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Is Third World Travel Dangerous?

Posted Monday, November 24, 2014
I've been asked this questions quite a few times over the years, mostly by people who, like me, also live in Chicago. The irony here is that Chicago has over 2000 shootings and 450 homicides in a typical year, so almost anywhere else outside of a war zone would be an improvement statistically.

This is not to say that Chicago is particularly dangerous for tourists: most violent crimes happen between drunken family members, rival gangs fighting for turf or drug deals gone bad. And these sorts of incidents almost never happen at places visitors frequent like the Art Institute or the Field Museum or atop the Tower-formerly-known-as-Sears.

Yet somehow my fellow Americans have gotten the impression that the only thing the fine people of South Africa ever do is riot, because that's the only time they ever seem to make the news. That Thailand is too dangerous because of the coups, Colombia too dangerous because of the drug lords, and Egypt too dangerous because all Arabs are potential terrorists.

As it happens, the first time I visited Thailand, a coup actually did take place while I was in the country; I didn't even know about it until I returned home. Colombia is full of friendly people and beautiful sites and is safe enough if you avoid the drug trade. I was in Egypt as an independent traveler during the First Gulf War and the greatest threat I encountered was to my wallet, being overcharged by the occasional taxi driver or offered fake gold jewelry or just-made-yesterday antiquities from the occasional shopkeeper. On the whole, the Arab world has a long tradition of providing warm receptions to visitors; just be prepared for buzz-inducing doses of syrupy-thick coffee when negotiating souvenir purchases.

Of course, a traveler still needs to remain aware of unfamiliar surroundings and use some common sense, like not walking around random neighborhoods while wearing a Rolex watch or carrying $10,000 in cash. The worst thing that's ever happened to me across 70 countries over three decades is being pick-pocketed -- and that was in Rome after being surrounded by a group of noisy 8-10-year-olds holding open newspapers.

Americans aren't the only ones mislead by their local media. I once got a call from my grandmother in Germany, asking me if my house had been damaged by the tornado. Of course, there had been no tornado in Chicago, but rather in rural Iowa 300 miles away. From the European prospective, Chicago was the nearest city anyone there was likely to have heard of.

And for many years, when I traveled abroad and people asked where I was from, the usual response was: "Chicago? Al Capone. Bang Bang." Thank goodness that eventually changed to "Chicago? Michael Jordan!" with the hand dribbling an invisible basketball!

Tags: travel, Chicago

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Samantha | 1/26/15, 5:20 am
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JalJigree | 1/31/15, 6:53 pm
JalJigree holds the record for most obnoxious spammer: 90 pages of links and garbage comments, submitted via 6 IP addresses ranging from to!
Adrienne | 2/23/15, 7:36 pm
Adrienne is another naughty spammer, whose IP address is
Kathy | 3/10/15, 1:54 am
What a joy to find someone else who thinks this way.
libertedeparole | 5/28/15, 4:18 pm
I had a lovely coup d'état the 2nd time I lived in Spain. Afghanistan and Iran for the moment come in second and third to Bali as the places where the locals were the most inviting on my trips. But Bali has gone too touristy and too Javanese and apparently we Americans are less welcome than before on much of the planet, since the US has become the world's uncontested biggest SST – State Sponsor of Terrorism. But Iran is still safer than Chicago for even a Yankee.
Situs togel | 8/21/16, 11:09 pm
Situs togel
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