town, especially if that home town is in the good ole U.S. of A. (“Omaha scares the s*#& out of me” one business traveler friend said to me recently.”) Yet people who haven’t traveled much get all worked up about the great unknown out there, scared that they’ll be mugged, kidnapped, or carjacked on the other side of the world—if they don’t go down in roaring flames in a plane crash first.

travel safetyWith more proof that the gun-happy U.S. doesn’t have a monopoly on first-world crime problems though, let’s take a look at some recent reports on Naples, Italy. Ask most people how safe Naples is and they would say it’s far safer than some obscure place like Hanoi, Santiago, or Bucharest. Most people would be very wrong.

The local government recently stepped in to police the city, Milan’s newspaper reported, because “Naples can no longer govern itself.” At least 24 people were murdered in the first two weeks of November, with shootouts between drug dealers becoming more common. “Entire quarters of the city had become no-go areas for police.” The new officers are being called in, the story reports, because they haven’t been paid off by anyone and can be trusted to enforce the law.

I’m not really trying to pick on Italy, since a similar state of affairs is the norm in many cities, including Mexico City, Moscow, and Rio. People mostly know about the problems in those spots though, because it’s been in the news for so long and those are not considered first-world nations. Wherever you’re going, it pays to really do your homework. In most spots you’ve got little to worry about. In Nairobi, Detroit, and yes– Naples–however, there’s a genuine reason to take precautions. Know the difference and you’ll be a much more savvy traveler–and one who is cautious but not to the point of crippling the travel options.

Here’s a nice relevant quote from a WorldHum interview with writer Pico Iyer:

I think one of the curious consequences of 9/11 is that it used to be that the rich countries of the world seemed relatively safe and the poor ones relatively dangerous, but I don’t think we can rest on those illusions now. Actually, it may be the rich countries which are more dangerous now. And when you asked about specific events, one thing I remember is being in Atlanta when there was a bomb about 100 yards away, and I was sitting in a room like this at about one in the morning, and suddenly it was as if 10 filing cabinets were falling down on the ceiling. But, again, that was in Atlanta, not Yemen.

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