When They Say “Be Safe,” I Want to Say…
“Uh, from what?!”
Look, I’m not saying that one should foolhardily rush to another country having done zero research, and then run around with cash falling out of their pockets and not expect anything to happen to them. But I’ve been traveling in Southeast Asia. In many ways, it’s safer than Europe!
The number one admonishment I received from friends and family in the US when I set off for my travels was to “be safe,” as if the Yakuza was going to pop out on any corner and kidnap me for ransom. In stark contrast, my Australian friends and colleagues all said, “Have fun!” In a country where international travel is de riguer, it’s already assumed that one will do the necessary research to understand how best to keep one’s self and belongings in (relatively) the same condition in which you left. The only concern, then, is that you milk that travel for every single drop of fun you can get out of it.
As a woman, I’m already always on the defensive no matter where I am – a dark alley at home in Southern California could have the same perils that one in Hanoi could. Potentially worse, considering how much better-armed Americans are vs. Vietnamese! Acting foolishly in either place could have disastrous consequences, which is something that has been drilled into me from a very early age.
So when everyone tells me to be safe, it’s hard not to occasionally hear: “You haven’t properly prepared.” Which is annoying. But actually, what they’re probably really saying is, “I have never been to that place you’re going, therefore it’s scary and unknown, which means it’s definitely not as safe as where I am at this very moment.” I don’t hear it as much when I visit a ‘Western’ destination, but throw in a vast cultural difference and suddenly danger lurks on every corner.
Here’s a quick tip: That is so not true.
As someone who regularly walks the line between fearlessness and stupidity, I can assure you that your concerns for my safety are unfounded. I have followed travel safety tips and made sure to talk to my hotel staff about scams and common crimes on tourists, and by being smart, aware, and listening to my instincts, I have been completely fine. And I’ve been able to have fun! Traveling alone through Asia is not a 24/7 exercise in hiding in corners, scanning crowds for the potential felon. The only city I heard to be extra vigilant was Phnom Penh, city of the bag snatchers, so I just made sure my bra was my purse. I had to do the exact same thing on Las Ramblas in Barcelona 10 years ago, a place even more notorious for thieves! And a place where my own sister had her purse stolen out from under her just a few years ago.
Of course, I’ll have probably jinxed myself and my next post will be a tearful rant about how all my things have been stolen. But I have a feeling I’m more likely to fall victim to an airline losing my bags than a thief from any place I’ve visited here in Asia.
But don’t listen to me! Come find out for yourself. Come see that the Vietnamese don’t hate Americans at all (even in the North), come see how the Filipinos stare at you because they really want to be your friend but are too shy to say hi, be the guest of a wonderful Muslim family in Thailand, and realize that I am safe. It’s the only way to really know for sure.