Much of the news media focuses on the worst possible things that happen everywhere. I know this well as there are people outside of the USA that are afraid of America because of all the mass shootings. In America we have similar fears about places like Mexico, Colombia, or even anywhere in Africa. Because of the media, I am also guilty of having some of these fears. And the only way to conquer fear is by doing what scares you.
As a kid, I had many fears of travel. My fears were driven by many violent movies that I watched as a kid. When I was finally able to drive, one of my first road trips was to Southern California. I knew that I should stay away from Compton and Watts (thanks, Eazy-E), but guess what? My car broke down on the freeway near Watts. I was able to pull off the freeway, but I was almost sure I would be shot or beaten. Nothing happened. I was able to get to my uncle’s house, get a tow truck, and everything was fine. My life isn’t what happens in a rap song, or the movie Boyz in the Hood.
First International Trips
Fast forward 20 years, and I took my first international trip to Japan. Hardly anyone spoke any English, but despite how scary that was, I had one of the most amazing trips of my life. The people were very friendly and forgiving when I had baka gaijin (stupid foreigner) moments. Food was easy when most of the restaurants had either an English menu or a vending machine-like ordering system with pictures. (Insert travel bug here) Now I can’t stop thinking about traveling more.
Then I went to the next scary place in 2017: Costa Rica. The language barrier wasn’t as bad, but all the buildings were well-fenced, windows were barred, and it looked pretty shady overall. However, the trip was amazing. I stayed at a bed and breakfast near the San Jose airport on my first and last nights of the trip. I met some other travelers there, and the hospitality was incredible. I even walked around a bit at night without any trouble. Driving was manageable and even our hotel at the coast was pleasant. There was nothing to worry about after all.
Similar to the first time you step in the ocean or climb up to the peak of a mountain and look down, you overcome your fear the more you do it. And I’ve found the same is true with travel. You tend to fear what you don’t know or don’t understand.
I’m still facing that today, though to a lesser extent as I work on booking flights to Cape Town, South Africa. I have coworkers who lived there giving me all the horror stories, but then I contacted some locals on Couchsurfing and they completely changed my mind. I’ve included the first response to my inquiry on Couchsurfing below in case you are curious about it. I received about a dozen other responses from locals too.
Good day Aaron.
Cape Town is my home town – and I could not be more grateful for living in the beautiful city, rich in culture, diversity and exceptional scenes of wonder, it is magical here. Crime in South African, especially petty crime is however an issue, so tourists need to just be wary of keeping their belongings on them and safe. Watch some videos on YouTube of how to suspect scams and avoid crime in order stay safe while travelling; but, I don’t even think that is so necessary if you can reasonably look after your things.
I am a 20 year old woman (so rather young and an easy target) and nothing even remotely serious has ever happened to me. I have walked the streets in Cape town and JHB (such as Long street), the city center, driven through more poverty-ridden towns where crime rates are higher and I use uber alone frequently etc. Essentially it is about being streetwise – and I shall be as such anywhere I go across the globe. In fact in some areas, like the city or long street, government workers actually come up to you and give you flyers as well as personally explain that you should rather put your phone in your bag or zip your rucksack properly etc. if they see need be.
The possibility of a criminal action taking place is likely anywhere! Yes, SA is a third world country with higher statistics of criminal activity, but for the average middle class citizen I cannot call it barbaric or the wild west.
Do not let fear hinder the opportunity to explore the motherland, it so beautiful and the people are lovely, but that means you have to come with that intention and be confident in your travels, as well as observe your surroundings, look after your goods and want to enjoy your time here! Namibia is incredibly picturesque, I mean in even Prince Harry and Meghan Markle had their honeymoon there. I rowed the orange river and it was one of the best places I have ever visited! I have family friends who live there, who take people on safaris introducing them to not only the country and game, but the indigenous, BEAUTIFUL cultures.
You have to come with an attitude to want experience this kind of life and truly indulge in this splendor. I hope I could help! Feel free to ask anymore questions.
In conclusion, yes be careful of petty crime, politely decline, smile and be merry – but do not think that everyone is out to get you, we’re pretty wonderful here! 🙂
It is easy to fear something, but that something might be a missed opportunity that you will cherish for the rest of your life. With some common street sense, and knowing and understanding what real threats are against you, you can plan a safe trip just about anywhere. Whether it is petty theft in Costa Rica, or the language barrier of Japan, you will have no trouble if you do your research. Don’t let fear stop you from going.
Where are you afraid to visit and why?
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