When is Travel Too Dangerous?

Sometimes, common sense is all you need to decide if a trip is too risky. For example, a expedition to build sandcastles on Galveston Island wouldn’t have worked out well during Hurricane Ike.

But at other times the decision to stay or go is a lot less clear. Do you avoid places like Thailand, where current political strife has induced demonstrations and violence? What about Indonesia, where there is always a threat of terrorism bubbling under the surface? Lebanon? Israel…?

I guess in large part, the decision depends on the kind of traveler that you are. Some people just don the pith helmet and wade into the fray, while others avoid it completely, opting for ping pong and cable TV in the safety of their basement. For those of us who are neither overly courageous (or is it reckless?) nor overly fearful, the answer to the question “to go or not to go” is a little more complicated.

So how can you weigh the odds and decide if the positive aspects of a trip are worth putting up with the risk?At some point, you have to honestly ask yourself if you will be a target. I’m not talking about walking through Iran with a crew cut and one of those t-shirts showing an eagle holding the American flag in its beak. If you think that is OK, it’s probably better to stay at home…in your basement. By what if you can be singled out and targeted as a foreigner like the Japanese photographer who was killed last year in Myanmar? If foreigners in a certain country are targets and there seems to be no repercussion for harming them, it is probably best to stay away.

What about past situations in your destination? Thailand has frequent coups. Most do not turn violent; though there are some exceptions. As long as you avoid demonstrations and other confrontational situations, your greatest risk will be a traffic accident. That said, things can happen in the heat of the moment. Even if you don’t feel that you are a target, you might find yourself as one. Australian photographer Neil Davis survived covering the Vietnam War only to be killed by a trigger happy tank gunner during a minor, otherwise non-violent coup, in Thailand.

Aside from the general situation on the ground and a country’s past treatment of visitors, you have to remind yourself about the risks associated with normal travel. The biggest chance you’ll take in most places comes when you try to negotiate your way through unfamiliar traffic.