Safety is Relative

I was just sitting down to dinner at a deserted hotel a few miles from Chichen Itza when I got a frantic call from my wife that we’d been robbed. She had come home from school to find our front door wide open, a window broken, our cats escaped, and our place ransacked. She was scared, worried, and alone.

Not knowing if the perpetrators were still inside, she hid in the car while waiting for the cops to arrive. Thankfully, the hotel had WiFi and while both visual and audio Skype failed, SMS worked, so I was able to keep her virtual company during the three-hour wait. It pained me to be so far away, powerless to help. Eventually the police showed up, and she left to go file the report. There was nothing I could do but be thankful she was ok and hopeful that not too much was stolen. (It turned out that only our PS3 and a bowl of change seemed to be missing, most likely by a couple of bored and underprivileged kids.)

Ironically, before I left for Mexico, a number of people cautioned me, “Are you sure it’s safe?” The worst thing that happened to me was being swindled by a gas station attendant.

It just goes to show that safety is relative. While I was in what many consider an unsafe country, our home in the U.S. was broken into. For many years I’ve heard people say that they wouldn’t go to a country deemed risky by the State Department. And yet countries like Mexico, Afghanistan, and the Philippines are places where you can find exquisite natural beauty, rich cultural history, and warm-hearted people.

While it’s true that the chances of something unexpected happening in such places might be higher than in Japan or Norway, it’s wise to remember that danger exists everywhere, and crime tends to increase exponentially with population density. There are several U.S. cities in which many Americans might feel comfortable, but some foreigners might consider too risky, Oakland included.

One might be tempted to let the fear of the unexpected keep them from leaving home, yet even that isn’t a guarantee of safety. It’s better still to go out into the world, appropriately cautious but unafraid, and lead by example, treating people with respect and kindness. If and when the unexpected happens, the following two principles will work in almost every situation;

  1. Find a safe place, calm down, think rationally, and get help.
  2. Think positively, learn from the experience, and move on.

Learning to both manage a critical situation in the moment, and to let go of negative minimally-serious outcomes afterwards are key components to traveling safely in many parts of the world, and in your own neighborhood.

An adventurer at heart, Ted Beatie is at his happiest when he’s off the beaten path. His deepest passion is sharing the world through his photography and writing, which can be found at The Pocket Explorer.

He is also the managing editor for Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding, where he publishes a weekly Case Study series. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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