I just read an interesting post at 501 Places that poses the question of whether we are becoming too afraid to travel, and if this fear will kill off the next generation of backpackers.
Andy, the blogger behind 501 Places, says that when he was younger, he did many things that people now consider unsafe. He traveled solo to Europe at age 17, and this adventure included hitchhiking, sleeping on park benches, and meeting some strange people. He finds it interesting that whenever he tells his stories, most peoples’ first reaction is, “I would never let my kids do that!” They coddle their children and do not want them traipsing through a foreign country without them.
While Andy readily admits that he made some foolish mistakes during his travels, he says he figured out how to get out of these situations by himself and learned from his successes and failures. Here is an excerpt:
Every time I learned. I learned how to spot trouble, how to weigh up the relative safety of a situation and how to extricate myself from a sticky situation before it got dangerous. I didn’t become an expert or a 100% safe traveller. But when I started university I had a self-confidence and a degree of street-wiseness that I simply wouldn’t have had if I had stayed under my parents’ protective wings for the summer.
Are parents these days so protective that they are scaring their children away from adventurous travel at a young age? It’s very possible. I know people who have only traveled with their families, and I know few people who have traveled solo. And it’s true that there is more awareness about safety now. When my aunt was my age, she traveled throughout England, India, and Japan by herself. But a few years ago when I expressed interest in doing a significant amount of traveling alone, friends and family members acted like I had lost my mind — many people worried it would be too unsafe.
However, traveling is inherently scary. When you are going somewhere new, you likely will not know how to get around, you won’t know what foods to avoid, you don’t know which areas are safe and unsafe, and you may not know the language. You can read the best guidebooks around, but sometimes you don’t know how things will be until you get there.
If you understand that travel to foreign places puts you in a vulnerable position and you take precautions to be safe, you are doing the very best you can, and I think you should go for it. When you’re young, it’s the best time to be adventurous. While it’s wise to avoid countries in turmoil, even in the safest countries you can take all the precautions in the world and still fall victim to a robbery, car bombing, etc. Sometimes you have to just take a risk, and it’s a shame when parents won’t let their kids do so.
Just don’t be arrogant or clueless — those are two things that will surely make you less safe when traveling. Admit that you don’t know everything but try to learn all you can. Find information about the local culture before you go. Do a little research and make sure you don’t book a hostel or hotel in the slums. Be utterly observant everywhere you go, especially at night. Don’t take out your map in the middle of the street. Do not look like you don’t know where you’re going or what you’re doing. As long as you are always aware of your surroundings, especially as a female, you will be fine most of the time.
Two summers ago, I wanted to try solo travel for the first time. I was already going to be in the UK and Germany with family and friends. I wanted to go to France, but nobody could go with me, so I decide to stay in Paris for four days by myself. At first it was very scary and lonely, especially since I don’t speak French. Despite a few teary moments, it was overall an incredibly valuable experience, much like how Andy described. It made me feel more confident. I needed to know that I, as a solo woman, could conquer Paris without anyone else to rely on. I was observant everywhere I went, made sure to stay in a nice area, and made it look like I knew what I was doing. I was completely safe and nothing happened. I came home feeling stronger and more capable, and I feel more confident when traveling now. Sometimes you have to ignore the naysayers and go on an adventure.
Have your parents tried to scare you away from travel? Have you ever gone traveling despite the warnings from others about safety?
Photo by bekathwia