For most people, traveling abroad is going to be safer than driving to work and back at home. But null is a perennial worry for some—just look at all the books out there geared to women scared of traveling on their own. So Rob Sangster and I devoted a sizable section of Traveler’s Tool Kit: Mexico and Central America to addressing those fears.
Fortunately, Mexico and Central America are relatively calm and safe for travelers these days, though this does not apply to any area where drug gangs are in a full-blown war with police, such as along the border with the U.S. (where the prohibition on all drugs has created quite a profit opportunity). That’s one area that you wouldn’t catch me dead in because, well, I may end up dead.
Lately, there are a few other places to avoid besides the obvious hotspots like Afghanistan and Iraq. And as we have seen with the republic of Georgia, being one of those blissfully ignorant backpackers that proudly avoids the news can be big trouble. If you have no inkling of the big picture events going on around you, it is easy to get stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time, in a riot, a war, or a natural disaster. Here’s how to find trouble.
1) Go to Ahmedabad in India. For complicated sectarian reasons I won’t get into here, this city is a powder keg. In the latest incarnation of trouble, 45 people were killed and 114 wounded by crude bombs set by terrorists invoking the name of Allah. This follows communal violence in 2002 where over 1,000 people were killed on two sides of the religious fence. The year before that, 752 people died in an earthquake. When I first traveled through India in 1994, this area was the epicenter of a plague epidemic. (Now you know why there are so many people from Gujarat state living in the U.S. now: some cities are just cursed.)
2) Go to Uganda looking for a local girlfriend or boyfriend. There are so many deaths from HIV infection in Uganda that a government official suggested that funerals should only be held on weekends because all week long people have to keep taking off work to attend burials.
3) Venture into a mountainous region during a flood. The death toll now stands at 116 in the northern regions of Vietnam where I happy frolicked with some friends on my last round-the-world backpacking trip. The worst-hit area was around the town of Lao Cai, the crossing point from China where you can catch a train to Hanoi. It wasn’t too many years ago when a flooding and landslide disaster happened on an even larger scale in Guatemala.
4) Go to Pakistan. Let’s see, Al Qaeda and the Taliban run the northern frontier, fighting has started back up in Kashmir, bombings hit the cities regularly, and the president just resigned. It’ll be smooth sailing for the new guy, right?
To keep up on what’s happening, it helps to turn off the TV and read a good magazine regularly, like The Week or The Economist. It doesn’t hurt though to check out null on the web. Be careful out there, but don’t stay home out of fear. Remember, your lifetime chance of dying in a car wreck is 1 in 247 (usually within 10 miles of where you live).