The World isn't a Big, Bad, Ugly Place

Taking in a sunset on one of Manuel Antonio's many beautiful
beaches in Costa Rica

The first time I went to Central America involved passing through some of the so called most dangerous cities in the world, including Guatemala City, Belize City and parts of Mexico.
 I took this trip with two friends and some of our parents as well as other people we knew thought we were out of our minds and more than likely going to come back with bullet holes in our bodies. I'm not making this up - unfortunately, it's simply how people are led to think by the media.

I've been back to Central America, passing through more of these "danger zones" and later moved on to South America where I spent a significant amount of time in Rio de Janeiro where, supposedly, everyone gets robbed. During these trips that I've mentioned here, totaling about three months worth of time - I never once as much as felt in danger - well, not from criminal activity anyways - the chicken bus in Belize going 85 MPH up and down hills on a single lane highway in the pitch black of night was another story altogether. I've said all of that to get to this point - most of us are led to believe that the world outside of our little bubble that we call home is this big, dangerous place teeming with drug lords and criminals waiting for the gringo to show up with their cash, fancy electronics and jewelry.

Partying with thousands of Dutch in Amsterdam
on Queen's Day in 2013
This just isn't the case. An educated individual can travel safely just about anywhere without feeling threatened. Now, I'm not suggesting taking off to some war zone where bombs are going off or heading to a country where civil war is happening. If the locals are running for their lives, it's probably best to just avoid it. However, like I did with my trips to Central and South America (and everywhere else, for that matter) researching in advance and learning as much as possible about what is actually dangerous and where the danger occurs and how to handle yourself intelligently is all it takes to go from a dreadful trip after being robbed or mugged to having one of the best times of your life in a beautiful, exotic place far from home.

I don't mean this to sound like I am conceited, arrogant or oblivious to the dangers - because that is far from the truth. Wherever I go, I take necessary precautions. I don't carry all of my credit cards with me in one place, I never have more than 100ish dollars in cash at any given time, I do my best to not flash around my camera or other technology in certain areas and I never, ever leave my bags or personal belongings unattended ANYWHERE. I'm even selective about where I visit an ATM. I'm not paranoid, just prepared and cautious at all times. Going in groups helps too, you can all watch out for each other and there is an obvious power in numbers.

What I am trying to get at here is that there is too much beauty to see and experience in the world to let simple things stop you from living life to its fullest. If you have to go to a dangerous city, do your research. I knew Guatemala City was a potentially dangerous spot for travelers, and took extra precautions to only be in certain parts of the city. Wikitravel offers great "Stay Safe" information about most destinations, check for any governmental advisories on travel to that region, see what other travelers are saying online - the internet is a traveler's goldmine.

Walking the colonial streets of Paraty, Brazil

If I could sum up all the advice I've heard read about traveling it's this - don't be stupid! Don't get drunk and wander streets of an unknown city all alone late at night. Spend a few extra bucks and take a taxi. Be respectful and courteous to others because you are enjoying the place they call home. You'll quickly find that being friendly and respectful will help you meet the nicest and coolest locals and they'll appreciate you for being the conscientious traveler that you are.

When it comes down to it, an under prepared traveler has just as great of a chance to get robbed or shot in Houston or London as they do in Managua or Mexico City or wherever you end up going. The world isn't out to get you. It's not a big bad, ugly place. The danger is indeed real everywhere, but with solid preparation, travel smarts and some prayer, there aren't many places that are truly in the no travel zone.

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