I don't want to alarm anyone. And I hate to be that Saturday Night Live Debbie Downer character on vacation, but FYI: The world is not a safe place.
Indeed, there is sickness and disease everywhere, natural disasters occur seemingly daily nowadays, official and unofficial violence occurs, one-off terrorist events take place, planes go missing once every few decades, random crime and crimes of opportunity transpire, and terrible accidents do happen all too often. There is an Assumption of Risk in everything we do.
Yet, I am also a realist -- not an irrational conspiracy enthusiast or 24-hour cable news junkie feeding off the unpleasantries that obviously exist around the world. Unforeseen Black Swan events can and do occur in our day and age. But those are clearly force majeure, and acts of either nature or madmen.
But here are three things I don't worry about when I travel:
I am not concerned with the world going to hell in a hand basket; fact is the world is actually more peaceful, less violent and a safe place to travel in than ever before! We're living in a 97 percent conflict-free world; and you increase our odds even better by avoiding Afghanistan, Iraq, Congo, Somalia, Darfur/Sudan and Syria. (Ironically, when traveling the world, the major city in the U.S. you leave may in fact be the most dangerous destination on our 2014 itinerary!)
I am not worried about terrorism; it is a negligible-to-low threat for us as we don't travel in prearranged ways on a prearranged schedule. The chance of being involved in a "terrorist incident" is about one in 4 million. Not to discount the terrible reality, but if you feel that lucky, let me know, I'll let you buy a few lottery tickets.
I am not worried about flying either; fact is, flying has never, ever been safer. Three little words will help you understand air travel in the 21st century: "arrived without incident"... and it occurs more than 93,000 times a day -- over eight million airline passengers -- every day 365 days a year.
So, that all said (here comes Debbie Downer) what concerns me, the realist, most while I am out traveling around the world? Easy: drowning, heart attacks, car accidents and crossing the street.
Accidents happen, a lot! It is personally my biggest fear every year as the organizer of the annual around the world travel adventure competition known as The Global Scavenger Hunt. (Shameless plug insert: the 10th anniversary of the travel world championship event begins next Friday, April 11th!) Indeed, collectively our biggest danger as we travel the world with you are accidents. Shit happens! Especially car accidents.
The best precaution is to be wide-eyed about how you travel from point A to point B. Take care to kick the tires of that car you are about to hire. Ask yourself: Does that look like a safe ride? Is the driver young or old? Does he have kids? Don't drive with some bleary-eyed khat-chewing teenager. Have an exit strategy. You have to act quickly.
I was on a burning night train along the Nile River and everyone panicked; but I knew where the exit was and got out quick. I did not want to be a little filler blurb in The New York Times.
Also, when accidents do occur, remember the so-called Golden Hour (you have one hour to save yourself and receive help). Don't ever wait for help to arrive, because it probably won't (ambulances are rare outside the developed world) and to preserve your own life, you need to help yourself within that Golden Hour. Don't become a statistic.
When traveling, I do my best to actively employ the use of the Buddy System with someone. You learn to take care of each other. I have developed pre-established code words before you enter dicey situations; that when said, tells your buddy that something is wrong. In turn, trust your buddy as much as you trust your gut feeling and those little neck hairs. Having situational awareness (not situational obliviousness) and trusting your instincts (aka intuition or sixth sense) is usually always right. If not, better safe than sorry.
It goes without saying that travelers shouldn't wear expensive jewelry advertising yourself as a walking ATM. Don't create opportunity. You don't need to impress anyone. People are generally trustworthy, but they are poor and desperate too.
Try to not look too lost in open public places when you are, err, lost! Look at your map sitting or in a doorway. Don't wear provocative clothes. Don't carry too much stuff with you that you can't manage to have free hands. Again, always trust your instincts. Remember that old saying: Good things take time; bad things happen quickly.
Finally be healthy: Wash your hands a lot... especially prior to touching your face and before eating or drinking anything. Stay hydrated. Always have water with you. Stay nourished. Always have some munchies with you to ward of the screaming meanies.
To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut: Get enough sleep. Wear a condom. Look both ways before you cross a street. And don't forget your sunblock. Have fun!