When I talk to people at home about my lifestyle, they are often excited by the idea but can’t get over how dangerous they assume it must be. There are a lot of pervasive misconceptions about the danger of international travel and living that are difficult to dispel. Here are five myths about health and safety abroad:
Every so often, a major airline accident and terrorism incident will convince a surprisingly large number of people that choosing to fly is a dangerous decision. Whatever the reason, a lot of people ignore the fact that research has shown the chance of an American dying in a car crash during their lifetime to be one in 98…compared to one in 7,178 dying in airplane incidents. 2011 was the safest year in history for airlines, and 2012 seems like it wasn’t much worse. The future only looks better.
2. Attacks on Westerners are so common!
If you look at your government’s travel advisories for any particular country, you may be told that your destination is a hotbed for terrorism, civil unrest, attacks against foreigners, and other catastrophes waiting to happen. And yes, these things are possible. But when taken in the context of the millions of people that safely and happily visit countries outside of the west, the odds really are in your favor. The chances of you being held hostage by fanatics are pretty low, and shouldn’t make you reconsider going anywhere except the most extremely fractured of societies.
The US State Department has a harsh warning about pickpocketing, spiked drinks, auto theft, and armed robberies…in Australia. Show that to your mom if she freaks out about those things being on the advisory for Morocco. Yes, crime happens abroad, and you may even be a target for theft as a foreigner. But in many cases, crime rates are lower in other countries than in most big cities in the west. You’re much less likely to be mugged in rural Peru than you are in London or New York City. As with anywhere in the world, recommendations for solo women to take caution should be followed.
4. You’ll get sick!
You are pretty much guaranteed to get sick while backpacking, but not on the magnitude that people back home fear. A little bit of traveler’s diarrhea, the occasional cold, the odd bout of syphilis (kidding!)—you’re unlikely to get anything worse than that. Get the appropriate immunizations and other medications like anti-malarials (though don’t go overboard; research what is really necessary), and chances are you’ll be fine.
If you’re way up in the Himalayas, or deep in the Amazon, or lost somewhere in the Central African Republic—probably. Consider the availability of quality health care carefully when choosing your destinations, as this is a legitimate concern. But in most places, you can find decent or even excellent treatment options available to you. Local hospitals and clinics generally offer sufficient care, but if that isn’t enough you may be able to find an international hospital that charges slightly more and has significantly higher standards.
Next time someone balks at the idea of international travel on grounds of safety, just remind them that they risk their lives every day by driving to work, eating that cheeseburger, or smoking that cigarette. Don’t hold yourself back on account of fear or closed-mindedness—go out and explore.