5 Ways to Stay Safe While Traveling the World

This is the fourth post in a series by the Cooney family about their world travels, made possible by the flexible learning offered at FLVS.

Cooney Adventures 4Travel Safety Awareness Month is the perfect time to address one of the questions we were often asked before leaving on an around-the-world trek.

“Aren’t you afraid to travel to other countries with your family?”

As we all know, there is risk in nearly everything we do.  Whether taking a shower, driving to work, walking across the street, shopping at the grocery store, going to the movie theater, or skydiving, there is inherent risk in everything we do.  If you don’t think so, just count the number of attorney ads on TV, radio, and social media. Even after our trek, the question of safety continues to be asked when I give talks about our adventure.

After taking a deep breath, I generally answer the question with a question. “Have you watched the local or national news lately?”  And then follow up with a second question, “Can you imagine visiting the U.S. from another country and seeing the crime, shootings, and senseless violence on TV every day?”  The fact is that perception is reality, and therefore when we hear about crime in other countries we tend to paint the entire country with a very broad brush.  Unfortunately, it’s become so common place in our own culture that we’ve become desensitized to it, and don’t see our own locales as being unsafe.

So back to the original question, “Aren’t you afraid to travel the world with your family?”

The answer then was no, and it’s still no now.  I can honestly say at no point during the six-continent, 22-country and 61,000+ mile journey did we feel afraid.  Here are five ways to stay safe while traveling:

  • Don’t leave your brains or common sense at home.  Or to put it another way, remember to pack your brains and common sense.  If you’re flying, make sure to keep both in your carry on bag.  On the rare occasions when we met fellow travelers who had something stolen, they admitted it was their own fault for not being more careful.
  • Be vigilant and aware of your surroundings.  There’s a fine line between being vigilant and paranoid.  Giving everyone you see the evil eye to ward off would-be thieves is probably counterproductive, and makes you seem just plain weird.
  • Trust your instincts.  “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” This applies whether you stay at home or travel abroad.  I was once given counterfeit money by a cab driver in exchange for a large denomination of the local currency.  And as I wrote in the book, my instincts told me on three occasions that something wasn’t right, but I didn’t listen to any of them, and paid the price – pun intended.
  • If you’re traveling with others, take turns keeping an eye on everyone’s gear.  Whenever we were in a bus station, airport or other public place, one or more of us would stay with the gear.
  • Travel with someone, especially when venturing from where you are staying.  If that’s not possible, make sure to double up on recommendations 1, 2 and 3, and you’ll be just fine.

The bottom line is that travel and exposing oneself to other peoples and cultures is well worth the (limited) risk.  Mark Twain said it best:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

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Cooney World AdventuresThis post was written by Mike Cooney, father of three FLVS alumni, and is the fourth in a year-long series by the Cooney family. His book, Cooney World Adventures: Backpacking with Teens Through Latin America, details the first leg of their trek and tells the stories of their adventures (and misadventures) while traveling through Central and South America almost entirely by bus. Learn more at www.cooneyworldadventures.com or by emailing Mike at mike@cooneyworldadventures.com.

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