I’m sure this is something that every female traveller has come across: what is an acceptable risk?
At what point should you actually listen to other people’s worries? How do you strike a balance between sensible precautions and listening to your cold feet?
Managing other people’s concerns
Unless you are planning on doing something which requires serious expertise, and therefore may be dangerous, I think the best guide of what you’re capable of is you. Before I went to China, I someone told me that “Preparation and planning is managing what your head needs to keep your heart safe” and I think this can easily be extrapolated into what you need to keep your nearest and dearest from freaking out when you walk into the kitchen and announce you’re going to climb a mountain in Nepal or take the train to China. For example.
My brothers and I have an agreement with our mother, where basically we are free to do whatever we want to do, so long as we only tell her about it when we’re home safely. I have to say, with the exception of my younger brother skydiving before I’ve had a chance to, I’m the one that this rule is principally designed for. That isn’t to say that Mum would attempt to stop me doing anything I want to do (and she did very well when I announced the above plans to her), but she does worry unreasonably more about me doing things that probably wouldn’t phase her so much my brothers expressed an interest therein. Maybe it’s your Dad who is this influence on you; maybe it’s your grandma, sisters, boyfriend or group of friends at large. Whoever this much loved individual is in your life, I’m sure you’ll agree that the “I trust you, it’s everyone else out there I don’t trust…” attitude is hugely frustrating and difficult to argue with.
As tempting as it is to react more strongly to the latent sexism inherent in this kind of attitude, showing yourself to be taking sensible precautions is the best way I’ve found to combat this argument.
Be as prepared as you can be. Let people know where you’re planning on going and roughly when, keep emergency supplies with you, read books, websites, this blog(!) and talk to experts or people with experience of what you’re planning on doing.
When it comes to specific places and activities that you want to visit or try out, balance adventurous challenge with ‘safety first’. It is possible!
If it’s an activity you want to try, be it rafting, rock climbing, scuba diving, or wrestling goats in Kazakhstan (ok, I made that one up) when you’re choosing who to go with make sure you ask questions. How long has your guide/leader been doing this? Is the equipment you’re going to be using in good order? Maybe try and have a go before you leave home so you’re not a complete novice, or ask around for tips and recommendations. Again, you’re usually the best judge of what you’re capable of. Also, don’t forget that most places in the world haven’t gone as far down the litigious health and safety conscious road as (for example) the US or the UK have so don’t mistake a slightly rough and ready attitude for “automatic death trap” and make sure you’ve got travel insurance that you’re happy with.
When it comes to countries and areas you want to visit, the best place for general safety advice is your country’s foreign office website but bear in mind that they will take a very cautious view of any situation. Obviously I wouldn’t dream of advising anyone to ignore warnings about dangerous places, and everyone has a different safety threshold (by which I mean circumstances in which they feel safe/threatened) but my experience is that worldwide people are usually friendly and usually welcoming, so if it’s reputation or history rather than a specific and current safety warning which is setting the temperature of your toes to ‘frosty’ remember that the best way to get information about what a place is like is to experience it yourself. After all, it would be a shame if people let paranoia inhibit their plans.
Keeping in touch
No news is only good news when you’ve warned people who have your safety at heart that you’ll be dropping out for a few days. Not so long ago, postcards and scheduled phone calls along crackly lines were the ways of keeping your loved informed that you’re still safe, still breathing, still having the time of your life. Nowadays though, when we’re all tweeting what’s for breakfast and soforth, people get paranoid much more quickly.
Before you travel, get yourself set up with Skype, a VPN if you’re going somewhere with internet restrictions, an international SIM (or at least, talk to your mobile provider about international charges for data and texts etc) set up a blog, and crucially, set up those ground rules about how often you’ll aim to contact those at home! That way, you’ve got time and space to have adventures so that when you do call home, you’ve got the stories and the experiences to tell them all about.
Be brave and be sensible my fellow Go! Girls, and most importantly never forget that it’s your life and you’re going to be the one who lives with your decisions.